Monday, March 24, 2008

Niche Social Networks for Professionals

It had to happen. Social networks are going professional. Not new news, you say? Most of us are on business/professional networks like LinkedIn. Others may participate in local interest groups formed on Meetup to talk about things from automobiles to pets to work and career.

But that’s not what I have in mind. One of my students recently pointed out that there’s a new network for physicians with an interesting business model. offers physicians a space where they can anonymously discuss clinical issues. It doesn’t charge them and it doesn’t accept advertising. According to the WSJonline:

Revenue comes from advertising or charging outside businesses access to data and member discussions. For example, Sermo Inc. of Cambridge, Mass., generally charges $100,000 to $150,000 a year to nonmedical businesses like hedge funds, which use it to research such things as how doctors feel about new drugs. They can monitor online discussions, with the doctors' names omitted, or see a tally of topics being discussed on the site -- like a new medical device or a controversial cancer treatment -- to determine what's rising or falling in popularity. That’s an interesting business model. I started looking around to see if there were similar networks for other professions besides the ones listed in the WSJ article. I found:
The Lawyers Network, still in private beta. It offers connections via profiles, a directory of legal firms and legal content. It’s not clear what the revenue model is.
Zolve Real Estate Network focuses on a global referral system. Membership is free. It charges a one-time fee of $40 for the first lead from the system that is closed.
Student Dentist aptly identifies its target audience. It was built on the Ning platform, apparently by a dental student. If you look at the site you see a number of Facebook-like elements, including the ability to add it to your Facebook page or to get a Student Dentist badge (widget) for your website or page. This site has advertising.

I’m sure there are more, but this gives you the idea. People like to interact with others who have similar interests. When a network can professional development, contacts and content in a defined space, it has an opportunity to become attractive, even to busy professionals. There’s an NPR Talk of the Nation segment from last July that has several good perspectives on niche networks. The first 7 or 8 minutes is a particularly good introduction for the newcomer to social networks.

These professionals, however, are not likely to be willing to pay much, or perhaps anything at all for membership in a network. This appears to be a space in search of a workable revenue model that doesn’t include advertising. It will be interesting to watch it evolve—maybe to participate—maybe to build your own targeted social network!
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