Niche Socials Podcast Transcript
The Bright Team
The Bright Team • Dec 05

Niche Socials Podcast Transcript

Breaking the Feed, Social Media: Beyond the Headlines.

What are niche social apps, why have they become so popular, and what does it mean for us?  Niche social apps take one specific element, whether that's one subject (gaming or traveling), one audience (by age, socioeconomic status, or viewpoint), or one function or feature (share one photo per day or messaging only) and attempt to grow an audience that way.  We discuss the advantages and disadvantages for the apps themselves, but especially for the rest of us.

Taryn Ward  Hi. I'm Taryn Ward,

Steven Jones and I'm Steven Jones,

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TW.  and this is Breaking the Feed, Social Media: Beyond the Headlines. 

SJ.  We're taking a closer look at the core issues around social media, including the rise and fall of social media empires, to better understand the role social media plays in our everyday lives and society.

TW.  We've been exploring some of the newer social media offerings and trends. This episode will look at the trend to create niche: subject, audience, and function social apps. We've already looked at copycat apps, which essentially tried to recreate an existing app or the essence of it at least, and now we'll focus on what is sometimes described as unbundling these apps rather than trying to recreate what has already been offered take one specific element, whether that means focusing in on one specific subject like gaming or travelling, or a specific audience, either by age, demographic or viewpoint or pulling out a single function like messaging or sharing one photo per day to focus on and create an audience that way.

SJ.  Ultimately, many of these networks hope to expand and become more general. Something like what we've seen happened with Discord, which started by focusing on the gaming community and becoming more generalised, or they hope to be acquired by a larger platform.

TW.  Our core questions for today, then, are: why have so many new social media networks taken this approach? Is it working? And what does it mean for you?

TW.   Let's start with the basics. Why are so many social media networks unbundling? One consideration is potential funding. Consumer social is high risk, high reward. But given the success and popularity of the incumbents and several other considerations we'll examine in another episode, it hasn't been an easy sell for investors recently. unbundling, in some cases, allows for the potential of building a vertical and, as a result, potentially reduces that risk. A social media network for people who love food is a great example. You can build communities around specific interests or dietary needs, post and engage with recipes, photos, and how to videos. But also, you can sell recipe boxes and kitchen utensils, or even appliances, and food classes and Chef experiences, see what your friends are doing, see what they're cooking, share what you're up to and meet new people all in the same place. Similarly, a social media network for travel enthusiast, you can build communities around different types of travel interests, experiences or locations, post and engage with travel photos and videos and be sharing with existing friends and connecting with new people.

SJ.  So that's an interesting idea, right? That it's becoming really social marketing, that you're you create a community with a common interest, and then you can mark it consumables or equipment, or anything was to support that hobby. Through that that channel, a bit like in the case of cooking, you know, some of the client cook stores with all the really cool fancy equipment, but with this social component added into it, which is, I mean, you can see why that is an attractive option. The question I guess is, how do you protect against Facebook communities that try and set up and do the same thing? Or Instagram communities who already have a massive food photo catalogue, somewhere in there somewhere in their database?

TW.  I think that's a great question. So, I follow Food 52, which is a US-based Instagram account. They're not just an Instagram account, they also sell lots of things, they have recipes they do, I think I've shared recipes with you, actually. So, you know, they could start their own social media app, and maybe they've even been tempted to do so. Or maybe they have I don't really know. But they have this great following on Instagram, and they're doing sort of all of these things on the back of another social media network. So, rather than spending the money to build their own, and you and I can both say a lot about what that involves. But you know, rather than doing all of that work, they're perfectly happy to build their community on Instagram. There are advantages and disadvantages to this, and I think more and more people are becoming aware of all the problems with some of the big social networks, and there are any number of reasons why they'd want to move off of it. I guess it's really a question of whether it's worth the investment to do that, and I think you'd really have to have a well-established community to really want to make that move.

SJ.  I mean, I guess you're absolutely right. There are lots of reasons to be concerned if you're a content producer about the way that you're treated, spoken to, and communicated with on existing shows from networks, particularly once again, if you're a female. So, you know, if you have control over the moderation in the content and the, and people's behaviour online, perhaps that gives you some sort of reassurance. But like you said, there is the does seem to be quite a large investment required compared to For the return; it would be interesting to see how this moves forward. 

TW.  Yes, it will be, and if what we've described so far is starting to sound a little bit like our episode on Super Apps. That's exactly right. In some cases, the social apps are unbundling to re-bundle and really setting themselves up for the possibility of creating a Super App down the road. Another consideration, which is not unrelated to funding, is the cost of building a social network, which he just touched on. So, when Facebook and Twitter started, expectations were fairly low, and we did a whole series on this, right, the Internet was slow, we were used to sort of frustrating experiences on the computer and on our phones, that's all changed. So, we're all used to things working pretty quickly, smoothly functioning the way they're supposed to, and that also adds a lot of expense. unbundling means that social media apps can focus on one feature, or at least features that support one subject or one specific audience, focus on doing that well and leaving the rest of it out, at least when they first launch, and that helps to so in theory, at least it sets them up to be able to do one thing very well.

SJ.  We've talked, I've talked on several of the other podcasts about the problem of cold-start, when you have a network, if you try and create a network, which is a replacement for Twitter or replacement for one or other of the meta apps, then getting the content in there, which will keep all find interesting and have the right quality and at the right volume is a bit of a challenge. If you only have to think about creating content for one thing, then I'm sure that makes it much easier, and I mean, there are ways you could see for cooking apps to have like recipe of the day and, you know, menu plan of the week, which would massively limit the amount of work they would actually have to put in, and then you can rely on your community to start generating content for you once they're using that that does seem to make a lot of sense. Getting around the cold start is very, very cool. So, I liked I liked that idea. But you still have to make people think about coming to your network rather than being on Instagram or TikTok or Meta, and we already know that people are on TikTok, particularly young people on TikTok 24 hours a month, getting their attention away from the screen and the recipes on there might be a bit of a challenge. So, how's it going?

TW.  That's a great question. So, we can understand now I think why networks might want to do this.  The real question, or the best next question, is whether it's working. And you know, I love my it depends answer. So, I would say, in this case, it's a yes and no, and it depends, which is even worse than than the usual. I think, let's start, you can't have this conversation without talking about the real, and we'll do a case study episode on that. But they raised $60 million last year, you know, remember that even last year, the market wasn't great, and we're talking about an app that has extremely limited functionality. The entire premise, initially, was that all you could do was post a photo and a set time every day and then see photos from other people who posted during their allotted time. Very, very simple functionality, very limited functionality, and, you know, although there are reports recently that be released, traction has declined, and they're pushing back, and there's this back and forth, it's undeniable that they were able to raise $60 million for from some pretty serious people. So, obviously, they believed in it enough to say, you don't have income, we don't have a revenue model. You have one single feature, but let's go, so I think you know you can't say it's not working. But there are indicators now that there's going to be some problems here.

SJ.  I think you're right, this is a really good example. I mean, we tried the MVP version, which was, you know, janky at best when the public version was released, we thought, well, it's a really cool feature looking for an app to buy it and turn it into something else, and then he got a valuation at one point of like a billion didn't which is considering what he what you had to do most take that single photo and post it you know of what your life was like at that instant was really interesting that they could get you to know that type of evaluation done, but it is it's not really surprising to me, and I guess you the interest in that sort of dropped off because okay, you take your photo and you look at your friends' photos, and you can see whether they posted them later whether they were actually Johnny on the spot and got the thing up on time. But that's is about it, and you know I tried it and I had you your niece's and and other family members on it, we've sort of exchanged photos at different times. But it just wasn't, for me at least, it just wasn't compelling enough, I don't think, to really keep my attention and keep me doing it every day. 

TW.  Yeah, and just briefly, I should say, too, that it sounds really simple what they built because it's it's one function, but actually, they did some things that, that drove that valuation up that were very, very smart. So, if anybody's listening and thinks they're just going to, you know, sit in their basement and quickly code a one-function app and get, you know, $60 million for it, it's, stay tuned for the full episode because there's definitely a lot more a lot more to it than that, and there are countless other examples of niche networks. So, BeReal is one, Retro, where you can add, share, organise photos, and sort of have what feels like your own private photo album. But also share it with friends, Truth Social and Tribel, both aimed at different political audiences NextDoor, even where you can connect only with neighbours, at least in theory, and they're even some that really feel like a private club or actually part of a private club, and some that demand a purity test of sorts to join, swear in blood and on your firstborn, that you believe X, Y or Z or you don't believe something or whatever it is, or you know, your household income is above some level, or you live in the right zip code. I mean, you name it, and these days, there's there's a social app that is aimed at that specific group.

SJ.  It all sounds a bit weird to me and sort of counter to, I guess, our expectations of social media networks right now, which, which are fairly broad. I also think, and we've we talked about this in our episodes on..., where we, where we talk in detail about Truth and Tribel, the creating niche networks based around political ideology or any other kind of belief system is dangerous because we're already prone to echo chambers and polarisation on the big networks. Just because the way the algorithm works, and when you when you set up the network, which is already highly polarised, you have to assume that it's become more and more extreme, and I don't really care with which extreme it is. If people were only seeing one type of post and getting their news in that way, then I think that's particularly dangerous for the individuals and for society as a whole. So, I really don't like that. But I mean, private clubs, we're in England, right now, private clubs have existed for quite some time, often based on sex or income, the ability to pay, really, let's be honest, so there is a history of that, and then people will probably always want to associate with their type of person. It's interesting that they're choosing to do it online rather than in real life at the moment.

TW.  Yeah, and I guess after COVID, it maybe makes sense in a new way, or maybe a very old way. But rebranded, you know, some of these have done quite well, some serve a core purpose, that is not to build the community on the network. So, that's fine, too. But none of them have really managed to seriously compete with the larger existing networks, and these as you, as you rightly say, have been designed traditionally to appeal to a more general audience. So, it is much as that $60 million investment is hugely impressive and very exciting. No single niche network has really grown to be a serious competitor. 

SJ.  That's for sure, yet, I guess, because Facebook, when it started out as The Facebook, as it was when we mentioned in our episode on that, was an Ivy League college app when it started and expanded from there and, and Twitter, it was really in internal sort of status-sharing thing for the parent company at the very beginning of that I don't think it was ever really intended as they just that it but it is that hook, how do you take that from a niche to, you know, 100 million, 200 million, a billion users, which is probably the sort of growth that most investors are going to want to see, and it's difficult to see how you could get a niche app to do that without massive, massively broadening its base and perhaps losing its original contributors. I don't know, it's a difficult balance to make, isn't it?

TW.  It is, and I think that's a really good point because we've seen that happen in our look back at other social networks. When that pivot happens from a small core group to a larger group, you can lose that core audience, which is a problem. But also you can lose that feeling. So, whatever it was that attracted that core audience may not have broader appeal; or it may have broad appeal, but in making that transition, it sort of gets lost.  So, I think that those are all fair points. All of that said, I think if you were sort of heading in this direction, there does seem to be a growing awareness and desire for a more tailored experience, which is dangerous for all the reasons you've just said. But I think there is a sense from people, and I don't know if tailored advertising has something to do with this or not. But I think there is a sense that everybody wants it to be customised and just for them, and I think that does sort of put us in a position where these niche networks have an opportunity that they wouldn't have had even 10 years ago. 

Which brings us to our last question for this episode. What does this mean for all of us? So this is happening, this is becoming more and more common. What does that really mean? We think good and bad, right? So more choices and alternatives can be a really good thing. We've seen how the existing big platforms can be really divisive and polarising. So, there's some hope that this could actually be an opportunity to change that. At the same time, there's a real risk that this will only create new and more extreme echo chambers, and so far, that does seem to be what we're seeing. Not so much on single-function apps, like BeReal.  But where the app is really designed at one single audience, we've seen that play out again and again, it also means more practically dividing our time over several apps, which probably means more time online, more time on our phones, more notifications, more distractions, and in most of the examples, we've looked at more of our data floating around out there that we can't possibly keep track of. It also probably means unbundling to re-bundle, as we said earlier in the episode, potentially in the shape of the Super App, which we discussed in depth elsewhere. But this presents some unique privacy challenges too.

SJ.  All that sounds exactly right, and a little bit scary, you know, people generally, I think we can include ourselves in this don't like to have their biases challenged on things which are really important to them, and so echo chambers, where everybody is agreeing are just so comfy, it's like a big, warm, toxic hug, and you don't even realise that you're being poisoned until it's too late, and suddenly, you've lost touch with the way the world is actually working and, and to the viewpoint of the other half of the population that and I think that's, that's really, really scary, and I mean, it's not just social media, obviously, the, you know, as we've talked about before, you know, mainstream media can also promote polarised viewpoints, but people are exposed to this for so much of the day, and in such insidious ways, you know, that it's so cleverly targeted to the way that your brain works now, and the message can be so easily crafted and return tested and refined. It really is, I think, a big challenge, and, equally, your point about the amount of data which is being spread around and can be collated and diced and sliced to just build a bigger and better picture of who and what you are, and this vast social network across a whole series of labs, we'll see what's of interest, and I genuinely don't think that people are worried enough about this. But we are, obviously, and we have to hope that before. Before the super apps evolve, government regulators and the public sort of get a little bit more worried about it. The potential here to do harm is really quite high, and I think, particularly when we're thinking about kids,

TW.  Yeah, I think that's a good opportunity to think about the why. So, why are niche networks happening? More than the funding or anything, anything along those lines? Why are we open to it? Right? Why are we getting on these networks? Why are we trying it? And I think the answer is people are looking for a place where they feel like they belong, and we've heard this again and again for three years. There are more than concerns about privacy, or worries about the use and harassment, or worries about mis-and disinformation, or worries about what social media is doing to our mental health. There's a desire and a need for people to feel like they belong like there's a real opportunity for them to find their spot and to figure out how they connect to the world, and I think that's really what sets us up. It sets us up for hope and opportunity, and possibility. It also makes us really vulnerable to apps that come along with social apps that come along and say we'll be your people here. All you have to do is agree with A, B, and C, and you can join our club or pay X amount of dollars or swear on your first child or whatever it is, and it makes that really tempting. 

At Bright, we've spent a lot of time focused on building the potential for people to build communities for that very reason. So, we've always felt that it's important to have a larger communal space where everyone has access to the same information and can share and engage in equally smaller communities where people can find like-minded individuals within that larger network, whether that is to share specific interests, experiences, questions, whatever it is. So, you know, we often talk about examples; it may be the case that you want to share a photo of your special trip to Spain with everyone in your personal network, your professional network, and anyone on Bright; you're just happy to share this really great photo that you took. But the you only really want to share photos of your children with your personal network, you should be able to do that, and maybe you only want to share details about your favourite new restaurant, the best meal that you had with your foodie community, you should be able to do that too, or a fully honest review of your hotel, in your travel community. Maybe your friends and family don't need to know where they thought about where you stayed, and, you know, maybe a question about Spanish politics under a pseudonym because you feel like you should know it already. Or because it's somehow politically charged, and you don't want to say the wrong thing. You should be able to do all of those things, and the point is, really, your choice and your choices shouldn't trap you in an echo chamber and disconnect you from some communities in order to raise your status and another. 

SJ.  Yeah, I mean, it's interesting, I think, you know, as you're, as you're talking there, I'm thinking, Well, it sounds like, it's not just that people want to be with people who are interested in the same things as they are, though that's obviously true. You know, and that's the basis of hobby groups and, you know, whether it's Dungeons and Dragons, or old cars, or spaghetti, you know, sure. It's nice to be people with people who are interested in the same things you are, but it is also about being, feeling safe in that community, right that, that your children's pictures will be safe, that you're you won't get attacked, for expressing some views, whether that be from, you know, people who are further to the left or further to the right, it doesn't really matter. Nobody wants to get into an argument on our very few people. Some people love arguing online, and God knows that "X", formerly known as Twitter, is an extremely good place to have an argument online. But not everybody wants to do that, and you see that, you know, you see these posts going up, and I've found this myself, I don't want to comment because I just don't want to hassle even when it's something which is patently false, and so you know, if you have these groups, and you're you have a nice discreet community, then sure you get a you have a perhaps a little bit more safety and a little bit more capacity, to be honest, and actually have an open conversation, which I think you and I both think is important. But absolutely, I agree. It needs to be part of a bigger context. Otherwise, it very rapidly, I think, descends in the wrong direction.

TW. Yes, well, speaking of that, next time, we'll take a closer look at one specific type of niche network in our case study episode on Truth Social. In the meantime, we'll post a transcript of this episode with references on our website. You can find this and more information about us at

SJ.  Until next time, I'm Steven Jones.

TW.  and I'm Taryn Ward.

SJ.  Thank you for joining us for Breaking the Feed, Social Media: Beyond the Headlines.

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