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Vertical Social Networks Focus Interactions

Facebook has more than 1 billion users who discuss and share anything and everything. And, for some people, that’s the problem — too much info, too few filters, too diverse a user population. People looking for a more focused experience are increasingly turning to specialized — or vertical — social networks.

Indeed, it seems there is now a social network for every taste and interest. Focused on education? Check out EdWeb. Are you in a highly regulated industry such as finance? IdeaPlane may be network for you. Like cats? Catmoji is a Pinterest for feline fans.

Russell Rothstein, co-founder and CEO of IT Central Station, a social networking site targeted at IT professionals, thinks people are looking for the kind of privacy and validation that they can’t get on more open social networks. He also believes they are looking to more efficiently connect with like-minded, like-motivated and like-challenged people.

IT Central Station is built on user-generated reviews, like Yelp, but Rothstein is quick to note that the site is not Yelp for IT. “Our site is built purely as a social network,” he said. “From the reviews, users can identify the people who have already done research and who have already gone through the buying process, and then our users connect with one another behind the messaging system. It’s all private, so I’m not posting it on my Facebook timeline. It’s private connections, just like LinkedIn private email. Users build relationships that way.”

IT Central Station user Eric Dirst, senior VP and CIO of educational services provider DeVry, appreciates the opportunity to connect with his professional peers, as well as the validation the site provides.

“The biggest thing is there needs to be some governance,” said Dirst. “It’s hard to instill any governance around Facebook or Twitter or other more open social platforms.”

Governance is especially important to users who work in highly regulated industries, which is why social networks are springing up all over in, for example, the finance, legal and healthcare spaces.

Doximity is an example of a network focused on healthcare. Doximity offers physicians the ability to collaborate using HIPAA-compliant communications, said Jeff Tangney, co-founder of the company. Doctors who want to register for the site must go through a rigorous validation process that takes about a week to complete, Tangney told The BrainYard. What they get in return is the opportunity to network with their peers in a way that they wouldn’t have otherwise. “Many organizations have a rule that their doctors can’t be on Facebook,” said Tangney. For doctors, the challenge becomes the need for teamwork, the chance to bounce things off colleagues.”

Industry- or interest-focused communities are not new, of course, but the vertical platforms we’re seeing today include the social communications and collaboration tools we have become accustomed to on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ and Pinterest. On Learnist, for example, users can create boards demonstrating “learnings” and follow other users whose interests they share.

Businesses should take note of these kinds of specialized social networks for two reasons: One, your own employees may benefit from joining networks focused on your particular industry, and, two, such networks provide a ready-made, targeted audience for content marketing and other branding and sales opportunities (depending on the specialized platform’s revenue model).

Are vertical social networks the next big thing? Please let us know what you think in the comments section below.

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Originally posted on The BrainYard by Deb Donston-Miller on January 10, 2013.

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