As social media networks are slowly making changes to become more business friendly (read: Facebook ads, sponsored tweets, business profiles and pages), there are some networking sites that aim to put the “social” back in “social media.” According to a recent article from TechCrunch, sites such as the Know Cancer Community, Planet Cancer, and I Had Cancer all provide a social network where members can communicate and lend support. These networks are tailored to cancer survivors, those undergoing cancer treatments, and friends and family members of those affected by cancer. Along with these cancer support-related sites, other social networks exist for those living with serious health ailments, such as HeartPatients.com, a social networking site for people afflicted with heart disease and serious cardiac-related conditions.
While it stands likely that these sites will never reach the level of a Facebook or now Google+, which is probably not their goal in the first place, could this possibly be a sign of a new wave in the social networking sphere? Instead of joining groups on Facebook or following organizations on Twitter, will we now have the option to join a social network based on a particular platform, in these instances cancer or heart disease? As marketers, it’s our job to stay on top of trends in social media and advancements in the industry. While it’s important we understand how to use social networks on a professional level, it’s also useful to be aware of trends and features we can use on a personal level. Could creating niche social networks like these lead to more of the same?
Offering a support group on a social network platform where users can interact without external commercial interaction is a great start in helping users get back to the basics of social media. Think back to simpler times when Facebook was a way to connect with friends and classmates. Wasn’t it great to be able to connect without being inundated with game requests or ads vying for your attention? Now imagine how great it would be if you were battling a serious illness and you had the opportunity to connect with others across the country who might be going through a similar experience.
On the I Had Cancer site, you can browse the community according to age, gender, year diagnosed, type of cancer, and even by name or geographic location. My hope is more of these social networks evolve and stay true to their roots — allowing people to connect and lend support, not being an additional way for businesses to find potential clients — so that those fighting life-threatening and serious illness know that help and support is only a click away. But the real question is, will networks such as I Had Cancer eventually open the door to more advertising opportunities, perhaps businesses related to these niche networks such as pharmaceutical companies or treatment facilities? It’s probably too soon to tell, but it will be interesting to see where the future of the niche social network leads us.