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I had no idea, when I started my social network, it would turn out to be an almost full time job, requiring leadership without social networking experience, management like an offline organization and communication without any of the normal cues.I didn't anticipate the responsibility or time involved, or know what I expected to happen over time. I did and do have an enormous curiosity to see how online communities link with offline ones. Learning keeps me interested much of the time. What did you expect when you started your network? What keeps you going and going?I thought it would be easier to monetize. This problem perplexes me much of the time.To extend my own network experience, I run two groups on another network (GovLoop, thanks Steve and Andrew) and blog on another (the Glue Project, thanks Doug). I like seeing what's going on with other social networks and how it "feels" to have a different role.I never expected feeling "lonely" because of a lack of participation. I didn't anticipate this problem. I thought when people become members of a social network or group they would naturally participate. Why else sign-up for anything? Why create a group or activity if you don't want to lead it?The 'participation factor' baffles me much of the time and takes a lot of time and experimentation to figure out. The more ideas on this the better.I do think online groups reflect offline groups, although with some radically different challenges (like communicating solely through email or comments). Online social networks share many of the same characteristics as community partnerships, alliances, networks and other "collaborative" ventures. What do you think? I would love more dialog on this and related topics. Is anyone doing research on this?I find people join, get very excited, then leave it to a few individuals to generate 90% of the energy and leadership. Is this familiar to anyone else? The participation and motivation factor again.In an attempt to get more points of view and talent involved, I've developed some different roles for members, including a Director of Fun and a Director of Video and Media. We'll see how it goes. What are some of the things you are doing to share responsibility? Are all your member roles volunteer?I want to recruit more writers.Not too long ago, I asked online group leaders if they wanted to get together, offline. I wanted to discuss the role of group leadership, expectations, and benefits. Seemed natural to me. Good networking opportunity and good learning too. No one signed up. I was disappointed.I'd love to connect with other NC's. How much of what I describe is common to you? What challenges are you facing? How have you resolved these challenges?What are some of your surprises? Wins? Good advice? How do you strike a balance between monitoring your network and letting it go?I know we have a lot of talent on these pages. What suggestions do you have for best practices?I'm looking forward to your comments, feedback (to this post) and good ideas for solving common concerns. I like the idea of being part of a larger group looking at these issues. Less lonely for sure.Yup.a

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  • Thanks! I just clicked and translated. I honestly think we are in the middle of a major convergence of ideas. I'll be curious as to what you find.
    I'm working on the Open Government Directive and the FederalWave. There's a huge push from the Obama Administration to get that agenda moving in the next 3 months.
    I put in my 2 cents wherever I can.
    We have an opportunity to influence our institutions like we haven't had before, so I'm on it. Is the same thing happening in Brazil?
  • Andrea, there´s a brazilian community in Ning dedicated to the study of the impact of social networks on government, public, non-profit/foundation sectors:

    http://escoladeredes.ning.com/
  • Hi Fellow Creators,

    Have you ever thought, about the idea, we are a research team? As we experiment with social networking, we are actually creating new knowledge and new practices.

    It's apparent we share so many common challenges, regardless of our network's content. As we uncover and discuss those themes and solutions, it becomes data, which informs the broader society/world about the application of social media. It's amazing really.

    Each one of us is working on something not done before. Recently, mashable.com featured an article about "social media expertise" on Twitter.

    It makes a great point and reflects many of my own observations. It underscores the impossibility of anyone being a real "expert" at this time. So, in one game of tag, we are it! How fun is that idea.

    It should also encourage people who feel overwhelmed and "out of touch" with this speeding bullet of a train. It helps build confidence in our own expertise. While we have the technology, the knowledge of how to use it, is very new and one feeds the other.

    Happy New Year!
  • I struggle with the same issues Andrea. My networks aren't big, but do fairly well on participation. It's still the 10% create 80% of the content rule though. I think that is just sort of "the way it is" at some level.

    Two things I have done to increase participation:

    1. Regular newsletters. Create a weekly or monthly newsletter with the highlights on the network. Great discussions, upcoming events, blog posts, etc. Not everyone is connected and if they aren't part of a group or checking out the forums regularly, they may miss some great stuff.

    2. Contests. Get a sponsor to give a small prize and have a themed photo or video contest. The voting can be the comments. Give a coffee card to a random voter. I recently ran a Holiday/Winter haiku contest because nobody was really blogging and I wanted to get people aware of different parts of the site. There are a ton of ideas for a contest, and the work quite well in my experience (and they're fun!)


    I like the Guides/Director of something idea. I think I'll see if I can get that going on one of my sites.

    Thanks,
    Jason
  • Thank you very much for your featured post Andrea and wow! John, can't even think about where your at, but best to all of you.

    I started a site for DIY indie filmmakers just around this time last year, and after a year and a continuing monthly expense that seems out of the box, not to mention the time I put in, I to find myself wanting to give up, and just let it go, because it's hard work, it's lonely, many reason really.

    But it seems I've got just as many reasons to keep going starting with the 400+ members on the site and the 7000+ followers on Twitter that seem to expect me to keep going as if I'm really doing something great and maybe I am, not really sure as this is all new ground.

    There are some things that I'm becoming certain with as time goes by, and those certainties become powerful tools in the development process of which seems to change everyday as I continue learn from my mistakes and successes.

    I think a lot of our question will be answered in time, and I for one would like to continue sharing in that process.

    Thank you:)
  • Hi Andrea, I liked very much reading your post... I have begin in March with a network in Spanish for people that have lost loved members of their families... Before that, I was in several communities, and observed the problem of participation... and the tendency to 'migrate' from one community to new ones...
    I believe that in human personalities, there are people that participate actively, and those who are 'lurkers' and rarely express themselves... What I have tried to do, is encouraging people to participate... For example, in one of the communities I am in, I saw that there was a 'welcome team' and I applied that idea to my own network... (each time a new member enters the net, we post a comment in the group, with a link to his page, so all the 'welcome team' knows that there is someone new to be welcomed (and don't have to check in the members page to see if someone has arrived)... This is good for the new one because it helps to make relations with the members... and also makes the 'old members' to become active, to feel part of the community and help others too...
    Another thing, is to try to generate ideas to new groups... and to encourage people to create them (when they feel the 'owners' of the group, they get more involved in answering, posting, and making their own group more active...)
    What I have seen till now, is that people 'come and go' (stay in the net but get less participative, or in the contrary, begin to participate perhaps months later after joining...and it's ok like that...
    I smiled when you told us that you enjoy new members... I love when I see a 'new member to be approved'... I feel like is new blood, new ideas, stories... that is coming to share with us...
    One thing that I also found useful, is to put several questions in the 'register page' (when they join), so there is more data to know each other... that makes easier to begin conversations, to 'see' if we have affinity with one member or with another... and helps communication within them...
    Being in other networks as a 'member' before, showed me that sometimes is not easy to make contact with someone you would like to be 'friends'... (yes you can click on the 'friends' tab, but I have think about it myself how to begin talking with that person)... All the data on their profile helps to begin talking... (at last, is all a matter of facilitating the way to communicate I believe...)
    Well, just some ideas... Thank you for all, Abelia
  • Just a minor point about setting up networks for passion vs. money. I set mine up for both from the beginning and had advertisers from the beginning. We never started with one model and switched to another.

    What changed are the benefits and costs for businesses. I didn't know at first if we'd have enough traction to diversify our ad opportunities and now think we do. So I didn't change the purpose from the start.

    It's still a question, however, of how to pull the model together, well enough, so it works more smoothly. I also don't think the economy in general has helped, at least local businesses, spend their money on ads. This new year we are trying out some new approaches which I'll happily share.

    Backnote: My logic was we would bring business into our local community businesses. People are always looking for these resources, so the benefit would match the investment, which I kept low. They would get the exposure and a lot of extra benefits, we would get some operating dollars.

    I still see it as a win/win. I also may not be the best person to be "selling" ads, for a lot of reasons. I've had a start/stop situation getting someone good to help me and now I finally think I have found a great person to do "sales" for me.

    I am very encouraged by all these responses. I would like to know even more about some of your challenges and solutions. What were your expectations when you put your network together?
  • Thanks so much everyone, these thoughts and ideas are terrific. I have to say I used the word "lonely" kind of metaphorically. Sort of. The feeling of isolated "leadership" has something to do with my real sense of responsibility for the network, it's direction and the members.

    I've thought about creating an advisory team from our membership, as one way to get active members involved having more ownership. But then that could be like a board of directors, which can be troublesome.

    As I said in my original post, I think online groups reflect some of the same qualities as offline groups. If they aren't compelling, to the members, people simply don't participate or come back. They have to see themselves in the picture and get something out of it.

    I'm hearing that many of you show up everyday, on lot's of different levels. I show up everyday, but don't always write something new, although I am always thinking of new ways to be creative and generate activity.

    I welcome every single new member, add comments when it contributes something to the dialog, and always answer every question. Sometimes it takes me hours to do the basics. Is time an issue for anyone?

    I am very pleased when we get new members, especially if they participate and add to the network. Then I sometimes wonder why I want all these new members, if it just means a lot of new work.

    Do you think we measure our success by the number of people, the quality of the content and interaction or both? Is having more and more people a real sign of success?

    I've had some trouble changing group leadership, when a leader leaves or loses interest. There is no way to remove them in the Ning system and replace the group creator with someone new. It's a little weird.

    What if they aren't even a member anymore, or they get sick or even die (terrible thought). There they are and it's harder to delegate and change leadership if someone's name is still on it. I know people like credit for what they do, so this is a problem. Anyone else notice this?

    I love when people use the network to help each other and have good discussions. I don't like the feeling of being taken advantage of when for profit businesses jump in, just to promote their businesses or events. Yech! In the dog loving community, everyone has something to sell, a product or a service. It's a billion dollar industry, really.

    I want our businesses to advertise, since one of the reasons people come to the network is to find services and resources for their dogs or themselves. We can easily become their promotion system.

    It's a very mixed bag of motives, expectations and purposes.
  • Andrea,

    You may be interested in our network because it is built almost entirely around "real world" interaction. I am the creator, but I have zero "loneliness" problem because I meet in person with various of our members five or six times a week for conversation groups in Russian, English, German, French, Spanish and Italian.

    We have other groups for Ukrainian and Polish, but I can't converse in those languages so I have a more distant relationship with the folks involved. About 150 people attend in person each week, many coming 2-3 times each week for different languages.

    (Our Language Exchange Club operates in Kiev, Ukraine.)

    Yes, it is a full time job. No, I can't monetize it, but that was not the point. I have not been invited to any wedding like our friend John in Mexico, but I have witnessed first hand a lot of cross-cultural interaction that would never have taken place with the functionality of our online network to support the offline activity.

    I do experience many of the same difficulties you describe where people sign up for activities but never participate. For instance, 35 people will RSVP for a French conversation group, but only 15 actually attend. Or someone creates a group for Bulgarian, and then nothing happens. My guess is that this is human nature and not a peculiarity of online social networking.

    We are creating similar clubs in other cities using NIng. So I am VERY interested in John's comment about "feedburner." What is this? John, if I may, I will write to you separately.

    Meanwhile, thanks for surfacing these issues!

    Best regards,
    John Carragee
  • Well, what has saved the day is feedburner. You set it up on one site and copy the code for the feed into all networks once and after that, when you put a blog on one it appears on all of them. This keeps the post of the day (or two days) fairly fresh and the main site, cyberpueblo, acts as the glue that holds it all together. I also have 46 volunteers...

    Thanks for your kind words, time for a new profile photo. Maybe my dog Chile. Congratulations on your site and on the beautiful city you live in.
    Best,
    John
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