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The Customer "Is" Always Right!

Hi there! Hope you are having a wonderful holidays and here's best wishes for your new year! I'm hoping this message gets through to the Ning Team and brought to the attention of the right people with the power to do something with this platform. The one thing I can say about the responsiveness of this new leadership team is they seem to be taking steps in the right direction - getting the systems functional again and opening the channels of communication with the customer community - all great strides forward. I just went over the end of year report you posted and I have to admit it sounds promising.

Naturally, after years of neglect by the previous acquisition group, getting things back to par is going to take some time and money. As Creators, we should probably sit back and just be patient while these new people get to work taking life saving steps for Ning... In many respects, I guess you could say there is nothing else we can do. We have gone through this kind of transition before. When Jason Rosenthal took over around 2010, I remember we had this huge NC conference call and I got to chime in with a direct question/ request. Some of you here may even remember, but it was something along the lines

"As a business and a customer, I cannot afford to have unwanted changes getting dropped on my network. Can you please make sure any future updates to the platform are OPT-IN (as in optional), so we can decide for ourselves if, when, and how we want the new features installed - or if we find them problematic, to quickly uninstall and revert to our old site version?"

You would probably have to be able to read through the lines there to get the magnitude of my request, but let's just say if you designed a site for a professional audience and were aiming for an experience close to LinkedIn, for example, then you might get embarrassed professionally one day when all of a sudden your members are encountering a featured emoticon gift set. Sorry Gina, but perhaps you were just a bit ahead of your time there too. While this was not something every Ning Creator would care about necessarily, a related problem to mass version updates were the instant bugs, glitches, and downtime the were often resulting. Even if your concept is just a place where people can bounce smiley faces off each other, you'd probably be upset when your site was crashing.

The thing is, Jason's answer to me was essentially, "Yes. That is reasonable, we can make sure any future updates to features are rolled out in periodic patches, as opposed to unannounced version facelifts that could crash your sites, and you will have the option in all such cases to select whatever features to install, uninstall, or not install at all". With that said, I felt like I had the minimum viable ownership and control I needed to operate my Ning as part of a business, so I committed to moving forward with Ning under the new pay-for-service plans.

As you might recall though, this was not in fact the case. I made a big fuss here on numerous occasions when Ning went ahead and screwed with my customer community without my knowledge nor my consent. Very quickly, Ning began hiding behind the legalese of our Terms of Service such that they reserved the right to do whatever they wanted and there was nothing we could do about it other than leave. What can I say, but I now understand the guy in the driver's seat was just a proxy speaking out of his ass to me, and I didn't really amount to much than chump change to this company.

Now before you jump to the conclusion I am just venting like so many others tend to do here now and then, let me caution you to the point Ning hid behind that kind of chaos. My opinion was washed out among the thousands of others... you know,,, people who wanted a "better set of emoticons", to promote their "emoticon sharing network", or to develop and "sell their own third party emoticon sets". However, if you had a business and decided to utilize the Ning platform to build a customer community as part of your digital strategy, you might have been steaming with me and perhaps a large unheard silent majority. Just what were the reasonable expectations you could have, you know to purchase a digital product with certain features, control, ownership, etc?

When Mode Media took over "all of a sudden", and then shortly thereafter rolled out a forced migration to 3.0, you may remember my "epic" thread where I protested this - even baited the GM out to discuss where he proceeded to infuriate just about everyone he spoke to with everything he said, until finally the legal team probably shut him up. What you probably don't know, unless you were a member of the Ning Creators Council as I was, that I had done this protest before the forced change was ever made public, warning Ning it was the stupidest thing they could do, and that they should make it opt-in and set about romancing customers with the new version over time if they wanted to see everything moved over - not forcing it.

Long story short, I was so right about that. Most Ning Creators here at the time, even those in the Council with the exception of maybe one or two, had no idea what I was talking about or simply disagreed. Think about that for a sec, because that is my point for this post.

Is the customer always right? It's a tough and complicated question. I remember Gina Bianchini speaking to this years ago, sort of referring to the chaos of social as this new frontier, and dropping the analogy it was like a concert with all kinds of things going on - people throwing up over here, people rushing the stage over here, just all around madness... if you try to listen to every single customer as if they were "right" you would lose your mind and miss the focus necessary to run your business. Executive decisions have to be made.

Well, as a business customer, I felt that coming here to advocate my needs on their practical basis was at least a fair shot. I thought if I could put forward my sound reasoning, the company would respond accordingly. Yet, that was not the case after all. You know, it took me a bit to realize it, but I was not really the "customer" Ning/ Mode had in mind. Eventually, it became clear to everyone that just because you were a paying platform user, you did not really amount to a respectable customer - let alone a potentially successful business customer - unless you were an advertiser, social influencer, or at least a mid-sized company with 25-50 employees willing to pay 3K a month for Ning VIP.

You know, when you start shopping the platform around for fundraising rounds, acquisitions, and IPO exits in the tens and hundreds of millions, that's when you flat out drop any kind of platform user communications, development/ maintenance, and if we were chump change then would be little more than merely chumps at that point. So...that failed, and now we have a new acquisition team and the promise of a better future to look forward to. I thought I would mention that every time we as customers have gone through new ownership in the past, we have been thrown a new vision with all kinds of assurances and efforts being made on our behalf, and ultimately been worse off for it. It's great if you are investing in servers, getting the system to stop crashing, getting the features to work like they are supposed to, rolling out new features, and so on... but it's a little scary to think about how all these things might just be self-serving to some other future customers in an entirely different class and at my current expense.

It's scary because maybe the people in power believe they are doing the right thing, not realizing how their actions might have adverse consequences to the customers they intend to serve. It's scary when, who knows, perhaps they are dealing with business realities that are practical from their point of view, but that could doom us all to fail just like Mode did... just like Jason did...just like Gina did. Yep, these people all failed in their own right with Ning, but they each succeeded for themselves in one way or another. At the end of the day, you might wonder what your benefit for sticking with these people and their vision was, how have you profited from all these re-imaginings, and maybe how much you can even really take to heart what is being put forward for you today.

Or not, right! As Jen once commented on one of my posts, "Anthony believes he is a legend in his own mind". It's so good to be checked like that because, no matter how virtuous you believe yourself and your logic to believe, there is always someone that can diminish or undermine your view as just another opinion - no greater than anyone else's, not worth anything other than that fact, and worth even less if you push it forward with any kind of personal attitude. Other people who I respect in this customer community have said "Agree to Disagree" - and to that I say I disagree! When you say we can agree everyone is entitled to their opinions, what you are saying is there is not necessarily a right answer. I will be the devils advocate in that case and say, no, there is definitely a right answer when it comes to Ning and how it should be run.

Would I be one to say Ning ought to listen to the majority of customers here on Ning Creators? No way! I can't stand most of you, and it's nothing personal, but I have never really gotten the kind of support from you all I needed to persuade Ning to do the things I think are critical to the success of their company, my project, nor anyone else who might be like myself trying to run their Ning like a business. On a personal note, I have come to like just about everyone here I have interacted with and appreciate their respective positions - whether that be trying to improve their sites or help others to do so - but when it comes to business and my company, I've always been a bit frustrated to see our customer community feature these kinds of things and wash my kind of issues to the side. I've been right about the things that have mattered the most and impacted all of us the most significantly.

The problem, as it turns out, is that the question of whether or not "the customer is always right" is complicated. The more you look at it from different angles, the more you see competing if not contradictory views - and these things are diffused by practical realities of limited resources, the need to prioritize, and to make trade offs for the better good. There are incentive structures guiding the behavior of everyone involved, whether we like it or not, a business to run that has to answer to stakeholders who might be little more than profit driven investors - perhaps from entirely different industries, cultures, or schools of thought. It's complicated... but that doesn't mean there isn't a right answer.

The customer "is" always right. It doesn't mean that every customer is always right, it means that basing a company's strategy and activities on the basis of what best serves the interest of its customers is always right. It's simply a way of saying that a company like Ning should be customer-centric, that you should aspire to the dreams and visions of your end-users even in so far as to delivering a quality product, service, and experience through to their customers, members, and end-users. It's a business philosophy that is proving to be increasingly successful, and in contrast to the notions of scale and automation suggested by the early social technology drivers, but something more along the lines of long-term durable relationships, genuine brand loyalty, and authentic interactions between business and customer.

You can pay it lip service all you want, say one thing and do another just because you can, but eventually it will be the difference between your success or failure in this venture. For me, I've been holding on to my project in perpetual BETA since 2008 which I realize is absolutely ridiculous, but I just believe despite the failures of Ning as a company, that my vision for my project was always right on, and that original inspiration I had to go with Ning should have been right on too. Been thinking a lot about whether or not to just cancel it and move on as we reach the dawn of 2017 - putting me on the cusp of a decade with this platform... at the least, what I have learned has been invaluable. If someone up there in the company had been listening to me early on, I bet they could have at the least saved themselves the embarrassment of a headline like:

Inside the catastrophe at Mode Media, the billion-dollar juggernaut that suddenly went bust

I mean, if that kind of loss doesn't get you to listen, there probably is no hope for you. You had people in your own customer community telling you in no uncertain terms you were going to go down hard like that. Here's to a new year with new ownership and hopefully a new outlook for Ning. It would be so much better if we could move on from the simple problems of getting the platform to work as it is supposed to, getting the control and ownership of our projects the way we want it, and getting the features and support we want to offer our customers. I would like to see us evolve from all that with the help of some innovative leaders who finally decide to put us customers first, and then to explore the possibilities of our dreams, visions, and aspirations for our projects. For the time being, heading into this new year, at least mine is still alive.

Here's a few flashbacks about me and my project over the years for anyone interested.

Best, Anthony

These people are amazing! Meet Ning Creators Superstar, Nor Cal Social Media

Check out my transparent business plan for Nor Cal, Northern California's premier online social media environment

And of course, for those of you who know me, I'm really all about soccer, so this is how my Ning project fits into that - The Nor Cal Superstars Member Experience.

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Replies

  • What i find odd is that tho Mode went out of existense back in mid September (over 3 months ago now), nobody has remove MODE branding from Ning labeling and logos.  Wouldnt this normally be one ofthe first and most basic changes for a new company to do?  Hmm. Apearances arethat more than one ning worker now posts here (Anna, Karina, Kyryl, Kate... siblings maybe?...located where ?), but we're not hearing much  about the company that own Ning for the past 3months. Why hav they not at least remove MODE name from everywhere?

    The footer at bottom of evry Ning site (including this one) stills say "powered by NING | MODE", and Ning's Facebook page , LinkedIn page, Google+ page, and Twitter page are still presentd 'a la mode'.  Isnt this a bit strange?  Kinda makes me wunder, just sayin.

    From Ning FB page:

    Company Overview
    Ning is the leading online platform for the world’s organizers, activists and influencers to create social experiences that inspire action. As part of the Mode Media family, Ning offers an easy-to-use service that enables people to create custom branded social networks.

    • Hi Suki, thanks for the comment. I noticed this too.

      Without knowing how long you have been around as a customer, I can offer a little background on this.

      The use of the footer branding/ link has long been a part of Ning's growth strategy. Gina Bianchini used to refer to it as "double viral looping", and the gist of it is to increase exposure and sales for the product every time a new site visitor checks out a platform customer's site.

      This is typical of platform monetization thinking - that you could offer something for free with the catch people would display your ad, or that you could upsell them on a more proprietary looking site without the branding/links. When we shifted to pay only plans, that made the option much clearer to everyone, and there even used to be a check box to turn it on or off. I personally wanted to help champion the platform, so I opted to turn it on. The ability to build a professional business related site - which is lost substantially as soon as you let them put FTP Turtle, Ning, or whatever in there - was a major selling point for many Ning Creators I know.

      When Glam/ Mode Media took over, this footer issue was one of their first major moves. I think it happened almost immediately. They went ahead and made it mandatory - completely disregarding the mutual understanding we had with the previous leadership - and some kind of blowhardery about the TOS giving them the power to do so. This started a massive protest here on Ning Creators that lasted for weeks with literally dozens of threads with thousands of customers complaining. At the end of the day, the customers lost, Ning lost some major customers, and the platform started a downward spiral toward the forced migration to 3.0.

      It's simply ridiculous. I just set up a Squarespace site this week and right there in the plans/pricing they had the option to remove the SS branding/logo link - specifically as a benefit to paying. It's just common sense, not to mention I'm paying less than I do for my Ning placemat.

      The common sense of it is, if you are looking at things from a customer-centric point of view, that the customer can decide for themselves if it is beneficial to them and their community to display the platform company's brand. A lot of companies like to build on WordPress, but know they would lose their credibility as a legitimate business if they displayed a branded CMS just like any novice or wannabe would need to using a free or cheap product version. I personally admire WordPress for its open source ideology and impressive value driven leadership, so I keep the branding/link on.

      The new Ning management team is probably focused on very essential administration of the product at this point - I'm thinking more hardware, software, and talent recruiting. At this early phase, it should not be surprising that details are left unattended while priorities addressed. This will be telling though.

      The reason Glam/ Mode Media forced the logo/branding is not so much the viral looping as it is relevant to ComScore - if I understand correctly. That company was always a little shady about valuation, so any thing they could do to present the appearance of success or range of web assets deployed - that's what they were going to do. By placing the branded name/ link on every site, site crawlers and ranking services would attribute whatever site and corresponding web traffic to that registrar...thus helping to shoot Mode up there in the top 5 or 10 digital media companies and advertisers alongside Conde Naste, NBC, or whatever.

      Now, if you were a savvy investor, you might recognize this kind of action as "faking it to make it" - because the majority of that traffic boost was really a reflection of digital assets/work that was at your and my expense. If not, you might buy this company's valuation on the credibility of measurable analytics from a reliable third party source, and only later on realize you bought into a bunch of smoke and mirrors.

      For me, I will be interested to see if this new management makes the branding optional again. That will speak a lot to their intentions I would think. On the flipside, maybe they are at a place with this where they need every little advantage they can draw out of it, in which case we might be stuck with things the way they have been - at least for a while.

      Personally, I always thought you should be proud of your platform- so deliriously happy with it that you would gladly advocate for it and openly associate with it. This perhaps speaks more to an ideal where a company would strive to reach that kind of customer satisfaction - you know, word of mouth level.

      Other related issues we never got around to fully exploring were customer monetization off the brand/logo inclusion - so if you had it on your site, you might get paid per click or conversion to new customer that resulted in traffic through your site.

    • Hi there,

      Thanks for bringing our attantion to this, I have let the management know that this information should be changed to the appropriate one on our social media accounts and on the footer of each ning network.

      Thanks, Kyryl.

  • Hi Anthony,

    We do appreciate this post.

    Yes, you are right. The needs of customers is the main proirity for us. We are glad that you have noticed that now the new Ning team is trying to be as responsive as possible. We don't want to loose any portion of your ideas and thoughts about our service in order to deliver them carefully to the people who are running this place and make sure that you will be heard.
    The whole Ning team is doing their best to not only solve all the issues that Ning users have been experiencing during last years but also to make the service better that it has ever been before!

    Thanks,

    Ning Team.

  • Thanks Ning Team, and I know I am right, lol! It is really awesome to get this responsiveness and positive outlook from you though. Here is to you, the new year, and your dreams, ambitions, and vision for "your" Ning network!

    Just a little blast from the past... right about when Ning was still a startup... notice the immediate mentions of control, ownership, the freedom to remove branding, and the possibilities that were explicitly worked into the value proposition - straight from the horse's mouth.

    There was a time when Ning was being mentioned right alongside Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter - and in fact the promise of Ning was to be better than all of those. Under the right leadership, this platform could be the flagship in any investment portfolio.

    Best,

    Anthony
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