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The 90-9-1 rule

A fantastic blog post was put up last week, which has lead to a number of great discussions about member traction and engagement within communities. Dr. Mike Wu, Ph.D. posted metrics based on his study of over 200 online communities here.

As he writes, "The 90-9-1 rule simply states that:

  • 90% of all users are lurkers. They read, search, navigate, and observe, but don't contribute
  • 9% of all users contribute occasionally
  • 1% of all users participate a lot and account for most of the content in the community"

The data he present generally backs this up. The comments both there and in a related LinkedIn community explore how he defined his terms, constraints of the data, and how to encourage engagement.

Do you agree with his findings? Do you see them reflected in your Ning Networks?

I look forward to his future posts, where he promises to "dive deeper into the contribution level of the hyper-contributors, you community's real superusers."

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Hey guys! So I was one of the lucky winners to spend some time with Ning down in Austin, and I just wanted to drop in to give some feedback from the perspective of Creators.

SXSW is billed as a Tech Conference, but it's really a Festival. I think what that means to Creators is the following...

This is aimed towards those who are interested in making money via your network, and feel ready to do that (big audience, big traffic, unique segment of a market). I know that's not everyone, but I feel like it'd be one major agenda that might drive you to consider going to SXSWi if you haven't been.

  1. Industry People: Austin is all about people. Everyone is there. Bloggers, Company Founders, marketing teams, PR people, advertising people, and thought leaders. There's lots of educational and non-profit conversations happening. If you wanted to meet them, hear from them, or pitch them (in a non-pitchy way), Austin is a great opportunity. I'd build a list of hopeful meetings, reach out beforehand to set a few coffee chats up, and then spend your time there using Foursquare/Gowalla/Twitter to track down the one's you don't have on your schedule.
  2. Feedback: The early adopter crowd is there in full force. They're willing to hear your ideas, your community dynamics, and your story. Literally everyone there has a story, and is open to share it in exchange for yours. There's no reason to be shy, because rather than criticize or shoot you down, you'll get valuable feedback and insight into what else is happening in your space.
  3. Promotions/Marketing: I was really underwhelmed at the 'buzz building' tactics in Austin this year, despite the opportunity. With 15,000 early adopters/open minded geeks walking around, all carrying with them an audience of interested parties, you can really make a bang with very little COST. It's more a matter of doing something really innovative. Perfect example: the Ning team hands out free pie slices during their 'office hours'...and they were not only gone in short time, but generated buzz that I heard for the next 24 hours at parties and via twitter.
  4. Parties: Parties are a big, big part of the agenda down there. Problem is that they're expensive and exclusive, generally. Thing is, the best ones happened off the radar. If you want to bring people together to talk about you or your community, do that in a social setting 'off campus'.

I'm sure there's more, but that's a lot. If anyone has questions, just let me know...I'm happy to share!

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We're Back from SXSW! One of our SXSW contest winners, Darcy of Swap Mamas, acted as our reporter in the field this week. She wrote not one, not two, but three (!) blog posts to highlight what she saw at SXSW. Nicely done, Darcy! (Never been to SXSW but curious what it’s all about? The SXSW Experience! captures the spirit of SXSW in stunningly beautiful time-lapse video.)


We Have a New CEO: Get to know our new CEO and let Gina know how much we appreciate her hard work by signing a virtual group card.

Our 10,000 Strong Contest Rolls On: We crossed the 9,000 member mark this week, and we’re headed toward 10,000. We’re giving the lucky 10,000th member a Ning Timbuk2 bag and 10,000 Gift credits. If they mention you or your Ning Network, we’ll give you the same. More here.



Popular This Week on Creators

New Spam Update Page for Creators

How to Customize Your Sign-up Page on a Public Network


Across the Internet


How to Build A Massive Online Community has an excellent interview with someone who built a very large (48K+ people) and very successful online community from scratch. My favorite quote, when asked about member growth milestones: “The most exciting member was number two.”

A good post from the consistently interesting FeverBee: Making Things Happen In Your Community. Best quote: “Stop trying to get your community to do things they don’t want to do.”

With so many new tools at their disposal, what did the attendees of SXSW use to communicate with each other? The Social Technologies Powering SXSW 2010 points them out. A lot of them are, not surprisingly, location-aware online tools.

Ning gets a shout-out as an inexpensive tool to use when considering how to represent a business online in Make it Simple, Focused, High-Performance, and Polished: My Web Philosophy. It also theorizes that there are three kinds of people on the Web. (We’re a #3. We’re guessing you are, too.)

If Your Online Community Is in Trouble Turn to Grass for the Answer. No, it’s not about drugs, it’s an extended metaphor about gardening and people in online spaces.



"Best of the Week" is a digest for Creators of discussions, blog posts, and interesting things found along the way in the past week — on Ning and across the Internet.

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Hi everyone,
Over the last 18 months, I’ve met many of you in person or online. For those I haven’t had a chance to meet, let me introduce myself — I'm Jason Rosenthal, and I'm honored and very excited to take on the role of CEO at Ning. When looking at the 2.3 million Ning Networks that have been created to date, I’m amazed at what you've all accomplished and inspired by your creativity. As CEO, you can expect to see us continue to rapidly innovate the Ning Platform, strive to provide you with the support you need when you need it, and to keep listening to and learning from all of you.
I'd also like to take a moment to thank Gina for building Ning and infusing our employees and you, our Network Creators, with her passion and enthusiasm. Gina built an amazing team at Ning, and I am lucky to be working with some of the most talented people I've met in my career. I share Gina's vision for Ning as the place for people's interests and passions, and plan to continue to build on what she — and our team here — have already achieved.
Thank you for making Ning what it is today, and I look forward to many more conversations with you in the future.
Jason
PS: You can always get in touch with me here on Creators with feedback, ideas and suggestions. I look forward to hearing from you!
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Last day, and Mama's headin' out the door to an SXSW party (Get OUT. Reeeeeally??). Unlike last night and the night before, tonight should be a fairly early one (*snort*), seeing as my flight leaves at 8:30 tomorrow morn.

What a fabulous experience this trip has been. I've been inspired, learned some new things, met some great people, made fantastic contacts (fingers crossed!), and hopefully turned a bunch of people on to the awesomeness that is Ning.

I'm SO grateful for such an amazing opportunity -- I have no question that with all I've gained these past few days, Swap Mamas will benefit immensely. I owe it all to you, Ning. I'll definitely be posting better pics when I get home ... catch y'all soon!

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Today was FANTASTIC. Great sessions, great parties, and now, at 11 pm, we're on our way BACK out to meld into the fray -- first on the list, the Mashable Party (if we can deal with the line wrapping around the block)!

I'm spreading the Ning luv aaaalll around -- hoping to catch up with the RVIPers shortly. (Ning has an RV. They drive around. They let people on. And they SING KARAOKE. It's a beautiful thing.) One thing's clear -- EVERYONE knows what Ning is. And convincing them of it's awesomeness has been unnecessary.

Best session today? Peter Shankman of HARO (Help A Reporter Out). If you're not already familiar with his site, do yourself a favor, head over and sign up for his 3x daily newsletter. His best advice? Be kind to people. When someone asks what my business model is, it's hard not to respond, "Be good to people and good things will come to you." It's how I live my life and it's how I run my network.

Sadly, tomorrow's my last day ... I'm packing in as many panels as I can. As for photos? Of course, I have a bunch. But, um ... yeah, left the cord to download 'em at home. Lovely. Sooo, I promise to post as soon as I get back. For the time being, this crappy phone-photo should whet your appetite.

To be clear, this is NOT the Ning RV. (One can dream ...)

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Day One at SXSW and seriously? I heart nerds. And I say that with all kind of luv, seeing as I'm a complete nerd myself. (Self-love is good, no?) Which means I'm in H-E-A-V-E-N.

So far, best part of the day, was the Opening Speaker, Danah Boyd. Boyd works at Microsoft Research New England and also serves as a fellow at the Harvard University Berkman Center for Internet and Society. She's doing some fascinating stuff with regard to privacy and publicity. And one of her comments struck me as particularly relevant to many of the conversations going on in the Ning Creators Community. In a nutshell, she makes the very valid point (IMHO) that when it comes to social networks, more is not necessarily better. That just because we CAN "optimize" the user's experience, doesn't necessarily mean we SHOULD.

Hallelujah.

I've often felt, that as much as I ADORE social media, it's important to remain grounded and remember that nothing replaces the human touch, metaphorical, or physical. Leaving just a little bit of that "human" experience in my network is integral to my network, and I would argue, ANY network. And when you can create a community that successfully straddles the chasm between the virtual world and reality? Gold.

So, enough of the soapbox. Needless to say, I was impressed. And inspired. And later, when I attended the panel, "The Socially Conscious Geek: Making Money While Doing Good," I was inspired even more.

Like I said, I heart nerds. (Oh, and Ning, btw. :D)

PLUS ...

they party like ...


Forever's gonna start tonight.

But more about that tomorrow. (RAWR.)

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Many Network Creators continue to report high levels of spam on their Ning Networks.

What are we doing about it?

First of all, I want you to know how seriously we consider this issue. Spam isn’t just an annoyance for Network Creators and their members. Spam gets in the way of member participation and interaction, which is the lifeblood of a successful, vibrant Ning Network like yours. We have a dedicated engineering team that is focused on spam prevention led by Martin Westhead.

Unfortunately, the current spam attack promoting “Canadian Pharmacy” is a sophisticated attack attributed to a Russian cyber-criminal organization. As with other sophisticated spammers, this organization employs dozens or even hundreds of people to create accounts, resolve CAPTCHAs and verify email addresses, then passes the accounts to a large botnet to post spam from thousands of computers, each with a different IP address.

Due to the sophisticated nature of the attack, there aren’t any quick fixes. We have already implemented several steps to block spam and plan to deploy a number of other features in the next few weeks. These measures are already blocking and disabling thousands of spam accounts each day. Here’s an update:

  • Yesterday, we significantly tightened our rules for new blog posts, which has been the primary type of spam for the “Canadian Pharmacy” attack. These rules identify and remove spam accounts automatically. You may have noticed a decrease in spam based on this action.
  • Next week, we will test and begin implementing temporary blocks on members that look suspicious based on their recent activity.
  • Within the next two weeks, we'll roll out a new feature for NCs — you'll be able to give specific members of your Ning Network the ability to easily flag and hide spam on your Ning Network.


How can you help?

We are using the data from the “suspend for spam” feature to automatically disable thousands of accounts across the Ning Platform each day. Please continue to use this feature when you suspend spammers.

We recommend that you turn on blog approval on your Ning Network. This will help you block new spam posts. While it's not optimal for some larger Ning Networks, we also recommend that you consider turning on member moderation.

As we implement increasingly stringent anti-spam measure, we are working hard to minimize the number of legitimate members that are incorrectly blocked or disabled. We apologize if this happens to any of your members. Please have them write in to our Help Center and we will re-enable their account as quickly as possible.

John McDonald
Vice President, Advocacy

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We're turning 10,000!

Since Creators was relaunched — just four months ago — we’ve seen an outstanding up-tick in membership. Our growth is really a testament to you, the members of Creators. You make this place a welcoming one. Thank you!

To celebrate our 10,000th member of Creators, we’re running a very simple contest. It starts right now. If you’re a member of Creators, you’re already entered. How’s that for a low barrier to entry?

What’s the prize?

A black Ning Timbuk2 Messenger bag.

10,000 Ning Gift credits.

The bag looks a lot like this one, but with a beautiful Ning logo on it:

Who can win?

The 10,000th person who joins the Creators Ning Network automatically wins.

You can win, too! If the winner is recommended by you, we’ll give you a messenger bag and 10,000 Gift credits, too. Know someone who's not yet a member of Creators? Have them mention you or your Ning Network when they sign up. If they win, you win, too.

When does it end?

When we hit 10,000 members, of course! You can follow the counter on the Members page if you like:

We’ll also be tweeting about it (@ningadovacy), so follow along if you get as excited as we already are! We’ll announce our winner in a Broadcast Message when we hit 10,000, at which time you’re encouraged to shower the winner(s) with hearty cries of congratulations.

Good luck!

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Also called "The Social Media Scientist", Dan Zarrella shares boatloads of useful advice to help others achieve social media success.

His latest blog post was as fascinating as the finding he published The Science of Retweets. In today's post, he states that articles published/shared on Facebook in the course of the weekend are shared A LOT MORE than articles posted in the course of the week.

It kinda makes sense, if you come to think of it. Besides the reason Dan shares (that so many companies block Facebook to help with productivity), the weekend is also the time when we slow down, so we may catch up on the latest in the lives of our Facebook friends.

Anyway... just thought I'd share this useful post with you all, in the wake of the recent update to our networks integrating them with Facebook more.

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An update on Spam Prevention

Many Creators have noticed an increase in spam in the last couple of weeks on their Ning Networks. Starting around President’s day weekend we saw an increase in the amount of spam reported, reflecting an industry-wide increase, particularly from Canadian pharmaceutical companies.

What are we doing about it and how can you help?

We are aware of this issue and have been working hard to provide short term fixes for this increase and long term solutions to harden the platform against these trends. A lot of our work is in the background and not directly visible to Network Creators or Members.

That said, here is a run down of some of the features that you may see:

  • We continue to tighten and refine our rules for identifying and removing spam accounts automatically, which you should see as a decrease in unwanted activity.
  • We recently released the “suspend for spam” feature. We are now using this data to automatically disable accounts and analyzing it to help improve our ability to spot and remove these accounts more quickly.
  • Last week, we introduced a Captcha feature for Ning Networks who do not use member moderation.
  • We are working on a feature that will allow Members designated by the Creator to flag content and hide it from view...more details to follow.


We’re very aware of how spam affects Ning Networks and we are working hard behind the scenes to tackle this issue. In the next few weeks and months you should see significant improvements in our ability to block spammers before they hit your Ning Networks as well as new tools to help you manage unwanted content on your Ning Networks.

Martin Westhead (Martin runs the Spam and Abuse Prevention team at Ning).

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Thanks to all the amazing Network Creators who entered our Ning + Austin contest! We’re thrilled to announce the three winners:

Swap Mamas is about getting to know other parents, making connections, and doing a little old school trading with friends. The more you give, the more you get.


Amped 4-a-Cure uses the universal language of music as the vehicle to deliver the message to the masses of the importance of getting behind the efforts of cancer research.



20 Something Bloggers has brought together thousands of bloggers from all over the world, and spawned a vibrant community of like-minded, fascinating people who thrive on one another's support and feedback.


Stay tuned – we’ll be announcing another Creators contest this Monday - open to every member of Creators!

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I created whyleaveastoria.com nearly two years ago as a means for young adults to connect with their neighborhood. During this time, the site has become the most trafficked in the entire borough of Queens and one of the most heavily trafficked in all of New York City. Members have made countless new friends, businesses have prospered, and as we approach our second birthday and 4,000th member, our page rank keeps getting better and better.

However, we've now grown to a point where we have an exceptionally deep penetration into the target market of 25-35 year olds in Astoria. So now the challenge has become, rather than making the network bigger and not necessarily serve our target market as well as we could, lets make it better. In case you're curious, to us, better means:
1) More time spent on the site by users
2) More traffic via search (both of these equating to more advertiser dollars)

Over the course of the last two years, moderately tech savvy businesses have created user profiles for their restaurants, boutiques, dog walking services, etc. However, the issue here is, standard profiles often don't adequately address the needs of a brick-and-morter business.

Additionally, there is no effective way to filter or categorize proprietors from standard users in a generic site search. This is why I have created a new ranked business directory that will help my users identify the best establishments that meet their needs.

It's been a major challenge integrating this functionality into Ning--as the API can be a little frustrating at times when trying to access dynamic content and pull user information. However, after a year of planning (and mostly failing) my small development team and I were able to roll out a creative solution to allow users to create Business Pages featuring dynamic data pulled from my site, while still maintaining a direct URL that can be crawled by Google and deeply linked from other sources.

The first challenge to overcome here was creating a way to determine the logged in user. Once we could identify the user, we then needed to create the ability for them to build a new page on my Ning network. Once this functionality was created, we built in the ability for someone to become a fan of a page--giving us a database of users. Next, we built a form that could be embedded in an iframe that will allow the user to input a business name, address, photos, category, tags, and various other parameters. We also built in a conflict detector that will determine if a similar business is already in the directory. Once the information is submitted, it's sent to my database which then runs a chron job to post the new page to Ning.

Once a new page is created, users are able to rate and review any establishment, become a fan, add a tag, submit photos, request an edit, and even use the default Ning sharing utility to reach beyond the Ningosphere!

Now, business owners logged in as members of the site are able to "Claim this business", giving them the ability to attach their RSS feed to the business page (Twitter, blog, whatever), correspond with the page's fans, and view some simplified page metrics.

Coming up:

  • When a member becomes a fan of a page, we know they like the business. When they rate an establishment four or five stars, we know they like it, too. This gives us the ability to make recommendations of other establishments they should also consider--based on peer review.
  • Members of my site have actual membership cards that feature a magnetic stripe on the back uniquely identifying each person. When they make a purchase at a partner business in Astoria, the proprietor swipes the card--which hits my database to determine who the cardholder is, allowing the proprietor to issue a discount and us to track offline user activity. The discounts accrued over time (and nights spent on the town) are stored in my database and will be displayed on business and member pages--allowing our community to find out where was last night's most popular venue and also which members are saving the most money by staying local.
  • Since we know certain categories and tags for business pages, we can target page advertisements to keywords like "brunch" or umbrella categories like "Restaurants"--giving us a much deeper ad inventory. Additionally, businesses we choose to feature will appear more prominently in search results and be recommended more highly in the suggestions.

The directory is still very much a work in progress, but was a very important first step in our growth--as now users will be maintaining and growing the site while we focus on making it better.

We launched this new feature on Friday and by Sunday had over 150 new pages submitted by users. In the last week, we've seen an approximately 50% increase in pageviews and anticipate this will continue to climb as more pages get indexed. This was a big win for my network and I look forward to adding even more creative solutions like this throughout the spring and summer.

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Fellow Network Creators,

I am writing to ask you to rally for fellow Ning network creators. We support each other here, lets also help each other get funding!
Both WaggleForce and the nonprofit I founded and run Neighbors for Neighbors, are in the running to win $250,000 from Pepsi this month as part of the Pepsi Refresh Project. Voting started Monday, and will continue through March. You can vote once a day for each of our networks and nine other ideas you like. Judging is simple; the two projects that get the most votes win funding. VOTE FOR US!

WaggleForce is a Ning Network that helps members collaborate with each other to create career clubs and get communities back to work. Vote for Waggle Force

Neighbors for Neighbors operate neighborhood-centric community-generate social networks that serve as a soundboard for voice and a springboard for action. Unlike Facebook, Neighbors for Neighbors connect people who live, work ans serve in their neighborhood with the purpose of brining people together offline to do things with and for each other. Vote for Neighbors for Neighbors
If you know of any other Ning Networks that are in the competition, please leave a comment so we can support all network creators!
With much appreciation,
Joseph!
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We've just released our Facebook app, which joins our recent Twitter app as another way for you to use the power of social-media channels to grow your Ning Network.

When we release a new feature, we do our best to get the word out to NCs by blogging about it here on Creators and on the Ning Blog. But what about your members? How do you get the word out when you add a new Ning Network feature? If you’ll be installing the new Facebook app (or the recently released Twitter app), will you be passing along any information about it to your members?

We thought we’d give you some boilerplate copy you can use to send a broadcast message to your members. If you send out a regular broadcast message or newsletter, consider including it. Or, you could use this a jumping off point to get your members excited about sharing great content from your Ning Network on Facebook and Twitter.


Of course, you can always customize it (below) to fit your needs, but we hope this helps make it easy to keep your members informed and using all of the tools you've given them to their fullest potential.

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Announcing: Facebook Integration


New feature! We recently added Facebook integration to our Ning Network. Now you can share your favorite posts, photos, events, and videos directly on Facebook. Just look for the Facebook logo when you see something worth sharing and check the box before posting. You can share just about anything on our Ning Network.


Want to see what everyone is posting and sharing? We have a new Facebook page. Check it out!


Like Something You See? Share It on Twitter!


We're excited to let you know about our recent Twitter integration! On our Ning Network, we've cultivated a spirit of sharing, and one of the ways we do that is on Twitter. When we see something we think the rest of the world might find interesting, we send out a tweet with a link. We like sharing things on Twitter so much that we've now integrated it directly into our Ning Network. See something you want to share with the world? Click on the Twitter link to have it also post to your Twitter account. We hope you enjoy it!

Here's a walk-through video that explains how it works: http://bit.ly/63TViH

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Want to include logos with your announcement? I’ve attached these for you here as well, along with an example of how you might do it (top of this blog post)

facebook_logo.jpg

twitter_birds.png

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Growing a Ning Network by populating it with lots of members is often considered to be the Holy Grail for many Network Creators. As a result, we see Ning Networks that are so excited to grow — and grow quickly — that their invitation lists more closely resemble the population of a small country. But, as the saying goes, it’s about quality not quantity. The key to building a vibrant Ning Network is to attract people that will love to be part of it and regularly contribute. Think before you hit send; are these invitees likely to be active, engaged members? That’s why it’s important to invite the right connections and friends that share your passion. To reach them, we’re highlighting four simple ways to best share with and invite the people that can make your Ning Network stellar.

1. Be choosy

We give you an easy way to invite friends and family by importing your email address book from Gmail, Yahoo, AOL and Hotmail. While you may be tempted to invite all of your email contacts, it’s also important to appeal to the people you think will most enjoy jumping on the bandwagon. Sometimes, it pays to be choosy; otherwise you might accidentally invite your vegetarian friend to join the Griller’s Index.

2. Leverage your online presence

If you’d like to invite your friends from Facebook and Twitter, or include an invite on your blog, you can post or send an invitation link to join. This link will send them directly to your Ning Network’s sign up page. To grab this link, go to the Manage page and select Privacy. At the bottom of the Privacy page, copy the invitation link and share it wherever you have a web presence.

3. Personalize your invitation

Adding a personal note to a friend or highlighting your favorite part of the social network gives more context to any invitation. You can also include links to interesting things posted by members, which fosters engagement within your Ning Network.

4. Share what matters most to you

Your Ning Network might have hundreds of photos and videos posted by you and other members. Sharing the content that matters most to you is likely also meaningful to your connections and real-world friends. Look for the Share link available on most pages to spotlight compelling content through email or posts to online services like Digg. As we just announced, if you have Facebook and/or Twitter integration set up on your Ning Network, you can share content on these sites in just two clicks! This is a great way to draw people back to content you think is fantastic and it’s a nice way to tip your hat to members contributing positively to your Ning Network.

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Many Network Creators and members have written to us recently through the Help Center and here on Creators reporting issues related to Search. I head up Ning’s Search team, one of the Agile Teams here at Ning, and we’re currently working hard to improve the search experience across the Ning Platform.

Right now, the Search team is developing a platform-wide Ning Network search in parallel with our ongoing efforts to improve in-network search. We’ve been working on both of these projects for some time now. Just last week, we made some major changes to in-network search, including hardware upgrades, that should ensure current and steady results. We’ve also heard a lot of feedback from Network Creators and members requesting that we bring back search for Ning Networks, and we want to make it better than ever! We have a release planned for this updated feature sometime in late March.

We appreciate your patience as we continue our efforts to revamp search. In the meantime, if you have any search-related questions or concerns about your individual Ning Network, we can help you through the Help Center. As always, our Advocacy Team is happy to help! They work closely with us in Search to make sure we stay on top of pressing issues and keep us posted with feedback received on Creators and through the Help Center.

Stay tuned for further updates on Search!

Thanks!
Brent

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Congrats to Hugh and Harringay Online

The BBC ran a great article about social networks holding local politicians accountable, and it features Harringay Online, a Ning Network by Hugh Flouch.

"The website was used to organise a petition to visit every local street likely to be affected by knock-on traffic.

"The council were just not listening to the community", he said. "By the end of that year we had 500 members. Now we are touching 2,500."

It's great to see Network Creators receiving recognition for their efforts, and the real-world change that comes out of Ning Networks. We hope to read more stories like this!



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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.
Read more…

Ning Network wins web award

Thought you would be interested to know that the site I run just won 'Best Healthy Lifestyle Website' in the Hantsweb awards.The awards are for sites in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight (UK). What I thought was great was that all the other sites were created by web designers etc but Ning was judged better than them!!http://newforesttransition.ning.com/profiles/blogs/food-challenge-site-wins

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