Since the social networking phenomenon began, I have been an advocate of the Yellow Pages developing a platform for niche social networks. Directories cover such a broad array of content that can be related to highly conversational topics, such as travel, music, legal, weddings, new mothers, retirement, interior design and home improvement.
Social networking is certainly a topic The Kelsey Group has covered extensively over the years, and there are a host of experiments and partnerships under way. In fact, eMarketer is forecasting that social media marketing will top $1.5 billion in 2008, which explains why this segment is receiving a tremendous amount of focus and innovation.
Providing a forum and platform on Yellow Pages-owned sites for niche social networks has the upside of creating ongoing site traffic by offering a multitude of topics to cover given the more than 5,000 headings and subtopics that could be created from them.
Social site owners could also take advantage of both the rich local Yellow Pages advertising content and its online advertising network agreements to monetize each niche social site in a broader network. Because they have such a large base of local advertisers and enhanced local content, Yellow Pages companies could reasonably deliver customized, highly relevant ad content within each niche social network site.
Catharine Taylor, in her MediaPost article “What’s the Business Model for Niche Social Nets?”, points out that individually niche social nets don’t generate high revenue amounts, but in aggregation there is tremendous potential.
Social network site Ning clearly understands this business model and has even gone a step further by allowing niche sites to opt-out of carrying ads on their site for a fee, meaning they earn revenue whether or not ads run.
Jack Fairhall from Kwiqq, a social Web site builder, added this comment to Catharine’s post: “Niche social networks often won’t make revenue directly for their owners, but assuming their owners are businesses who have other revenue streams from the sale of their products/services, niche social networks can act as great traffic builders/reputation enhancers and lower customer acquisition costs.”
This is yet another new business venture where forward-thinking Yellow Pages publishers could lead rather than follow or act as sub-agents for the larger portals and major social network providers. The huge number of people who interact with Yellow Pages and the broad base of local advertiser content available to niche social site creators are major advantages.
The real benefit to Yellow Pages owners would come in the form of increased traffic, narrow targeting opportunities for advertisers, additional revenue opportunities and leadership in the fast emerging social marketing space. Ning is certainly proving if you offer the platform for free and provide the necessary help to niche social network creators, they will find new ways to build traffic, create loyalty and ultimately generate revenues.
Social media and particularly niche social networks are ideally suited for the local environment where Yellow Pages could play a major role. I’d love to hear what the rest of the local media community thinks of how they can own and leverage local social media and what business models might be the most effective.