Current status of the Ning Platform is always available on the Ning Status Blog.

Blogs

The Business of Community (24)

Attention NC's!

If you sell a product or service from your Ning Network, we invite to become a Lott-O-Luck Partner.

There is no cost to NC's. However, you are required to give away one of your company's products/services as a prize in our new Lott-O-Luck game 

In return for each prize you sponsor, your business will enjoy the following benefits:

  1. Boost in exposure
  2. Boost in visibility
  3. Boost in traffic/patronage
  4. Boost in sales/income

For more information, visit or ning network at http://lottoluckgame.com/partners

Read more…
As the year comes to a close, it's a great time to look to a few Ning Networks that have had great success throughout 2012 for inspiration. We asked Network Creators on our Creators Network to let us know how their year went, and we received some exciting stories of success and lessons learned.
Read more…
There are over 90,000 social websites on Ning worldwide. As a social platform that integrates with major social tools, Ning is in a unique position to observe patterns across the entire social ecosystem. The new Ning Point of View (POV) Report examines trends in community engagement across the ever-changing social ecosystem that all inspired organizations and businesses can apply to spark change with as few as 20 people.
Read more…

A little over a year ago, we used a service called Open X on TuDiabetes.org and EsTuDiabetes.org, to serve our ads until we found ourselves talking to nobody when faced with a tech issue that resulted in no ads getting served. At that point, I decided to try Google Ad Manager, a free service that does the same thing (help you manage ads) as a hosted service by Google.

More than a year later (now it's called DFP Small Business, but it is essentially the same service), we continue to be very happy with the platform. It lets you manage multiple orders for multiple clients over multiple inventory locations. This is ideal for us, having two networks to manage ads on and typically having multiple campaigns under way.

The ability to manage an order includes start and end times, % of impressions and targeting by geography, language, browser, domains and much more. Also, their reporting capabilities are as solid as the rest of the Google products you may be used to, which is advantageous to you and to your clients.

All in all, DFP has become a solution that seems to meet all our needs and has been reliable in its delivery of ads since we adopted it.

Read more…
Hey NC's
This week I've spent a good deal of time working on developing what I call a "Framework for Action". I want to use this framework as a guideline to enroll people into the process of taking action on a variety of different projects and network I lead.
Creators continues to be an invaluable resources to me (Thanks everyone!) and so I thought I'd give back again by sharing my draft "Framework for Action" with you.
Kindly read through and then share your thoughts and input. Here is what I have so far:
Discuss:
  • What are the problems and symptoms we are facing?
  • What are the opportunities and impacts that could be made?
  • What are our values and what do we want to achieve and for whom?
  • What data is available to us that shows what is currently going on?
  • Who or what organizations are currently addressing these problems or opportunities?
  • What strategies and tactics have been effective at addressing these problems or opportunities?
Plan:
  • What are are we going to do?
  • What resources do we need to support our action?
  • Who is going to support/managing the action we are going to take?
  • When are we going to take this action?
  • How are we going to record action we took?
  • What Key Performance Indicators are we going to track?
  • How are we going to acknowledge and reward action and results?
Act:
  • Do it.
  • Record it.
  • Report it.
  • Thank.
Evaluate:
  • What did we actually get done?
  • What did we get done vs. what we planned we do?
  • How did the getting it done go?
  • What was the feedback?
  • What can we learn?
  • What do we recommend we do differently next time?
Kindly reply with your feedback to the following questions:
  1. If you've done something like this before, is there another existing proven framework we should evaluate? If so which one(s)?
  2. Are we missing anything or should would you remove something? If so which and why?
  3. Any other questions you think I should be asking or something I should know?
Thank in advance for your help!
Joseph
Read more…
NC for Hire
How much do you really know about Online Hackers and Scams? This is an amazing phenomenon and open door of opportunities for Criminals. Educate yourself. Educate your family, friends, and members of your Social Community.

As part of a series of educational videos about Hackers and Scams, I will be adding a new Video Episode each week, for the next month+ to the Creators site and JenSocial.

Episode #1 - Stop Hacker Commerce:


Episode #2 - The Trap Is Set:


Episode #3 - Caught In The Web:

Find out more about the report of all Scams - - Offline and Online. Find out if they are myth or fact.

snopes.com: Scam Report
The Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3)


How To Prevent Spammers on Ning Networks

There are 5 features offered on a Ning Network that help prevent Sign-Up Spammers. To set your options, access the features via: My Network/Members/Controls

You can approve all new Members. This definitely helps in the prevention of Sign-Up spammers joining your Ning Network. You may not catch all of them, but most will give you good indicators that they are spammers. If you see repeated words like "i tell you later, i tell you later", or "i'm a good girl looking for love", etc... you can bet your bottom dollar, these are spammers. And of course goes without saying, Do not approve these accounts.

If you do not want to "Approve Members", there are 4 other features that will help prevent Sign-Up Spammers:

  • Require new members to verify their email address - I advise turning on this feature for all Networks.
  • Fill out a captcha
    • An image containing words that users must correctly identify.
    • I advise turning on this feature, due to most auto-spambots cannot enter a captcha correctly, since it is a never changing "image".
  • Answer the sign-up quiz
    • Create a quiz question that new members must answer correctly to join.
    • You can really get clever on the sign-up quiz question. I saw one where a Network Creator asked "Are you a real person?" and he set the default answer to "No". This will catch a lot of spambots, no doubt.
    • Definition: A spambot is an automated computer program, or, more rarely, a script, designed to assist in the sending of spam - - and joining Networks for the same purpose in mind, including dropping links to illegal sites.
    • Another great way to utilize this feature: add a question that only applies to your type network. Add a question that members of your site should know, if they are interested in joining your Network. A great example: A Ning Network for Golf may ask a question like this, "Would you rather have a Birdie or a Bogey?"
  • Spam Prevention - Automatically suspend suspected spammers
    • I'm not sure what algorithm or criteria is in place for suspending suspected spammers.
    • Please let us know your experience, if you know more about this feature.

Here's a screen shot of your "Prevent Spammer" Controls:


Perfect Example - - Just had this spammer join JenSocial (August 10, 2010), and about the 7th one today. BTW, I have not set a question for the Sign-Up Quiz yet. I will very soon!

Read more…


Greetings, Creators!

I work at CafePress, and I've been collaborating with Ning to develop a partnership that's designed to help you make more money from your Ning Network. We launched a CafePress App on June 16th, which makes it incredibly easy for you to get started with your own storefront. We also worked with Ning on a very unique offer: the ability for you to earn a free year of Mini or Plus. We're very excited about this idea because it’s really a win-win situation for everyone. It’s clearly excited a lot of you as well. As of today, the CafePress App has been installed on over 2,500 Ning Networks.

If you're not familiar with the offer, check it out. We've already seen a number of Ning Networks meet their goal and earn a free year of Mini or Plus.

The folks from Ning invited me to stop by Creators and give those of you who haven't yet reached your goal a few tips that might help you get there faster. We’ve obviously had a lot of experience seeing storefronts succeed or fail. Here are three of the best tips I can give you.

1. Include a custom design.

From my experience, the single most important thing you can do to increase revenue in your CafePress store is to offer custom designs. While the standard "I heart" message works great for some people, I've seen a dramatic increase when people go the extra distance and create custom images. It also helps to offer a number of choices.

The Bayan Ng Candalaria site is a great example of a Ning Network that’s already reached their goal of earning a free year’s subscription to Ning Plus. Their CafePress store offers a dozen graphically rich choices that can be found on over 20 fabulous products, including t-shirts for dogs! Now, that’s clever.

Not a designer? Create your own design with our "Designer" — simply select the option "Build a design." You’ll find a library of clip art and text tool to help you create a great design.

2. Don't just think visual — think textual

Even if you aren't a whiz at Photoshop, with a little bit of creativity you can offer compelling text-based designs that include your tagline or fun sayings that your members will connect with. A great example to follow is Duke City Fix, a Ning Network with a longstanding CafePress store. They offer witty and catchy sayings that read like bumper stickers. Very clever bumper stickers.

3. Put it above the fold

We do a lot of statistical analysis at CafePress, and one of the things we focus on is how people integrate their CafePress stores into their Web sites. There is a very important detail that we've found makes a big difference: display your merchandise "above the fold" — closer to the top of the page so people who take a cursory glance at your Main Page will clearly notice it. The old sales adage "show the product" applies here. As I'm writing this, I notice that a Ning Network that does a great job of making their CafePress site visible above-the-fold is Walden International Corps — and it looks like they just met their goal of a Ning Plus subscription today. Go, Walden!

It's easy to add new designs to your Ning CafePress store! Here are steps to help you get started:

  1. Go to your CafePress store on your Ning site and click on the "Edit Your Shop" button.
  2. If you're not logged in, it will take you to the member sign in page. Enter your account information.
  3. Click on the "edit" link for your Ning store and you will be taken to the edit version of your store.
  4. Under Shop by Design (left side), you can start adding new designs by selecting the "Add a Design" link. You will be given the choice to:
  • Browse our Designs by using our design templates personalized by your site name or text
  • Upload a logo
  • Build a design by using our easy "designer tool" to put together clipart and text with your choice of font

Once you're done, be sure to save your design!

We hope that you're already on the road to earning a Ning Mini or Plus year's subscription. You still have until August 20th to take advantage of this offer, so if you haven't started, you can get going right now. Or just add the CafePress App to make money — it's your choice.

If any other Creators have tips to share based on their own experience of integrating CafePress into their Ning Network, feel free to share them here.

Read more…

My Modern Met has been running their own ads since 2008. By achieving high growth and traffic to their network, as well as creating high quality content, they’ve been able to secure deals with top tier ad networks and achieve CPMs in the double digits. Recently, these ad networks have brought to them site-specific buys and unique sponsorship opportunities.

Hi, I'm Alice from My Modern Met. I was asked to share my story on how we've managed to make money on our Ning network. Though our story is unique, there are common experiences we as Ning Creators will all face. Particularly if you're going to try and make money through advertising, I'd love to share with you some things we've learned along the way.

There are a whole bunch of ways to make money on your Ning network by advertising which include banner advertising with Google Adsense or ad networks, contextual advertising, affiliate sales (cost-per-click, cost-per-action, cost-per-sale), direct advertising and sponsorships. CPM (or cost per thousand) banner advertising is traffic driven, the more people you have looking at your banner ad, the more money you can make. Cost per thousand means that for every 1,000 impressions (or eyeballs), you get a certain amount of money which can range from a few cents to double digit dollars.

When I first started My Modern Met, we focused our attention on building up the community and providing interesting content. We started as a private, invite-only site and we took off the Google Adsense ads immediately, though looking back we probably could have kept them on. The reason we took them off was because our site was a little too broad, meaning we didn't have such a specific niche that Adsense was working effectively. That being said, even if you're not making a lot of money in the early stages, you want people to get used to seeing advertising on your site and making some money is better than none. We decided that it was better to use up the web real estate with interesting content. We built up our core community through friends and family. After about three months, we opened up My Modern Met to the public. Our content started to spread virally around the web, bringing in tens of thousands of people a day. At that point, we knew we were big enough to approach ad networks.

Through our own research and by talking to people at conferences, we found a bunch of ad networks that would fit with us and found out their criteria for getting accepted. We knew that we had to reach a critical mass of unique visitors and pageviews before we could even approach them. Once we hit those milestones, we reached out to them and were able to secure deals.

We manage our ads through Google Ad Manager. (Here's a good article from Hongkiat on how to set it up if you're looking into managing your ad networks or even your direct buys.)

With time and increased traffic, we were able to partner with more premium ad networks. After two years, we're now in the position where we're receiving site specific buys and sponsorship opportunities.

Here are our top ten tips on how to make money through advertising:

1. Be patient - Don't expect to partner with ad networks until you reach a minimum threshold (number of unique visitors or pageviews).
2. Research ad networks - Find out which ones best fit with your Ning network. There's a wide range of ad networks for particular niches like luxury and tech.
3. Be persistent - If you get denied from an ad network, don't give up. Approach them again after a certain period of time. Legitimacy comes with increased traffic over time.
4. Have high quality content, find your niche - If possible create original content that others would want to link to and spread.
5. Decide on your business model - Banners advertising works well for sites with high traffic, while smaller, more targeted niche sites work well with Google Adsense or affiliate sales.
6. Grow your community - What sets your site apart from blogs is that you have engaged members. Make that one of your selling points when you approach advertisers or ad networks.
7. Build traffic - Don't overlook the power of Digg, Reddit and StumbleUpon.
8. Use social media tools like Facebook and Twitter - These will also help you spread content and build up your community.
9. Get to know other Ning Creators - Find out what works for them and see if you can apply it to your network.
10. Get outside your comfort zone - Attend conferences and network. You may want to just sit at your desk and work on your site but getting out there into the real world will help you see if you're headed in the right direction, find new ideas and identify trends. This is invaluable.

I hope this information helps. Good luck to all of you Ning Creators out there and if you have any specific questions, feel free to contact me at alice@mymodernmet.com. Thanks!

Read more…

CafePress for Fun & Profit

In April, I set up a CafePress Shop for the Duke City Fix, a Ning-based city blog about Albuquerque, New Mexico. Through CafePress we now sell custom t-shirts, tote bags, coffee mugs, and other blog-branded schwag.


When I decided to set up the Shop I had two simple goals:
  1. To build awareness through guerrilla marketing. My hope is that the promotional merchandise we sell will serve as mobile billboards for our site.
  2. To generate some cash to help underwrite our work on the site. We do also host Google ads, so the Cafe Press shop is a supplement to the Google income.

I'd worked with CafePress before, and liked that the company makes it so easy to set up a Shop and start selling. Also -- and I think this is super-important for those of us who are operating on a shoestring -- CafePress requires no (zero, nada, zip) upfront investment from the Shop owner. When you make a sale, CafePress' cut comes from the buyer, not from you. You don't have to create, store, or ship inventory, and you don't need a merchant or PayPal account. You have zero risk.


Without going into too much detail about how to set up a Cafe Press site (they have great, clear instructions), let me list the tools we use to promote our Shop:

  • I chose to create a Premium Shop (not required) which costs $4.99/month but allows me to customize the look of the shop. In retrospect I might not have chosen the Premium option, but I can be a control freak so there you have it. A Basic Shop is completely free.
  • The Shop features slogans and in-jokes that had been developed by our community over the life of the site. Using "The Duke Abides", "That's Not Dust, That's Enchantment", and "Oh sí liar!" on our schwag helps to create a sense of ownership among our readers.
  • We deliberately set our markup at a low amount, in order to keep prices low and encourage sales. If revenue had been our first goal, I might have set the markup higher. Through CafePress you decide how big a cut you receive on each sale.
  • I created a custom banner to use on The Fix's home page (see the banner image above). It sits in a text box, and is linked directly to the shop.
  • We announced the shop on our Facebook page and Twitter feed.
  • We ran a contest, which we promoted through Facebook, Twitter, and the Broadcast Message function on Ning. As part of the contest, we asked our readers to come up with a new slogan for the site (we change the slogan periodically). And products with that slogan are now offered in the shop.

Finally, the results! We initially ran the shop on our front page for three weeks*. During that time:

  • We sold just over 40 items.
  • We made just over $40 (remember that we set our markup low!)
  • We generated great buzz on and off our Ning site.
  • Through the promotion of the Shop, we drove traffic to our own site.

*The shop came down off the front page for a few weeks to allow us to run a different promotion, but now it's back up there. And while sales have slowed, we're still selling, and still happy with the results.
Read more…

Getting Donations

With the phasing out of free Ning networks, I was faced with two choices. Keep Outsider Writers as it is with the $200 level program, or kick about 850 members out and slide down to the $20 plan. With nearly a thousand members, I decided to ask for help figuring, nothing ventured nothing gained, and really, nothing to lose. I posted about the situation on our main page and sent a broadcast message to all our members. I pointed out the bad news and the good news. The bad news being we needed to raise $200. The good news was that with a thousand members, we only needed to chip in twenty cents each! Of course, this was rather tongue in cheek and I mentioned that if we could get ten percent participation it would still only be $2.00 each.

I asked people to consider pledging $4 or $5 in case some people couldn't afford even $2.
I should mention that the other people working on the site with me were skeptical. But they were surprised because about twenty people responded right away. Three people gave pledges in the $50 range with the rest ranging from $2 to $10. I sent these people a PayPal invoice, or my mailing address, according to their preference. Within ten days I had nearly $300 raised.
We are hoping that we can raise enough money by selling the available advertising space and that we won't need to beg each year. I highly recommend asking for donations. Again, nothing to lose and everything to gain.
Read more…

Generating revenue through advertising can be golden; however, how does a network creator manage the advertising real estate?


First...what is advertising real estate? Since there is only so much space on a web page (okay so technically there is nearly unlimited space on a web page, but being realistic, there is only so much that is considered quality space) advertising real estate, is that space that a network creator allocates to advertising.

A few of tips before moving forward:
  1. Too much advertising can take away from the site visitor's experience and too little can be lost revenue. Finding a balance that works for your demographic is key.
  2. Work within your chosen web design. Placing advertising in awkward places on the site just to draw attention can be counter productive. Yes, you may get a visitor's attention, but by diminishing their experience on your site can be a huge negative.
  3. The key to success in advertising revenue is going to be return site visitors. The amount of effort and cost to get a new visitor to your website can be very costly and usually is. Keeping a balance of new visitors vs returning visitors is key. The balance and mix of these two variables is dependent on the site business model. For a social network, heavy percentage on return visitors is a must. If they aren't returning, something is wrong.
Okay, so how to manage the ad space? First, what are the variables that affect ad space?

They are:
  1. Ad size
  2. Ad placement
  3. Ad cost
  4. Ad exposure
In a nutshell there are just four variables to consider. Let's break each one down.

First, Ad size. Ad size is defined by the actual space that the ad will occupy on the web page. Whether placing graphics-based or text-based advertisements, the space requirement should be considered. Banner ads are typically sized by pixels, so for example, a 160x600 banner requires 160 pixels for the width and 600 pixels for the height.

Second, Ad placement. There are many combinations that can be used with regard to ad placement. The typical placement on a Ning network will be the right column. This space will receive the highest exposure because nearly every page on the network will have this column visible. It is also easy to manage by simply placing a text box and adding a banner image. Network creators can also easily place ads in all three columns on the network homepage. With bit more work, posting ads in the header, footer, and content areas, can be done; however, at present this will require a bit of javascript code and may offer some unpredictable outcomes.

Third, Ad cost. In determining how much to sell advertising space for, there are numerous considerations.
  1. What are the demographics of the site?
  2. Who could benefit from advertising?
  3. Do I charge CPC, or CPM?
  4. How much traffic does this network generate?
  5. Where will the ad be placed, (for example above the fold or below)?
This consideration (ad cost) can be expanded even further, but I will leave that for the comments.

Forth, Ad exposure. Ad exposure has four basic variables. They are:
  1. How many times an ad is seen by an individual.
  2. How often an ad is seen by an individual.
  3. The geographical location of the individual seeing the ad.
  4. The time the ad is being seen by an individual.
There are additional variables, like age, gender, browser type, etc., but those are beyond the scope of this discussion and can be explored in the comments.

Managing the complexity of advertising space can be daunting if not properly equipped. for the task.

For this reason, I recommend, Google Ad Manager as a solution for managing your advertising campaigns. This robust solution offers handy tools for managing your campaign along with providing confidence in reporting for your advertisers.

What experiences do you have regarding generating revenue via an advertising model?

Read more…

The Ning social network we used in our BYU Comms230 class this semester was a useful tool that was wholeheartedly embraced and endorsed by class members. Powerful, intuitive social media tools aren’t just for marketing. They represent and facilitate fundamental shifts in human interaction—shifts that can improve university learning.


>>> 43 out of 43 students said such a network would be helpful in ALL of their classes.


>>> The following few quotes represent hundreds of positive comments from class members:


“The network took class discussions and extended them into online conversations.”

“Seeing my classmates’ work sparked my own ideas.”

“The professor has talked a lot this semester about building a personal online brand. Blogging has helped me do that.”

“I got many more insights through sharing ideas on blog posts.”

“The network unified our class and facilitated communication.”

“I was motivated to submit higher quality work because I knew my peers would see it.”

“It’s simple. I don’t have to print assignments. I can get things done from anywhere. It’s quick. The communication is instant.”

“Everything I need for class is in one spot—the calendar, syllabus, class video stream, lecture slides, and quick ability to contact classmates, the professor, and the TA.”

“My questions are answered and my comments acknowledged much quicker than in regular classes.”

“Blogging forced me to think. I wasn’t just memorizing material.”

“Blogging has helped me feel like I have a jump on the industry because I’m actually in it.”

“It was really motivating to me to make my blog posts good so that others would respond to them.”

“Comments left on the posts unified the class, and we were able to bounce ideas off each other.”

“Blogging made me think, and put those thoughts into words. When you have to explain yourself to others it makes you dig deeper and find out why you think that way.”

“Yes. I recommend it for other classes. The world is more technologically savvy. Students must be too.”

“Blackboard is functional, but the Ning network is fun and so much more interactive.”


You can read the full post by clicking >HERE.


You can visit the class network by clicking >HERE.

Read more…

Last week, I returned from five days at South by Southwest Interactive – an annual conference that focuses on technology and social media. The most interesting panels and talks that I attended while at SXSW focused on the ways that new social media technologies - like Ning! - are shaping the newest generation of non-profits.

Kiva, a non-profit that is arguably the most well known microfinance organization today, has engineered a fantastic online social network for their organization. The engineering team at Kiva has built a robust social network that allows lenders to connect with entrepreneurs in the developing world, which includes photos, descriptions, and updates on the portion of the loans that the entrepreneurs have been able to pay back. DonorsChoose is another non-profit that's been helping support teachers for the past decade. They're using a social network to allow donors to choose which projects they want to contribute to, and they've done a fantastic job of building a website that's truly interactive. When someone adds a donation on their website, they encourage them to write a note explaining why they decided to give money. It's a great example of using a social network to create an authentic and personable experience for donors.

While these organizations may be building their own websites with the help of a team of engineers, many of the strategies that are working for them can be applied to non-profits using Ning to provide the framework for a non-profit network. I can't think of a better place than the Ning Creators Network to share the lessons I learned!


Be transparent.
People like to know where their money is going. The more that you can do to explain what happens to the money after you’ve deposited a check (or accepted a donation through Paypal), the better your donors will feel about giving you money. Use the Pages feature to create a help center on your Ning Network, and let people ask you questions directly using your Discussion Forum. You can use the Blogs feature to update your Ning Network with the latest news from the organization. Ask your employees to create profile pages, so that donors can see the faces behind all your hard work.

Let them spread the word.
You don’t need to do all the heavy lifting when it comes to telling people about your organization. Let the people who are already supporting you be your advocate. If people believe in your non-profit, they'll want to tell their friends. Encourage the members of your Ning Network to invite their friends to join, and you can focus your energy on creating the best possible way for them to learn about your cause. That said, it never hurts to show people what your focus is. Greet new members who join your Ning Network, and reward members who invite their friends with Award gifts.

Use your Ning Network to build a relationship with your donors.
Once someone has joined your Ning Network, it's much easier to keep them involved. Send out broadcast messages to announce new initiatives, and update your Blog to let your members know what's going on. Ask your members for feedback using a Forum discussion, and find out what you can be doing better. Here on Ning Creators, we get loads of ideas about how to make Ning better and what we can do to get our Network Creators to love us. This can work just as well for your non-profit!

Connect with Twitter and Facebook.
Chances are you already have a Facebook fan page and/or a Twitter account to keep donors involved. It can be daunting to manage all of these social media outlets, so let your Ning Network help you with this! Connect your Ning Network to Twitter and Facebook, and you can push your status updates to all three places with a single click.

Thank people in public.
Show the people who have contributed how much you appreciate them by thanking them on your Ning Network. Use profile comments or customized gifts to say thank you, or use the Pages feature to post a donors directory. Just had a volunteer event? Post photos on your Ning Network to show off how well it went!


The best part of my job is seeing the way Network Creators like you are using Ning in creative ways. If you have more suggestions for using a Ning Network to help grow your non-profit, let us know here!

Read more…

Hey guys! So I was one of the lucky winners to spend some time with Ning down in Austin, and I just wanted to drop in to give some feedback from the perspective of Creators.

SXSW is billed as a Tech Conference, but it's really a Festival. I think what that means to Creators is the following...

This is aimed towards those who are interested in making money via your network, and feel ready to do that (big audience, big traffic, unique segment of a market). I know that's not everyone, but I feel like it'd be one major agenda that might drive you to consider going to SXSWi if you haven't been.

  1. Industry People: Austin is all about people. Everyone is there. Bloggers, Company Founders, marketing teams, PR people, advertising people, and thought leaders. There's lots of educational and non-profit conversations happening. If you wanted to meet them, hear from them, or pitch them (in a non-pitchy way), Austin is a great opportunity. I'd build a list of hopeful meetings, reach out beforehand to set a few coffee chats up, and then spend your time there using Foursquare/Gowalla/Twitter to track down the one's you don't have on your schedule.
  2. Feedback: The early adopter crowd is there in full force. They're willing to hear your ideas, your community dynamics, and your story. Literally everyone there has a story, and is open to share it in exchange for yours. There's no reason to be shy, because rather than criticize or shoot you down, you'll get valuable feedback and insight into what else is happening in your space.
  3. Promotions/Marketing: I was really underwhelmed at the 'buzz building' tactics in Austin this year, despite the opportunity. With 15,000 early adopters/open minded geeks walking around, all carrying with them an audience of interested parties, you can really make a bang with very little COST. It's more a matter of doing something really innovative. Perfect example: the Ning team hands out free pie slices during their 'office hours'...and they were not only gone in short time, but generated buzz that I heard for the next 24 hours at parties and via twitter.
  4. Parties: Parties are a big, big part of the agenda down there. Problem is that they're expensive and exclusive, generally. Thing is, the best ones happened off the radar. If you want to bring people together to talk about you or your community, do that in a social setting 'off campus'.

I'm sure there's more, but that's a lot. If anyone has questions, just let me know...I'm happy to share!

Read more…

I created whyleaveastoria.com nearly two years ago as a means for young adults to connect with their neighborhood. During this time, the site has become the most trafficked in the entire borough of Queens and one of the most heavily trafficked in all of New York City. Members have made countless new friends, businesses have prospered, and as we approach our second birthday and 4,000th member, our page rank keeps getting better and better.

However, we've now grown to a point where we have an exceptionally deep penetration into the target market of 25-35 year olds in Astoria. So now the challenge has become, rather than making the network bigger and not necessarily serve our target market as well as we could, lets make it better. In case you're curious, to us, better means:
1) More time spent on the site by users
2) More traffic via search (both of these equating to more advertiser dollars)

Over the course of the last two years, moderately tech savvy businesses have created user profiles for their restaurants, boutiques, dog walking services, etc. However, the issue here is, standard profiles often don't adequately address the needs of a brick-and-morter business.

Additionally, there is no effective way to filter or categorize proprietors from standard users in a generic site search. This is why I have created a new ranked business directory that will help my users identify the best establishments that meet their needs.

It's been a major challenge integrating this functionality into Ning--as the API can be a little frustrating at times when trying to access dynamic content and pull user information. However, after a year of planning (and mostly failing) my small development team and I were able to roll out a creative solution to allow users to create Business Pages featuring dynamic data pulled from my site, while still maintaining a direct URL that can be crawled by Google and deeply linked from other sources.

The first challenge to overcome here was creating a way to determine the logged in user. Once we could identify the user, we then needed to create the ability for them to build a new page on my Ning network. Once this functionality was created, we built in the ability for someone to become a fan of a page--giving us a database of users. Next, we built a form that could be embedded in an iframe that will allow the user to input a business name, address, photos, category, tags, and various other parameters. We also built in a conflict detector that will determine if a similar business is already in the directory. Once the information is submitted, it's sent to my database which then runs a chron job to post the new page to Ning.

Once a new page is created, users are able to rate and review any establishment, become a fan, add a tag, submit photos, request an edit, and even use the default Ning sharing utility to reach beyond the Ningosphere!

Now, business owners logged in as members of the site are able to "Claim this business", giving them the ability to attach their RSS feed to the business page (Twitter, blog, whatever), correspond with the page's fans, and view some simplified page metrics.

Coming up:

  • When a member becomes a fan of a page, we know they like the business. When they rate an establishment four or five stars, we know they like it, too. This gives us the ability to make recommendations of other establishments they should also consider--based on peer review.
  • Members of my site have actual membership cards that feature a magnetic stripe on the back uniquely identifying each person. When they make a purchase at a partner business in Astoria, the proprietor swipes the card--which hits my database to determine who the cardholder is, allowing the proprietor to issue a discount and us to track offline user activity. The discounts accrued over time (and nights spent on the town) are stored in my database and will be displayed on business and member pages--allowing our community to find out where was last night's most popular venue and also which members are saving the most money by staying local.
  • Since we know certain categories and tags for business pages, we can target page advertisements to keywords like "brunch" or umbrella categories like "Restaurants"--giving us a much deeper ad inventory. Additionally, businesses we choose to feature will appear more prominently in search results and be recommended more highly in the suggestions.

The directory is still very much a work in progress, but was a very important first step in our growth--as now users will be maintaining and growing the site while we focus on making it better.

We launched this new feature on Friday and by Sunday had over 150 new pages submitted by users. In the last week, we've seen an approximately 50% increase in pageviews and anticipate this will continue to climb as more pages get indexed. This was a big win for my network and I look forward to adding even more creative solutions like this throughout the spring and summer.

Read more…

Ning Networks are "mini" Facebooks for different topics. They are social networks created around a central hobby, interest, lifestyle, etc... It's best to keep a "Facebook" attitude in mind when creating your network. In this post I'll show you the key steps to setting up and maintaining a thriving Ning network.

The Setup

  • Domain Name: The best domain name for your network is keyword1forum.com or keyword1keyword2forum.com Remember to also buy keyword1form.com and have it automatically redirected to your domain name since this is a common misspelling. You must choose the option to use your own domain name or you lose all of your SEO efforts.
  • Theme: When you start out your ning site, pick a theme from the options Ning gives you and don't waste too much time customizing it. Pick something simple, that will not turn away visitors.
  • Colors: Feel free to change the colors of the site to match the branding of the site, but you most stick to these principles: Keep the background color white and the text color black on text heavy sections of the site (message board, forum, blog postings). Keep background colors light. For the tabs, make sure you have a good hover color so users know what they are scrolling over.
  • Tabs: This is one of the most important areas of setup. Limit the main level tabs to only 11 or less. Make efficient use of the sub tabs. Your most important tabs should be located on the far left of the top bar since that's where readers eyes naturally start first. Under the home tab, place the two subtabs titled subscribe in a reader, and sign up for daily email. It's important for members to keep connected with the site.
  • Keep the site open to the public. There's no faster way to stunt growth than to have a closed network.
  • Make the sign up process as easy as possible. Do not require a picture and do not require new members to answer 50 questions.
  • Nobody likes going to an empty party. Ask at least 10 friends to join your network in the beginning. Create a few fake profiles and get the activity going. But, as soon as you reach 60-70 members delete all the fake profile accounts.
  • Only have the forum function. Do not have both forums, blogs, and groups in the beginning of your site. This will confuse visitors and spread the user generated content too thinly around your site.
  • Find relevant videos on YouTube and place them on your site. Make sure the titles of the video are optimized for search engines. This is a great way to bring in long tail traffic with little effort.

Making Your Network Go Viral

  • The best way to spread your network is through efficient use of the Invite Tab within Ning. This tab allows users to invite their contacts through Gmail, Hotmail, and Outlook. This tab should be displayed prominently. You will see the best conversion rates on visitors invited by members of the forum. People hate receiving spam, so when members use the invite tab to invite friends and family, they will most likely only invite those they know would have an interest in the site.
  • You must incentivize users to use the invite tab. Throw a contest. Your first contest should be for a prize between $20 and $30. Make sure you get a photo of the person who won the contest to display next time you run another contest as proof that you actually give out a prize. Once members see that there is cash to be made by inviting friends they will participate.
  • Your second contest should include three prizes. This will encourage the fence sitters who think they have nothing to win. Once this contest is over, post how many invites each winner sent so that your community knows what it takes to win.
  • Enable both the share and twitter tabs on your ning site. You must give people an easy way to spread the content around your network.
  • Link Building: find sites of similar interests and contact them about your new social network. Ask them to mention your network on their next email campaign and to give you a link from their site.
  • If you have an existing email lists, mention the network on your lists. Better yet, find other email lists that can mention your site. Email lists are one of the best ways to grow your site. The key here is to find a list that is relevant to your topic.
  • Google AdWords is another strategy to implement. You can have ads show up whenever someone Google's keywords related to your ning site.

The Care and Feeding of Members

  • Initially you want to welcome each member with a comment on their profile. You can easily make a template to use over and over again. Make sure to add a personal note to the comment. You should include links to change their profile, invite new friends, new member guide, and other useful pages on your site.
  • If members post in the wrong place in the forum send them a private message showing them the correct place to post things.
  • Feature members who have a profile photo.

Social Media Integration

  • Include Facebook and Twitter buttons on the sidebars so that members can interact with your network on those sites.
  • Creation of a Facebook fan page is a must for your network. This will help spread the word about your network faster than any other social media tool.

Broadcast Message Basics

  • The broadcast message serves two functions: Update members about your site, and bring them back to your site.
  • Send no more than 2 broadcast messages a month.
  • The top section of your broadcast message should highlight the most popular discussion in your forum.
  • Feature an interesting blog post.
  • Make the message short and to the point.
  • Include pictures if possible (show a photo of the latest contest winner)
  • At the end of each message always remind members to add a profile photo and to invite other members so the site.

Home Page Layout

  • Home page layout can make or break your Ning site.
  • Create a home page layout that is very simple and easy to understand.
  • Have a sidebar on the left, main content in the middle and a sidebar on the right.
  • Left Sidebar Setup
  • Show 3 rows of members in the top left most sidebars. This is one of the first places people will look when they come to your ning site. Make sure the profiles featured here have good pictures.
  • Below members, have the latest activity showing the last 12 items. Select the following items under display preferences: new items, new comments on items, status updates, ning apps activity. Select profile photos under "Profile Photo Latest Activity Displays"
  • Place a medium sized badge underneath the latest activity feed. This will allow those with blogs to showcase their membership.
  • Main Content Setup
  • Have a short text box welcome message with a link to your new member's guide.
  • Underneath this box place the forum. The forum should be visible "above the fold". On the main page edit the forum to display "Discussions", "Titles Only", "Newest Discussions", "10 Items". Under the manage tab be sure to select "Latest Discussions by Category" under the "Main Forum Page Style" This setup is key to encouraging members to participate in the forum.
  • Place blog posts underneath the forum. On the main page select "Detailed View" "Featured" "4 posts". Your blog posts will be filtered more than your forum, this is why you want the detailed view. Give your visitors a paragraph or two of what the blog posts is about. That way they're more likely to click on it.
  • Right Sidebar Setup
  • Place a text box titled Subscribe and put links to the invite friends feature, facebook fan page, RSS subscription, and email subscription
  • Place 3 featured videos below this box. This gives the site some nice graphics on the side and encourages visitors to stay and watch some videos.
  • Place an RSS feed with news items from your industry or hobby.

Forum Layout

  • A good forum layout is key to engaging your visitors and members.
  • In the beginning of your site, you should have no more than four categories
  • Under discussion style select "Flat: replies are shown in Chronological order"
  • The most popular categories should be placed at the top of the forum page.

Blogging Setup

  • The blogging should be reserved for premium content.
  • Under feature controls, select "Approve blog posts before they appear"
  • Only use the blog to display content that is well written and approved by you. The forum is the playground of the novice. The blog is for the expert.

Tabs Best Practices

  • Tab setup is key for a successful ning site.
  • Limit the amount of tabs to 11 or less, and limit the amount of subtabs on a single main tab to 6 or less.
  • The most important tabs are on the far left, these are the tabs that visitors will see first.
  • Under the home tab, add the following sub tabs: Subscribe in a Reader, Sign up for Daily Email
  • My Page: Inbox, Edit Profile Settings, Change Profile Picture
  • Forum: List all forum categories then popular contributors, add a discussion
  • Videos: Top Rates, Most Popular, Add a Video (this should link to the add a video from Youtube page)
  • Members: Members near me, search for members, member map
  • About Us: New Member Guide, Privacy Policy, Facebook Fan Page
  • Blog: Names of Featured Bloggers, Submit a Blog Post

Insider Tips

  • Sending the broadcast message at least twice a month (and no more) is imperative to encourage participation in the community.
  • Keep the entire site open. This will increase visits from search engines.
Read more…

Hi everyone!

Since there's an active discussion on critiquing each others Ning Networks, here is a web page on hints for critiquing a site -- http://www.digital-web.com/articles/web_design_critique/ -- okay, it's on slightly different subject (actual HTML design rather than Ning Networks) but it's still pretty useful. I'll highlight the major points here:[NOTE THAT THE FOLLOWING TEXT IS FROM THE ABOVE LINK, PARAPHRASED IN THE CONTEXT FOR PEOPLE CRITIQUING NING NETWORKS. THAT SAID, I PRETTY MUCH AGREE. :) ]

Asking for an opinion

The more experienced a designer is, the less s/he's likely to ask people for opinions on her designs. After all, everyone else that hangs out on a list or message board is less experienced than you are, right?

When you are offering up your wares for the world to rip into, it can help to be as specific as possible about what you want them to look at. Here are some suggestions:

- Clearly state what the objective of the site or page is.

- Be specific about what you want comments on - and hope that people will read that before they start offering opinions.Taking it

It can be hard to take criticism, but as I've already said, sometimes it can be tremendously useful. While the tendency may be to listen only to people whom you know and perhaps whose work you admire, this can often shut you off from those out-of-nowhere responses that really make you think.

First of all though, I do tend to listen far more carefully to the opinions of people whose work I admire--that's just natural.

Also, I do tend to discount the type of opinion which says something along the lines of "I don't like your design at all, it's just not my style." (Even worse is that very helpful "your design sucks".) That's not really the point--everyone has his or her preferred styles, or colors, but a decently educated eye can tell the difference between good and bad design.

On the flip side, not all positive feedback is useful either. "I just love everything you do!" is not too in-depth or constructive... it's flattering for sure, but is it useful?

The best type of criticism tends to be very specific, in my opinion. Comments such as "the use of the navigation can be more user-friendly if arranged such a way" or "the color contrast would be better if." etc. are specific and critical without being negative.

When asked for an opinionTaking criticism can be tough, but often dishing it out can be harder. I don't think that anyone wants to hurt someone's feelings; but then again, what can one do when confronted with a design you can't stand? Do you lie? Well...it depends.

Beware of newbies

First of all, consider the source. Is it someone who is seriously considering becoming a professional web designer [or a hardcore Ning user -Ern] --or perhaps someone who already calls himself a pro? If so, then I think that you should be as tough on them as any of their clients might be. On the other hand, if it were someone who is doing this as a hobby, or just starting out, you would probably want to be much gentler.

If you see something positive, it might be good to emphasize this first--especially if you see some kind of potential. Perhaps their designs are way too busy and cluttered (a common problem for beginner-type pages) but perhaps their use of color is unique; then you can latch onto that.

When there's some more potential:

Mentoring

If the person is asking for a critique, and you think their work is worth offering opinions about, then it's a different story. At which point, if you have any experience yourself (and the other party respects your opinions), it's a chance to become a mentor. This can be a truly rewarding experience. It can be a joy to see someone blossom as they absorb the criticism they receive.If the person is not being specific, as is detailed in the above section, ask them those questions. Who is the intended audience? Unless the work in question is a pure for-fun piece, it doesn't necessarily matter how beautiful it is--it also has to be practical. Consider your "student's" goals--are they doing this just for fun, or do they want to make a living at it? Maybe they are very good at doing sites with lots of complicated decorative elements, but if they're aiming for business clients perhaps they'd appreciate some tips on how to make more "boring" sites. And so on.

Hope this helps.- E

Read more…

The buzz word for 2010 will be Micro-Localized Social Networking. Spacial relativity will become less and less a factor in determining social borders. A new world order will begin to emerge within two years.According to Nielsen Online, 2009 saw exponential growth of social media. Twitter alone grew 1,382% registering more than 7 million unique US visitors in the month of February alone. Meanwhile, MySpace users continued the migration to Facebook. What will social media look like in 2010?Next year, "social media will get even more popular, more mobile, and more exclusive" — at least, that's what David Armano's thinks, author of Six Social Media Trends for 2010.I believe the boutique social media phenomenon that Ning has enabled will surpass all other social media providers combined. Due to the ability of Ning users to create their own social media experience based around what ever passion they share with others. When I last checked, in November 2009, Ning users have created 1.5 million social networks with a combined 37million unique users; growing at a rate of 12 million new users every month.I believe the tasks Ning made possible for us to undertake will have a tangible lasting impact on the evolution of the human experience.

Read more…
RSS
Email me when there are new items in this category –