The Next Big Thing, “Vertical Social Networks”

People naturally group together. It is not just human nature, but the way all nature is designed. We group together around relationships, shared interests, economic drivers, convenience, efficiency, efficacy – and the list goes on and on.

Broad horizontal Social Networks like Facebook and Twitter have leveraged our new found global interconnectivity to make it easy to connect – to group together as friends and family. They are based on either very close personal or business relationships or on some broad common goal or interest – I, too, like very cute cat videos.

The power of Social Networking is still woefully underutilized. It seems like we’ve come a long way and indeed we have, but it is only the beginning, like the first trail for wagon trains across the country compared with the interconnected road system we now take for granted. We are entering the next phase with Vertical Social Networks (VSN) – specialized communities around a shared interest, location, need, event or affiliation. Who would want a VSN and would anyone pay money or make money? Here are a few data points:

You are seeing Vertical Social Networks slowly emerge around common goals like Airbnb around travel and Uber around transportation. These crowd economy companies are pioneers forging new trails. Think of everything you do and imagine the “network” to make it easier. Not just a bulletin board to post to masses and search through to see if your answer is in there somewhere. Not just email lists where you are bombarded with a stream of sometimes wanted sometimes not information. Not just a phone number to call and wait to be given an unsatisfying solution.

Every business, brand or interest can spawn a Vertical Social Network where one could purchase, learn, exchange, sell, recommend and generally engage. Blend crowd economy with social networking, bulletin boards and ecommerce and you get a new generation of interconnected networks.

The truly interesting part of this movement is that a critical mass can be much smaller than 10 or 20 % of the world’s population. 1 million people or even 100k people connected together for the right purpose can be immensely useful and powerful. Vertical Social Networks won’t grow or be created only to get rich from a unicorn IPO, although some certainly will take that path. Thousands will simply serve a purpose, provide value, fill gaps, make life more efficient or convenient, or provide support. These are mom and pop businesses, lifestyle businesses, mid-size markets and everything in between. Technology that has been driven and developed by Social Network giants is enabling a whole new generation of Vertical Social Networks. In our lifetimes, connectedness seems poised to change everything.