I have read article after article on niche social networks and the fact that they are the future on the web, etc.  The mega-networks like MySpace and Facebook are so entrenched with consumers that I don’t see anyone coming along and replacing them anytime soon.  That’s not to say it’s impossible, but I find it highly unlikely.  On the other hand, the real opportunity for growth is in smaller, targeted (and even sponsored) communities based on shared interests.

A colleague of mine sent me a link this morning to an online community called Club of Pioneers, which is self described as ‘a community of pioneering individuals, promoting sustainable and mobile lifestyles for an earth-friendly future.’  The site features blogs, a forum, news articles, and in-depth member profiles that allow the members to express their views on environmental issues.  Oh, and did I mention that the site is sponsored by BMW?  Yeah, that’s right – a major car company is reaching out and offering a connecting point for like-minded individuals.  BMW’s branding is very subtle, and they are not trying to beat anyone over the head with ads or messaging.  Instead, they are showing goodwill and allowing the members to discover the initiatives that BMW has in place to become more environmentally responsible.   The focus is on the community, not the brand.  The brand is just along for the ride (pardon the pun) but scores big points for supporting the environmental cause.

There are endless opportunities for brands to create their own niche networks online.  All it takes is a little creativity and willingness to try something new.  Communities don’t necessarily have to be cause-related, although I happen to think this is a great angle to pursue.  Really any shared interest can be the foundation of a network – it could be cooking, interior design, cars, painting, sports, or whatever.  The point is that the opportunities are limited only by our imagination.  Think about it.  If it resonates with you, then do it!  You might find it easier than you think to create one on your own.