Signals #10 - Niche Communities


I like to research how big trends could transform the way we run our businesses.

This week's research was focused on how to leverage niche communities online for engagement, sales and growth.

I hope you find this report useful.

Let me know what you think in the comments.

📶 Signals #10 - Niche Communities

❌ Challenge

  • Major social networks are too broad. Trying to engage with everyone results in engaging with no one.

✅ Opportunity

  • Advertise, engage and build in niche communities to reach your specific target audience and pinpoint your best customers.

⚙️ Actions

  • Advertise in a niche community. Your net is smaller. Your catch will include more qualified leads. The audience is already focused and passionate about the topic. Examples:

    • Failory advertises for startup founders and entrepreneurs. Spend $1000 for 600-800 clicks or $120 for 40-100.

    • Ravelry ads help you reach knitters and crocheters.

    • Goodreads ads direct your products to book lovers.

  • Create and sell products that fill the unmet needs of a niche community. Greg Isenberg's formula based on Reddit:

    1. Find a suitable Subreddit. > 50k subscribers and 40% growth rate.

    2. Join the Subreddit. Spend 1-2 hours daily and engage genuinely with others.

    3. Identify problems. See what users really want.

    4. Create an even closer space on Discord or Slack and invite people in.

    5. Build a product/service to solve the problem defined in point 3.

🔨 Platforms

  • Software

  • Design & creative

  • Founders / Entrepreneurs

    • StarterStory - Real case studies of founders earning monthly from $1k to $1M.

    • WIP - Build your company in public and share milestones.

    • ​Indie Stack - A private small community for digital indie makers. Memberships $79/year or $149/lifetime.

🚀 Pros

  • Major social networks are crowded by big brands. Who wants to fight Netflix, NFL or Gymshark on TikTok? Use niche communities to your advantage. There's less competition and cost. Scale is limited, but engagement isn't.

  • Internet is messy and flooded with spam. Niche communities are:

    • More focused.

    • More engaging.

    • More valuable.

    • Less noisy.

    • Less overcrowded.

    • Less competitive.

🚧 Cons

  • Focusing on a niche community can be a risky bet. How do you know for sure it's going to exist tomorrow? Many communities are low-budget and run by volunteers.

  • Marketing for an ultra-niche community might also mean that you're placing a cap for growth. Be aware of the total market potential.

📊 Cases

  • Webflow failed a Kickstarter campaign and its founders were running out of cash in 2013. One post to Hacker News changed it all. Webflow is now valued at $2.1 billion.

  • ​Exploding Topics started in 04/2019 and relied almost completely on niche communities for growth until around 6000 subscribers. Their strategy:

    • Up to 80 subscribers: Posting on Subreddits.

    • Up to 200: Posting on Indie Hackers, Facebook Groups.

    • Up to 2000: Making front page of Hacker News.

    • Up to 6000: Making #1 product of the month on Product Hunt.

    • ET has now over 51,000 subscribers and is able to charge up to $197/month for their Pro Complete -subscription.

🕘 Forecast

  • ​Fragmented internet could be on its way: U.S., Europe, China and India imposing their own regulatory frameworks could lead to a splintered digital landscape. Leading to even more complex environments for sales and marketing. Will we have 4 branches of the web by 2030?

📚 Resources

  • ​Find A Forum - Search for discussion boards. Great for finding ultra-niche forums with good traffic.

  • ​Be everywhere vs. focus on 1 network - If you're tiny, you need to focus. 1000 followers on 1 platform is better than 200 followers on 5 platforms. Succeed once and it's easier to copy. While you're at it, read how Harry Dry concentrates his sharing and gets a compounding effect.

🏆 Takeaways

  • Social networks are increasingly fragmenting. People are actively searching for small corners of the internet which align with their values and allow them to be themselves. Get to know the people in these corners and fill their unmet needs.

📶 Want more?

  • Get up to 3x of insights with Signals Pro.

  • Or join Signals for weekly free trend insights:

🤝 Thanks for reading. See you next week!

  1. 2

    If anyone is looking to build a niche community, let me know and I can help you get started :) shoot me an email!

  2. 2

    Great insights, thank you for curating it.

    I'm curious as to why Exploding Topics targeted a different platform for each phase of grow. Were they building a community by stacking existing users?

    1. 2

      @joshahowarth might be able to answer about the nitty gritty of their early growth strategy.

      My take based on what I've seen:

      The strategy has to fit the size of your fan base / followers.

      First you gain some initial subscriber base by posting to forums with your target audience (sometimes you might be deemed too self-promotional even if adding value, but hey, that's the name of the game). This is the part where you have to grind a lot for individual subscribers.

      Until you get enough to get a momentum going on. From the numbers I can see that Hacker News was the game-changer for ET (200 -> 2000).

      After hitting 1-2K you can leverage your size more easily. ET did a PH launch. Which can easily fail if you don't have a large enough fan base to support you.

      After 10K there were a lot of mentions/cross-promotions/ads with other big newsletters which is a great tactic at that level I think.

      Btw it's good to note these are newsletter subscribers, not paying customers we're talking about here.

      1. 2

        Hey Marcel and Timo, this is exactly it -> "The strategy has to fit the size of your fan base / followers."

        And the other points about HN and PH are spot on too.

        The only notes I would add:

        • The first phase (Reddit etc) was about validation more than the absolute number of subscribers.

        • Cross-promos only really make sense when you have a decent list size. Otherwise, nobody's interested in swapping. Plus they're not worth the effort.

        • As you grow, previous channels no longer move the needle. So you have to try new things.

  3. 2

    Niche communities FTW!
    For discovering communities by topic + platform, check out Hive Index.

    1. 1

      This is a great resource, I missed it. Thanks for highlighting it.

  4. 2

    Well done. Very interesting topic. I started doing something similar with one of my blogs. Getting into smaller communities, finding out their questions and then create specific content. But what you are describing definitely goes way beyond what I am doing. Nice!

    1. 1

      The crazy thing is, there's a mindblowing amount of these niche communities. When I started searching there was no end to it... I mentioned a few search tools also in the Pro-version.

      1. 2

        The fact, that you are doing what you are talking about right now, wasn't lost on me ;-)

        And yes, I already checked out your newsletter. Good luck with it. Unfortunately I am at a point again, where I am being almost overwhelmed with new inputs. Although I really like your product it would probably not help me at this time.


        1. 1

          Thanks for the good feedback Dani :)

  5. 2

    Thanks Timo for the awesome article! I've started 2 niche communites and I coulnd't agree more. Here's an example, it's a community of newsletter creators https://newslettercrew.com/

    1. 2

      I think another advantage of picking a niche community is the chance of getting on the wave before everybody else does.

      A while ago I would have said that newsletters were a niche community, but now I think it's becoming much more mainstream. As somebody early to that space, you're well placed to be at the forefront of that growth!

      (btw, I'm just starting my own newsletter and have just discovered your podcast. It's really useful, thank you 🙏 )

      1. 1

        Thanks, @daves106 really appreciate it :)

    2. 1

      Thanks for the kind words Yaro! I struggled a lot whether to add newsletters to this article or not. There are many which have turned into awesome communities, like the Newsletter Crew. In the end I decided to leave them to version 2.0 of this report.

      Btw love Newsletter Crew and the podcast :)

  6. 1

    Really useful! I've just finished building a game that helps niche communities share images from Instagram and Flickr, and vote to select the best posts, every month.

    Thanks for sharing these tested growth strategies.

  7. 1

    I'd argue about focusing on one platform/network. With content repurposing you can be everywhere while maintaining and focusing on one place, the rest would eventually help to the success.

    1. 1

      One is definitely super-focused. I'd say 1-4 is reasonable and doable for most with modern apps and a smart strategy. > 5-6 seems borderlining to play it too thin and I'd argue you will lose focus and not add value that much to people anymore at that point. What's your view @anilkilic?

      I also see that there's always those 1-2 platforms where your message will sink in better than elsewhere. One good strategy could be to focus your most energy there first, grow a sizable audience and then go to other platforms. Could be easier than trying to grow on 5 different ones simultaneously.

      1. 1

        You are sharing this one on Twitter, Substack and IndieHackers as far as I see. Do you mind tell us what works the best, my two cents is on Twitter. Even you get more response on IH, I assume CTR is higher over there. Both platform supports each other. From IH you get twitter followers, who helps you to spread the word. While the main platform is Substack which is not offering many options to engage with subscribers.

        Arguably main focus should be the Substack subscribers. Whom shall be the advocate for you and the work.

        Additionally how to tell which is the best without trying. Maybe all you need is being present on pinterest :)

        1. 2

          I'm actually not on Substack at all because I have my own custom domain for Signals.

          I'm active on IH, Twitter and LinkedIn. IH seems to resonate best so far, Twitter after that. LinkedIn is least engagement, even if I have most followers there.

          But I'm constantly wondering whether this is the best strategy (hence also the research this week). I see LinkedIn gurus who have started ONLY there and are doing great. So it seems at least some people have done well with starting only in one place and mastering it before going elsewhere.

          Then again, in the big picture I'm not a huge believer of growth hacks. I'm a firm believer of slow and steady growth, regardless of the platform.

          But that's the beauty of indie hacking: so many successful different strategies :)

          1. 1

            Maybe you should be on Substack, j/k. I'm not an expert in growth, hacking or anything. Only sharing my observations. I'm not active in any other platform either, only fooling around here.

            All I'm saying is no need to limit yourself. Many huge brands tearing themselves on TikTok and it's apparently working 🤷‍♂️

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