Going back in time. When humans were hunters and gathers. We lived in tribes. We were small communities of people who lived together, shared same lifestyle, beliefs and practices. As these tribes grew larger, we got further divided.

Moving on to the 1st century, when Christianity came into this world. It was a ‘small, unorganised sect’. In the beginning a small group of people who shared same values, beliefs and traditions. When Christianity started spreading, it got divided into different categories. Oriental Orthodox, Eastern Orthodox, Catholics and Protestants. Though the basic beliefs were the same, these sub divisions tweaked some rules and traditions.

Humans need communities

We have seen a pattern emerging time and again. Humans are wired to live and thrive in small communities. From the dawn of civilization, to the rise of technology.

Now people have started connecting online. Social platforms like Facebook, Orkut (if you are old enough), LinkedIn, Twitter have become social media giants. Because we are fascinated by the idea of connecting with millions of people from all around the world at the click of a button.

These online platforms are revolutionizing the way we interact. We can make friends from anywhere, get jobs, or even dates! But as they grew larger, they became vague, cluttered, irrelevant and lost the basic sense of ‘social’.

Why people are moving towards micro-communities

We are seeing the trend of micro-communities rising. The COVID-19 pandemic has been the fuel to their growth this year. As more people crave for more meaningful social interactions, we can see shift from macro to micro communities on every platform. New community software & apps are coming up, making community builders’ work easier.

New apps like Circle, Geneva, Tribe (and more) are building platforms to give such niche communities a unique experience in a controlled environment.

Since 2016 we are seeing people switching from broader communities to niche ones. Facebook and LinkedIn launched groups on their platforms so people could make their own niche community of like-minded individuals sharing similar passions. Most of those communities are lost in the noise and clutter.

People in niche communities are there because they are genuinely passionate about a particular subject. Niche communities focus on a specific topics, have higher engagement, people feel safe which increases trust and gives them a sense of belonging.

Unfortunately, the big platforms - such as Facebook & LinkedIn - are not able to provide any of those. Especially after Facebook–Cambridge Analytica data scandal and other similar cases.  

In September 2018 Facebook saw 26% of it’s users deleting the app and 42% took a break from checking the platform. And in the beginning of 2019 David Spinks, Founder of CMX (community for community builders) predicted, niche communities will rise and backlash against mainstream social media will keep growing.

The four main reasons behind people shifting from big social media platforms to niche communities are:

  1. People are losing trust
  2. Quality of content is falling massively
  3. Too broad and cluttered
  4. People are not able to have quality engagement

Niche communities are here to stay

Niche communities provide quality and well curated content, safety, sense of belonging. Why? Because like-minded and passionate people actively engage and share unique ideas here.  

Some examples of Niche communities are —

NessLabs, run by Anne-Laure Le Cunff. This community is all about being mindful about productivity, meta cognition and mental health.  

DGMG, run by Dave Gerhardt. He shares his marketing secrets and helps solve other marketers’ marketing problems through his community.

Visualise Value run by Jack Butcher. Jack shares actionable insights with is members to build their (or their product’s) digital presence, content strategy and marketing frameworks.

Fortelabs by Tiago Forte. Tiago has build a community of people who are passionate about building a second brain. A second brain helps you find the right framework to organise a ton of information you consume on a regular basis.

HelloMeets by Sahiba Sethi. Various micro communities ranging from Marketing, Design, Product, devOps to specific communities like No Code, Ed Tech, Data Science and much more. People in all these micro communities are startup professionals.

With increase in niche communities, community builders are preferring their own space where they have full control over the platform and can give their members a unique experience. We are seeing more software & apps coming up that give full autonomy to the community maker.

It’s just after the internet that we started seeing communities of 100K+ people. The essence of the community some how goes away when the number of people increase dramatically. But it’s not impossible to have thousands of people in the community directed by the same goal.

Take an example of Duolingo - The world’s largest language learning App.

Duolingo has successfully managed to build a community of 300 million+ members with a common goal, “Learn a new language”. They were able to do it because of the evangelists dedicated towards the common goal and ‘user generated content’. Whatever you see on Duolingo app, the courses, meetups and other activities are all created by dedicated and passionate members of the community.
Before the Covid-19 pandemic, their volunteers all around the world conducted meetups with fellow language learners for free. They are motivated to do it because of other ‘intrinsic motivations’. During that time, Duolingo was also able to have deeper and valuable engagement with members because of the meetups volunteers used to host offline. Smaller groups of people came together and connected while learning and exchanging languages.

Another example of volunteers contributing their time and effort is during HelloMeets meetups. When HelloMeets was conducting offline meetups in different parts of India, Singapore and Canada, all of them were coordinated by the volunteers. They had the motivation to learn, lead and represent themselves as hosts.

This way a team of 3 people was able to organise 30+ meetups per month in 3 countries, while working from an entirely different place. When the entire world was in lockdown, HelloMeets shifted online. This gave them more opportunities in different countries. In 6 months, HelloMeets has brought speakers from USA, Ireland, The Netherlands, UK, Poland and Germany for meetups on various topics.

HelloMeets has seen an exponential growth in their micro-communities as well due to this transition And lot of them have started volunteering for the online meetups too.

NessLabs, Fortelabs and Visualise Value are doing it in a different way. The founders of these communities have build exclusive courses to teach people what they are good at. They have regular meetups which are more of discussions and less of presentations. Here people come together every week or fortnight to talk about what they’ve learnt that week. People in these communities can freely share their thoughts and ideas (keeping the basic etiquette and theme of the community in mind).

The online meetups are the key to build deeper and more valuable relationships that result in the community becoming more stronger and for members to build trust and loyalty.

We will see niche communities become more common in near future and if these big social media platforms are not able to gain back the trust (along with fixing other issues) we might see them get disrupted by the upcoming community platforms.

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