There are so many small, niche social networks out there – for the college student, for the music lover, for the new mom – that it’s difficult to see how any of them can stand up to Facebook, the reigning king of social networks. However, maybe monthly active users is not the only metric we should be using to measure the success of a new social network. Instead, it’s possible that niche social networks will find their staying power in their offline call to action. As they cover many fewer topics than Facebook and other general social networks, the sites on this list are able to focus their networks on taking certain actions. Here are five niche social networks that mobilize their user base to do something, learn something, and be part of something in the real world.
UCubed – Social Network for the Unemployed
UCubed brings together the unemployed and the underemployed in an online network aimed at empowering its users in their offline job search. Members are encouraged to become Job Activists, people responsible for organizing local meetings, creating and signing petitions, and email public official to advocate sound job policy. Job Activists are rewarded for their efforts by receiving online coupons and discounts to ease the burden of being unemployed. Individuals can also form cubes – beginning with six members – which grow into neighborhoods and eventually blocks intended to provide local support and power through numbers.
This social network empowers, inspires, and takes action on a plight affecting 31 million Americans, offering support and encouragement for the unemployed across the country. Its success is found within its two main dimensions: connecting the unemployed to each other and pressing for change in the system. It allows users to discuss their stories and possibly help each other get back on their feet while at the same time giving them the tools to contact their representatives and hopefully cause change at a systemic level.
CouchSurfing – Social Network for the Budget Traveler
CouchSurfing has over 2 million members and counting. It is a social network for curious, intrepid travelers looking to not only explore new places but meet new people as well. Users can sign up for an account, and fill in their profile with pertinent information like where they live and how often they travel. They can then search for “couches” – a term which can range from a mattress on the floor to a spare bedroom – in their planned travel area, and contact those who have something available. Or, they can offer up their own couch for anyone who needs a place to crash.
One of the most social elements of CouchSurfing is its “vetting” process. Users can vouch for other users who they have had a good time with, giving the community some credibility and assuaging the worries of those who might not be comfortable with a stranger staying in their apartment. The community is very open and encouraging, and as everyone is a fellow traveler there is instant connection both on- and off-line.
ResearchGATE – Social Network for Scientists
ResearchGATE serves a very specific niche: the online scientific community. It is designed to give researchers the tools to easily search through journal articles, white papers, lectures and other data while collaborating on shared topics of interest.
While this may seem like a small community, ResearchGATE does serve over 400,000 professionals. Its goal is to improve the quality of research through community collaboration, and in so doing increases the pace of scientific progress worldwide.