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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.
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Comments

  • I AM STILL SO LOST ON MY SIGHT OSTOMYPALS THIS IS SOMETHING REALLY NEEDED
  • Hey Plant!

    You've posted this question in a few different places (and websites, I spotted it on GetSatisfaction as well). Please try to avoid doing that, as it can easily result in multiple people answering the same question.

    /Evan

  • Help!

    Thank you for posting this info. We newbies to making web sites need this stuff.

    I haven't read the whole post, but read down to the point I think would cover my issue:

     

    I have set up a Ning site, and paid the $2.95/month rate, (I actually set it up for free a year ago, before NING charged) but have never been able to get my site searchable in Google.

     

    I have entered the URL at Google, so Google knows about our site. I hired a brilliant tech to help me, and he confirmed that this had been done correctly and that Google had our URL. I loaded my site with relevant search words, under the tech's advice. But when I search with Google, even using the exact name of my site in quotes, it doesn't show up in Google search results. (It only yields one page of results, none of them for my Ning site.) I made the tech an administrator for our site, and he can't figure out why it isn't appearing in Google, either.

     

    I haven't been able to get a reply from NING about this. I am about to give up. Can you please help me?

    Please Google our site, yourself, to see what I mean: there is only one page of search results when putting our site name in quotes. The site name is "Sonoma County NOW" and the subtitle is "The Sonoma County Chapter of the National Organization for Women."

     

    I would appreciate your--or anyone's--help with this.

  • hello there guys

  • Wonderful! Great steps for helping me set my new site!
  • I think I like the tip about focussing user generated content as one of the best in the lot. 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.

    Nice read anyway
  • Hi Peter. I am following your guide in setting up a Ning network for educators at my college. Under Tabs Best Practices you say to add the sub tab "Subscribe in a Reader". Do you mean to copy a link to a RSS reader to that page? I can't figure out how to add an RSS feed to this sub tab. Thanks.
  • Great post. Thanks for all the info.
  • This stuff is great, thanks!
  • Love this, wis hit was around when I first started. I was thinking about running some Contest on my site. I have a High School Page. Any suggestions. Thanks
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