It seems there is a social network for every interest. From cat lovers to accountants, vertical social networks connect users who have a common passion or challenge, minimizing the distraction of other sources of social noise. Networks such as GovLoop for the public sector and Sermo in healthcare are helping business professionals connect with peers, share best practices, collaborate and find career-building opportunities. The specialized nature of these networks creates tight-knit communities and deep content coverage on topics of interest to very specific audiences.

Some vertical social networks go beyond knowledge sharing, providing free tools that help members work smarter and get their jobs done. For example, Practice Fusion offers healthcare providers free electronic medical record management; Spiceworks offers IT professionals free network management and help desk software; and Wave offers small-business owners free financial services software. The intersection of business application and social network provides a unique perspective into how members do their jobs, how and when they research products and solutions, and what they use to make purchasing decisions.

Vertical social networks present rich learning and engagement opportunities for product, marketing and sales professionals who want to target these audiences. Consider a few of the possibilities:

  • Research your market. Vertical social networks possess a lot of data about their users and community members. Many provide the ability to execute surveys, assemble voluntary focus and feedback groups, and offer access to aggregate usage and market data.
  • Observe buyers interacting in the network (e.g. the questions they ask their peers, the content they share). This can yield valuable insights to feed buyer persona development and content/tactic ideas for attracting that persona to your brand.
  • Listen to how your brand is being discussed and how products are rated and reviewed. Many networks provide free brand dashboards, so you can see how your brand is performing across a variety of dimensions within the network.
  • Get feedback on product performance, service offerings, program messaging and creative. Members will tell you what is working for them and what isn’t; how they want to be marketed and sold to; and how they make purchasing decisions. Be prepared to actually do something with that feedback. If they tell you something needs to change, then change had better be in your future. Otherwise, you come across as just pandering to your audience.
  • Connect one-on-one with prospective buyers and customers as a helpful member of the network (not just someone with products to push). Building personal relationships in the community helps to build the community’s trust level with that brand. Since community members look to their peers for direction and validation, a well-respected brand will find it easier to make the short list.
  • The presence of vertical social networks offers unique, targeted opportunities to learn from and engage with their members. Review opportunities to leverage vertical social networks for your persona definition, product planning, campaign planning and program development and social selling initiatives.