Today I am going to be giving a treatment on a subject Ning creators usually deal with in one way or another. It could be as simple as defining your niche for a specific group of people or classifying it for social networking in general. It could be managing some combination of premium service access against general free membership. It could even be a matter of protecting a hard earned base of members from other network creators that might try to steal them away, or positioning your network to be a value people can enjoy from whatever social platforms they happen to prefer- even if they don’t join yours. Perhaps these are of little consideration to you, but I will offer you some perspective on why these are actually fundamental in principle, complex enough to be precisely where you go wrong, and in turn can be just the opportunity you need to succeed where others are failing.
Let’s start with “exclusivity”. Did you know this was a power word used early on in the formation of Facebook? Today the social network has evolved to be far more inclusive for everyone, but part of its early appeal was that to get in on it was an exclusive privilege. Remember, it started off much more like an online yearbook- a way to find out more information about, share profile info, and interact between college students. At first you had to be in one of those schools and be connected with friends that had access. That kind of dangling carrot was a big part of what made it attractive. It was something exclusive that people wanted to get in on.
Fast forward a bit and you can see how Facebook expanded to include friends and family in general. Just take note on the idea that exclusivity remained a central organizing idea to that. Basically, you had to have a connection with people, and that exclusive access was now to get in on your network of friends and family. To an extent, this remains true today, but you can also see how the general online culture of the platform has loosened up and more people use it to connect with casual acquaintances, people they don’t even know, and even business entities. The exclusivity is still there, but now it’s more a matter of individual discretion rather than the theme.
Now as Ning Creators we start with the opportunity to define where our networks stand. You can make it completely private for example. Or, you can make it a completely open community where members are on a public stage regardless of who they’ve actually connected directly with. It’s a tough call sometimes though. When it comes to social media, the general precedent seems to be exclusivity. So how is it that we make our concept something attractive for people to “get in” on? At the same time, if you are too restrictive, you can end up forgoing the benefits of greater traffic, engagement, and utilization. Take Linkedin, for another example, who used exclusivity but niched to professional connections. Again, this was a case of having to already know someone on a professional level, and being able to connect exclusively by invitation. This helped to get the ball rolling for them, but over time you could see how they created more common use applications such as groups to facilitate the kind of online networking that leads to new connections.
So this brings me around to “inclusivity”. There’s an actual thought world emerging about how this relates to social media too. Let’s go back to computer programming and proprietary control. It used to be that computer and software makers would make technology that would not work across other platforms. It was a competition to bring everyone into your product lines and perpetuate sales that way. With exclusive control of developments on a platform, the vendor would be the only one in a position to profit from new offerings. However, a new line of thinking that was more attractive for people came out of that dynamic. Things like “Web 2.0”, “cross platform”, and “open source” became popular. That is, companies would give out their software for free, they made things that could work for whatever computer or online platform you were using, and would even give out their code so outside developers could create applications that worked with their programming.
Being that open, giving things away, and including people in on the process actually ended up over-extending a lot of companies. You only need to look so far as Ning for an example for that. What used to be free with upgrade for a fee is now paid with upgrade for higher tier value. You can still go out and get a free trial I think, but there are parameters to draw in from inclusive marketing to exclusive service agreements. It’s not that far off from what we as network creators face ourselves. There are trade-offs to every decision; pro’s and con’s that include people “in” while excluding others “out”; ways we make our sites a special value worth paying for to some while trying to extend our reach to as many people as possible without overt solicitation.
I don’t think there are any definitive answers for what all network creators should do. I really think it depends on a case by case basis. However, I can usually take a position on what I see as more or less effective based on what network creators trying to accomplish. Happy to discuss how this relates to your network here on this discussion. As usual, I’ll be going into more detail and how I’m applying this to my own network on my Ning Creators group A Social Media Dojo. So, if interested, stay tuned for Exclusivity vs. Inclusivity In Social Media.