The growth of social media has enabled small, niche interest groups to grow. Your local MG owners club with a handful of members who pootle down to a field somewhere once a year for a big national gathering, can now connect with thousands of other MG owners and enthusiasts around the world in an instant. This small niche group is now big. They’re big because geography is no longer a barrier to connecting with people. They’re big because their interest isn’t really that small when aggregated up – it’s just small in their local area.
Niches might be single issue, but people aren’t
Much like the intertwining storylines in soap operas, distinct online communities are woven together by people having multiple interests. Take Trevor, for example. Trevor likes cars, embroidery and swimming. Three pretty distinct hobbies. When Trevor announces on twitter that his car was broken into, his strong relationships with people will mean he gets sympathy from his embroidery and swimming friends as well as his car friends. When he says this is the sixth time it’s happened in the last two years. He’ll get a lot more sympathy. When he says he’s setting up an online petition to get his local police force to take the issue more seriously, his embroidery and swimming connections will sign it online alongside his car friends. They’ll also ask their friends to sign it. Many of their friends will have interests completely unconnected to any of Trevor’s interests.
Niches affect big issues
On the big issues of the day, niches come into their own as a way of organising people and disseminating information. A good example of this is the Occupy movement. First they occupied Wall Street, then others with similar interests occupied other cities around the US and globally.
A closer look at London’s Occupy movement reveals that they are a fairly diverse bunch. Indeed, one of the recurring themes in media coverage about them is that they appear to have no single message – they are made of distinct, niche groups. When they occupied the Guardian’s Comment is Free section, they described themselves as a “disparate smorgasbord.”
So, niche groups are growing in size and it’s easier than ever before to build large coalitions of support by tapping into them. The challenge for communicators is maintaining a consistent, single focus. The 99% have disparate interests.