Social Butterflies: Facebook's Biggest Competitors

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Article ImageAmerica loves its Facebook. According to comScore, Inc., the social network had 158.01 million unique visitors in the U.S. in May 2012. Believe it or not, that represented a slight decline in the number of visitors. Despite its popularity, Facebook has some competitors out there, and they may just be stealing a bit of attention from the leader in social networking.

What if you want a social network that caters more to your specific interests? Facebook may be a great place to connect with friends on a more general level. But for athletes looking to connect with other athletes, or Game of Thrones fans looking for a network of compatriots they can discuss the latest episodes with, a more niche social network may be more up their alley. And some sites are finding success catering to smaller groups of people.

The list of social networks is ever-expanding, with a community for just about everyone, although the general interest social networks may never reach the ubiquity of Facebook. A February infographic from VentureBeat.com, for instance, says that the much-hyped Google+ has just 18 million unique visitors per month, less than the long-forgotten Myspace, and its visitors spend just 6 minutes per month on the site. Still, some less ambitious networks appear to be growing. Some analysts say these just might be a better place for companies to spend their ad dollars.

Niche Network Users: Lower Quantity, But Higher Quality?

Ammon Brown, vice president of operations at the web-based media management platform TRAFFIQ, believes that, while the audience won't be on nearly the same scale, advertisers may find they get more value from ads placed on smaller, more niche social networks as the users are more likely to be there for a specific reason and may even be more open to engagement.

"It's nice to have those sorts of affinity-related communities, where you're there because other people with the same interest are still there," he says.
And because these smaller, niche networks are more affinity-based, "people are going to be a little more open to discovery," Brown says, and, therefore, "advertisers are willing to pay more."

Of course, to attract advertisers, people first need to know about the network--which is something that may pose a bit of a problem for these up-and-coming networks that aren't exactly household names yet. That's why Brown says he feels the smaller, more niche social networks would be better served entering into an ad exchange.

Referencing the struggles of Google+, which he calls "a bit of a flop," Brown says, "If Google can't usurp Facebook as the next great social network, I don't think anyone can."

Complementing Facebook

One just-launched social network that hopes to stick around is Chicisimo, which launched July 11. It describes itself as a "social website and worldwide community where fashionistas and fashion brands come together to share their personal style, inspire one another, and discover new styles, brands, and products." At Chicisimo, people can upload photos of their favorite outfits, provide and receive feedback from the community, and earn virtual "flower" awards, while interacting with their favorite fashion brands, the company says.

Chicisimo's co-founder, Gabriel Aldamiz-echevarría, says the site's target audience is "women interested in fashion." He says he doesn't feel his audience is being neglected by other social networking sites. Rather, he says, "It's just that social networking sites can't be everything to everyone. It would not make sense for a site to build functionalities, for example, for both fashion enthusiasts and music enthusiasts."

Nor is it expected. "You just don't want to go to Facebook for a fashion journey," he adds.

As Brown says, it doesn't look like any new social networking site is going to take Facebook down. But, Aldamiz-echevarría stresses that his intention is not to compete with Facebook; rather, he says he feels "large social networking sites are great complements to niche sites.

"There is room for social-based networks, such as Facebook, and there is room for interest-based communities, such as Chicisimo," Aldamiz-echevarría says. "People will join and be active on the interest-based communities of their choice.

"Of course, everything can be shared on a general social-based community, but there is no depth about a personal interest there," he adds. "If you are in the mood to discover fashion ideas, you don't go to Facebook, you come to Chicisimo."

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