Starting a Social App? Find a niche and work outward

In the early stages of starting a social web app, startups often wonder what group of people would make for good early adopters. What group should we focus our development and marketing efforts on?

In the early stages of starting a social web app, startups often wonder what group of people would make for good early adopters. What group should we focus our development and marketing efforts on?

It’s a tough question, and just having it means that the application probably isn’t as focused as it could be. For the most focused apps this question isn’t an issue.

Successful apps, however, tend to be like stories, about a very particular subject that can be generalized. They often start off in a niche, succeed there and then grow outward.

There are many examples of this. Here are a few:

Flickr -> gaming (the community that was Game Neverending)
Amazon -> Book lovers
Basecamp -> web designers (people who followed 37signals)
Twitter -> Web designers (that’s the only group I hear talking about it)
eBay -> Collectors
MySpace -> Musicians/musicphiles
Facebook -> College students (Harvard)
Corkd -> web designers (who drink wine)
BlinkSale -> web designers

All of these applications started serving a particular niche and then grew outward to a more mainstream audience. (except for maybe Twitter and Corkd, which are still super young but seem to be serving their niche well)

Yet some applications, like Netflix, stay in a niche.

As the shakedown and advertisation of the huge social networks continues, I think we’ll see a migration away from the networking-only services to services where social features are being added on top of existing functionality (so it’s not the only functionality). Most likely these services will already be serving a niche, and the addition of social features will be a way they can break out of that if it makes sense to.

Published: January 29th, 2007

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