Picture this: You’re given the opportunity to share a presentation on something you’re absolutely obsessed with. You could practically talk about it in your sleep, if you had to.
Would you rather give that presentation in front of a stadium of random people or a cozy conference room filled with fellow fanatics?
This premise is essentially the case for the growing number of vertical networks that are taking off online. It’s simple, but it makes sense. It’s more fun to talk about the things you love with other people that love them, too.
Vertical social networks aren’t overnight sensations. If you look closely, online communication preferences have hinted that this was coming all along. Understanding what these niche social media platforms say about the future of social media as a whole can help marketers stay ahead of the trend curve.
But first, what are vertical networks?
Vertical social networks are niche social media platforms centered around the interests of hyper-specific communities. Think gamers, neighbors, book lovers—there’s even one for procurement and supply chain professionals.
These networks give audiences a chance to connect with like-minded individuals in a more private, focused setting. We’ve seen social trending this way for the past few years. Every day people are taking their posting habits away from main feeds and into more private options, like subreddits and Facebook Groups. This trend is a callback to social media ancestors—think forums and chat rooms—with a much more modern look.
Vertical social networks are the next evolution in the never-ending quest for more curated online content experiences. These platforms create digital clubhouses that allow people to create deeper connections over shared interests.
Examples of vertical social networks
Even if you’re new to the world of vertical social networks, chances are you probably belong to one. They’ve become entrenched in hobby culture, with many springing up to support interests ranging from common to niche. Quite a few have even reached household name status. Here are some you may have heard about:
Letterboxd is a social film diary where users can rate, review and tag films as they watch them. Co-founded by Matthew Buchanan and Karl von Randow in 2011, the platform is home to both cinephiles and casual viewers who use it for recommendations from friends and Letterboxd influencers.
Although the platform has operated for more than 10 years, it reached new levels of popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic. Active Letterboxd member accounts nearly doubled, jumping from 1.7 million to 3 million member accounts within a year.
Think of Nextdoor as an always-on alternative to a town hall meeting. This hyper-local social networking service is designed to connect communities so people can build real-world connections with neighbors and local businesses.
Since launching in 2011, Nextdoor has expanded its presence into more than 285,000 neighborhoods globally. In 2022, the platform announced that it will be rolling out new advertising tools for small and medium-sized businesses.
If you’ve ever seen a screenshot of a recorded run on a friend’s Instagram story, it’s likely from Strava. Strava is an exercise tracker that doubles as a niche social media network for running and cycling enthusiasts. Logged exercises are shared publicly in a feed, where followers can give “Kudos” by liking posts.
Similar to Letterboxd, the platform experienced tremendous growth during the pandemic. Now, more than 2 million users log on each month to share and compare workouts, from casual runners to Tour de France cyclists.
What do vertical networks say about the future of social media?
These niche social networks may have relatively small user bases, but their recent rise in popularity speaks volumes about where the overall industry is headed. Here’s what you need to know.
People are turning to social to build new connections
The emergence of vertical networks can be seen as an attempt to replace something that wasn’t often thought about pre-pandemic but is now sorely missed: casual friendships.
I’m only now realizing the scope of how covid has busted many of my budding friendships with people. I haven’t seen you guys in literally years 😭
— glance 💕 once and floral (@shippy_things) April 8, 2022
In the absence of regularly shared spaces like office kitchens, coffee shops and gyms, many people have fallen out of touch with everyone that existed in the space between “stranger” and “close friend.” Now, people are looking to remake and rebuild those connections online.
It’s no coincidence that platforms like Letterboxd and Strava skyrocketed in popularity in 2020. Sustained interest in these platforms means that people are still turning to them to rebuild social circles online and off.
Major networks are moving quickly to keep up
There’s no first-mover advantage in social. Major networks are always researching competitor functionality so they can perfect it and roll it into their offerings. We saw it happen in 2021 when Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn all rolled out audio-first features to compete with then up-and-comer Clubhouse. Vertical social networks will be no different.
it’s a new year
we're excited to share some things we’re exploring for Communities early 2022 🤞
— Twitter Communities (@HiCommunities) January 5, 2022
Networks like Twitter and Instagram are already experimenting with features focused on deepening engagement between like-minded users and subcultures. In 2021, Twitter even announced the launch of Communities, which serve as small, dedicated spaces to connect over shared interests on the platform.
Social media marketers will need to rethink network goals
As networks continue to roll out community-focused features, marketing teams will need to prioritize ruthlessly. More features mean more social responsibilities. It’s unrealistic to think that a team of one or two can manage multiple network presences that feed into brand awareness, revenue and community engagement goals. That’s a recipe for burnout.
If you’re working with limited resources (people or otherwise), take time to dig into what your audience is responding to by network. You might find that your brand community is driving the most engagement on Facebook, but deals and bottom-funnel content generate the most traction on Instagram.
This data will give you insight into what you need to double down on and what can move to the backburner. If you find that you have more engagement opportunities than your team can handle, it’s time to make the case for expansion.
Vertical networks say a lot about what audiences want on social
The marketers who listen will be able to successfully future-proof their strategies. As more people turn to smaller, more private social media platforms to make connections, social giants will have to roll out new features to keep up. Operating with this foresight can help marketers reorient their social priorities around what will make the most impact on their brands.
If it seems like your audience is hungry for more tailored online experiences, now is the time to focus on community. Strengthen your community management strategy to bring the most value to your followers and fans.
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