SweetPotato is a smart dude. He has long been providing Ning with some pretty great ideas on the Creators Network for how to improve our product. He's also really helpful and willing to share his smarts. He has not once, but twice shared email newsletters he has created so that others might adapt them for their own use. That's huge! He's even put a list of his best tips on his profile page, which is pretty suh-weeeeet! This will surely help others find some of his best tips over time. Thank you, SweetPotato, for always being so deliciously helpful. We asked him a few questions about his history with Ning….
A friend can take credit for that. Whenever he discovers something he likes, he gives us all a high-pitched cry of “Sweeeeeet Potato.” Whenever someone writes SweetPotato on Creators, I’m hearing it like that in my head.
I worked in marketing and sales for legal publishers for 11 years. I started my Ning site in 2010 simply as a legal marketing blog, commenting on industry marketing trends. To my surprise, a few law firms here in the U.K. joined and starting writing blogs of their own, and so my social network for the legal profession was born.
Who is a typical member of your network? How have you attracted members?
A healthy mix of lawyers, legal marketing staff and vendors to the profession. When I decided to go full-time on the site this time last year, I had a pre-conceived idea that it would be a network for big international law firms and their lawyers. They were my clients from my previous job so that made sense. As it turned out, those big law firms were not quite ready to make the leap into social media (many still haven’t on any platform), so initially I was filling a hole that didn’t need filling. However, there are huge changes afoot in the legal services sector in the U.K. that means many small to medium-sized law firms are looking for ways of getting extra online exposure, and it’s those firms and their lawyers that are my key members. I have a pretty big contacts book so I’ve approached marketing and business development staff at many firms to get them or their lawyers on board. Twitter and LinkedIn are also good sources of new members.
You offer a wide range of custom advertising options instead of running Google ads. What's your best advice for other Network Creators about how to run their own advertising?
Decide early on who your potential advertisers are and invite them to the site. I quickly invited vendors who service the legal profession to the site and got them blogging. Feature them and their content so they can see the benefits of the community. Then get on the phone and give them the soft sell. The biggest compliment I’ve had since starting was when I asked an advertiser why they wanted to sponsor the site and they simply said ‘because it was friendly’. I’m quite proud of that. I also regularly export my member data and highlight potential advertisers that I can contact and shoot them off a creative ‘advertise here’ email. The new member categories has help with this! Like you say, I also have a lot of options. This maximises revenue, but it also gives you the flexibility to throw some sweeteners into the deal to secure it.
What's your overall goal? A giant community? Steady revenue? Something completely different?
Steady revenue, to be honest. I don’t think it will ever be a giant community because of the industry that it serves. I hope I’m wrong. But I do want it to be rich with quality content that promotes my members and gets me good traffic. If I have 1,000 members all posting awesome content, then that’s got be a strong rival to any of the leading trade websites. It’s a simple model in which my members win and I win.
What can Ning build to make your life easier?
I’d like to see Ning partner with a job board company so we can sell job spots more easily. It seems like an obvious thing to pursue given the number of niche sites the platform hosts and the increasing number of professional networks you have. We’d all make money from it. Also, tiered membership tied into paid access. I’d like to charge some members for access to the video module, for example. A theme marketplace would also be great!
Do you take on work as a designer or builder of other Ning Networks? If so, how should people contact you?
I do. I try and design clean and simple Nings which probably suit professional networks more than others. CSS is my thing, and I try not to load a site with script. Ning out of the box is awesome; I just dress it up. You can reach me by private message here on Creators.