Not content to live in the social networks of others, some small business owners have taken to platforms like Ning to create their very own social communities. Why would someone want to create their own social network when there are plenty of sites like Twitter, Facebook and MySpace available to jump on? Because when you own the community, it’s your brand that takes center stage. You get to control the content, to talk to new customers more easily, and to form one centralized location to host your living, breathing community.
What is Ning?
Okay, so what is it?
Ning is one of the many sites out there that let regular people create their very own social networks. Small businesses can use them to meet, network and engage with potential customers or simply to arrange events. You can make your social network as complex or as simplistic as you want. As the creator of the network, you determine what the site looks like, whether it’s public or private, and set all functionality, like if you want to include videos, photos, in-group chat, forums, blogs, etc. There’s also a premium version that will allow you to choose branded URLs separate from the Ning domain and remove ads from the site.
How do I Create One?
One of the benefits of creating your own Ning is that it’s super easy to do. There are four basic steps:
- Name it: If you already have a Ning account, simply click the Create Your Own Social Network link on the home page to get started. If you don’t, you’ll have to first register with the site. Once you do and you begin the creation process, you’ll be asked to name your Ning and to pick your Ning-specific URL (ie: groupname.ning.com).
- Describe it: The next step is to create your description. This is your chance to tell everyone what your little corner of the Web will be about. You’ll be able to provide a tagline that will appear in your header, write a brief description and select the keywords you want to be associated with your community. Try to use the terms people would most likely be searching for.
- Pick your Features: As I mention, as the creator of your community, you get total control over what it’s going to look and feel like. You decide if you want a forum, a blog, groups, music, an option to chat, an RSS feed, birthday reminders, etc. Once you decide, you’ll be asked to design your layout and select where everything will appear on the page.
- Customize your Design: In this step, community creators get to pick their theme (similar to a blog theme) and then customize it to look exactly how they want. If you can, try and use colors that are either similar or complimentary to your Web site. Once you’re all set, hit LAUNCH and your Ning will be made live and sent into the world.
Once you launch your social network, you’ll receive an email showing you how to invite your first set of members (this is done via email import), how to add content to your pages to help them rank and how to take advantage of any of the customization features you may have missed.
Yes, it really is that simple to create your very own social community on the Web. Once it’s created, you should make sure to include the link on your site and to link to it from your other social media profiles to help it gain maximum exposure.
How would a small business use Ning?
Actually, there are a more than a few great uses:
To create dynamic content: I mentioned yesterday how important it was for small business sites to feature some type of dynamic content to keep people coming back. Creating a community on a site like Ning helps you to do just that. You can enable chat to allow people to hold real conversations, create a Ning blog that people can contribute to, and even upload video, photos and apps to get people’s attention. Everything that your audience is doing on the other social networks, they can now do through your Ning. You make your company the meeting place for your niche.
To find a larger audience: Ning users are able to create member profiles that list all the other public Nings that they belong to. Ning also features a real-time news feed similar to Facebook. That means each time someone is interacting with your company, all of their friends on the site will know and will be able to read what they’re saying. And once they do that, they’ll probably visit your Ning. That’s targeted advertising and brand exposure to people who likely live in your area.
Meet other business owners: Last summer the Wall Street Journal profile Matt Milletto, a barista-owner in San Francisco who created a Ning called Barista Exchange (make sure to take a look. It’s a great Ning example.). The purpose of the online community was to give baristas and coffee enthusiasts a place they could go to discuss tips, share experiences and help promote one another. And it’s been hugely successful. Sometimes just creating a meeting area for your industry can empower everyone.
Use it to organize events/meetups: Whether you hold a lot of events at your storefront or you’re just organizing a meetup every few months, Ning is a great way to bring people together and keep them updated. One of the Nings I belong to is an SEO meetup group in my area. We use the site to arrange new dates, coordinate locations, to chat about issues/industry news, and to keep everyone in the loop. It’s become a great tool for us to connect online so that we can better connect offline.
To integrate all your other social stuffs: One of the great things about Ning is that it gives you the ability to add your YouTube videos and Flickr photos, to pull in blog posts and to use content from other mediums. Doing so, allows you to aggregate your content to one common source, which makes it easier for users to digest. It also makes it easier to share.
If you’ve never take a look at Ning, give it a shot. You may find its the perfect place for your company to take up show and create its very own social network.
An intellectual property client of mine told me NING’s fine print states they own all of your content. So keep that in mind from a business perspective. NING is a great tool, but when the platform technically owns all the content on your community, it will be difficult to monetize any revelations in a court of law.
I can be found here if you have questions: http://derekshowerman.com
I love the idea behind Ning and I think it can be a great way to foster community. I personally haven’t joined any Ning communities because I already have too many social networks to manage (Facebook for personal use, LinkedIn for professional, etc.) I like the idea of aggregating content though. It would save a lot of time and effort by bringing YouTube, Flickr, etc. into the same location for your community.
Barking Unicorn, Denver, CO
I’ve tried Ning several times over several years. It is always irksomely slow no matter how fast my connection is. Owners don’t seem to invest enough in bandwidth, servers, or both. Fail.
As a Ning user, I find the service somewhat limiting in many respects. From a Social Media perspective, it’s simple to create and manage your account and content, however, I don’t see Ning as a major player in Social Media.
I agree with Barking Unicorn on the speed issues.
We have set up a few clients with Ning sites as their corporate domain. It’s wonderful for building content with your fans. Additionally, we have even made our nonprofit company’s site into a Ning site. You can find that at:
We got the tip to use Ning some years ago and created community for our physical meeting place. It didn’t really take off. We have also a group on Facebook. Sometime in the future, we will create a new type of community. At the moment we have the foundation of a forum powered by Drupal.
Lisa: Could you compare and contrast Ning with other social network tools, e.g., Igloo and CrowdVine?
Hmm, this sounds interesting. It would be nice to have a centralized place to connect with your customers. There are some very good comments here from Ning users and I would love to hear more opinions. This may be something to consider in the near future.
My admittedly limited experience with Ning has led me to conclude that it’s an extremely interesting play thing in terms of being able to quickly set up a community and enjoy all of the creative satisfaction this involves and probably has value in driving traffic from that community to other sites. However, the scale difficulties in monetizing the traffic within the community itself may be similar to trying to make profits off of a solo blog or Squidoo lens using AdSense and Affiliates alone.
I would like to see some data on creating a social network using Ning vs Facebook.
With Facebook’s massive user base I would believe that you would have access to many users from the get-go. When creating a network on a site such as Ning users have to signup for yet another service so it will cause resistance.
It all depends on how you market your network, and what the niche is you’re marketing to.
The big social networks (MySpace, Facebook, etc.) are successful because they are open to everyone. The users create groups on those sites and interact with people that have similar interests that way. Let the users do the dirty work for you, but having them tell you what they want.
If your niche is Dog Lovers or Car Enthusiasts, you’re automatically eliminating the Cat Lovers and Bike Riders from your subscriber base.
Great post about a great resource! It’s perfect for SMBs and their ability to remain in close contact with their customers and employees.
Like most SMB’s Ning is here to work for the benefit of the community. The success of the community is through these social networks bringing people closer to work or communicate with each other.
I like Ning, but haven’t built anything there yet. I’ve come close. The premium version/access makes it more appealing, otherwise, it feels like you’re building in FB or any other social network. You can lose all your efforts. You can win a lot, too. I know a presence in these many networks is essential, but it always seems like you are at someone else’s mercy.
All that said, I think Ning is doing a fantastic job. But after reading some of these comments, I’ll have to explore further before doing a project there.
I am not sure how Ning is different from a small business that createa fan page on facebook or a twitteraccount that people follow.
As a small business owner I started using tradeseam (can be found at http://www.tradeseam.com) and saw instant results where I started to receieve leads that are real sales opportunities that have helped me grow my small business during this deep recession.
I created both a ning network and a fan page.
My ning netwok has 4k users and very (and I mean very) little activity.
The same members on my ning are on facebook 24/7 and visit my site once a week if that. (lots of them are my friend on my facebook)
Now, my facebook fan page has 56K users and much more activity.
Yes, facebook fan page has less control/features.. but who the hell cares if thats where everyone is playing.
Ning will be a ghost town in a couple of years.
I have to agree, if you want to foster community you have to go where the people are, and that’s on Facebook. Granted, Facebook, like Ning, owns your published content, so one has to be careful. But in terms of getting the word out there, I can thank Facebook for helping me make some great connections with my customers.