How To Create Your Own Social Networking Site On a Shoestring

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connected3xsmall thumb How To Create Your Own Social Networking Site On a ShoestringDon’t let talk of complexity and expense distract you. It may be easier than you think to create your own Social Networking site – even if you have limited funds. If yours is a smaller enterprise that should be music to your ears.

I blogged  my take to B.L. Ochman’s article “Debunking Six Social Media Myths.” I called mine

Social Media Marketing: There’s No Free Lunch.

While B.L. focuses on Social Media not being free (and in fact costing considerable sums of money) I only agreed to a point.  Because I think it’s entirely possible to build a Social Media campaign on without a $50-100K price tag or anywhere near that number. Note: This article’s focus is on social networking sites (the essence of social media interactions after all) rather than a “campaign” per se, however a community is a large part of any successful social media campaign. And creating a social networking site may be just what’s required.

Large  companies with oodles of money for marketing can learn something here too, (bigger isn’t always better) however this is really for smaller companies who don’t have the luxury of $$$$  in marketing  resources.

Say you’re a  consultant, a small business owner, a hobbyist,  or anyone wanting to create their own social networking site. You have no big company support or venture capital funding. You may even just want to create a community around your passion or favourite activity. It could be for profit or not for non-financial reward. Like-minded people would connect with each other, share tips, shop for their favourite items, learn and contribute new things…

OK, that’s the dream. But can you really create your own social networking site without it costing you an arm and a leg?

The good news – yes, you can

It’s actually pretty easy to create your own social networking site, brand it and provide many features such as profiles, photo and video sharing, podcasts, groups, discussion forums and more. There are many options available – almost too many.

The bad news is that it takes time to learn what’s available, even after you’ve weeded out what’s more suited to large companies. What you are looking for is a DIY (Do It Yourself) solution.

Ning, and CollectiveX are two options that don’t require a lot of technical skill. With Ning you don’t need any programming knowledge, and you can brand your network and add a wide range of features. There’s no charge either – although if you want to make advanced customizations you can upgrade to the premium option for a fee.  CollectiveX has similar features and if you explore open source software you’ll find the options are even greater.

Onesite and Crowdvine are just two more options among many others.

You need to know what fits your goals and what’s possible. And that means doing your research.

3 Tips for creating your own social networking site

1. Do your research

Be aware of what’s possible. Do you want a solution hosted on another company’s servers or do you want to self host? Hosting on another company’s servers may limit you. Hosting on your own servers may require you to have some technical skills. Explore what’s possible by doing a search. The easiest way is to type “creating your own social network” into your search engine of choice.

2. Understand the cost of free solutions

You get what you pay for is as true in things Social Media as it is anywhere else. Creating a social networking site on a  shoestring budget means you’ll have to make some concessions. For example:

  • You may have to live with the company ads on your site (they get the revenue, no sharing),
  • you may lack a domain name – which can hurt your organic search engine traffic,
  • you could have limited branding options,
  • you may be limited as to what you can put on your site (such as certain scripts or even products)

Free” can become a bind and  rather less attractive if you don’t have all the features you want, so you do need to bear this in mind from the beginning.

3.Assess your level of technical skill

Do you know the difference between your .php and your .asp? Or do the words “add this html to your template header between the opening and closing tags” bring you out in a sweat? Then either choose a system which is completely DIY (and which may be limited) or budget money to hire someone who has the technical skills you need. Don’t underestimate the need for technical skills down the line, even if you don’t need them at first.You will need them as your site grows and you may find you have no desire to spend time on technical tinkering at all. Factor this in from the beginning (there are many skilled people who can help and they don’t cost the earth) and it will save you headaches later on.

4. Be Crystal clear about the business model you want to pursue

Different business models require different approaches – and different tools.

  • Do you plan on creating a site that generates profit from advertising revenue, sales of your own products, or affiliate sales?
  • Will your network be a fee based membership site providing content for your members?
  • Do you want to generate publicity, buzz and awareness for your business or a cause?

There may be no profit motive at all. Whatever your answer, take the time  to assess your strategic goals, your options and your skills before jumping in and setting up  your social networking site. Also, look at what others have done, especially when researching your software options. Contact them and ask them what their experience has been.

Setting up a social networking site (and the needed social media applications) doesn’t have to cost thousands of dollars. Start by being strategic about your goals –  understanding what’s possible and available to you and investing the time to do the necessary skills assessment.

Written by Nicky Jameson

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I’m Nicky Jameson an urban photographer from London, England, who lives in Toronto. Welcome! My art reflects my love of architecture, historic landmarks, hidden urban gems and capturing the seemingly mundane from a different perspective. Enjoy – and please visit my online art galleries at Fine Art Website to purchase prints. Or engage with me on Google Plus Twitter or Facebook.

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14 Comments

  1. Palatine March 16, 2011 at 11:17 am #

    great tips. enjoyed reading. thanks for sharing

  2. shoykon March 8, 2011 at 11:43 pm #

    its a web site that you can do almost any thing

  3. palatine February 28, 2011 at 10:56 am #

    thankyou for the effort put into this post. some great information, enjoyed reading.

  4. bankkunru December 16, 2010 at 6:51 am #

    “It may be easier than you think to create your own Social Networking site – even if you have limited funds. If yours is a smaller enterprise that should be music to your ears.”
    What I can not believe!

  5. Forum Buddy November 14, 2010 at 9:32 am #

    Thanks for the effort you took to expand upon this post so thoroughly.
    We should join a discussion forums with a chat room, because we need information. The best benefits about using a forum or chat room is that you can talk about any problem you have and ask any questions you might have in your mind.

  6. John McClane September 16, 2010 at 10:46 pm #

    Your blog is good. I can learn so many things here. Hopefully you keep it updated regularly. If you don’t mind, please also comment on my blog: Auto Traffic Avalanche. Thanks.

  7. Nicky April 7, 2010 at 12:23 am #

    Hi Robert – we’ve already connected. Glad you love my site – thanks!. Hopefully you realize that my blog (this site) was built on WordPress using Thesis – not SocialGo. I do have a SocialGo site though (alas not finished as I mentioned in my email) but I did build it myself as I did my other two websites.

  8. Robert March 31, 2010 at 5:36 pm #

    Hello Nicky – absolutely love your website. I am seriously considering having SocialGo build a site for me, however I am a bit concerned that I cannot call them directly to discuss the project…I was told that they do not accept inbound calls.

    I would like very much to speak with you directly about your experience with SocialGo….f it isn’t too much to ask? You can reach me on Skype at: robert.doner

    Or I would be glad to call you and/or give you my mobile number.

    I hope to hear back from you soon.

    Regards,

    Robert

  9. Nicky September 19, 2009 at 4:59 pm #

    Thanks for sharing that John, very interesting. I’m going to tweet that link. I think social networking around a tight community or niche is the way things are going. In terms of making a profit from these sites, I agree few, if any do. Most of them though make it almost a no-no for people to even think of making any money so it’s unsurprising they don’t make any themselves. I think you have to give people some incentive to make money some where along the way. Have you heard of SocialSam http://socialsam.i360net.com/ ? This is a network for businesses that I am currently checking out (by that I mean I am building up a network). Unlike most social networking sites it is designed to be monetized, but it’s not a case of getting money on day 1.
    It’s a little more strategic than that and you have to understand the ethos of social media marketing and social media networking. Time will tell, however I think it has more potential than most.

  10. John Safar September 15, 2009 at 11:23 pm #

    Niche social networking sites are the way to go, and it’s been proven more or less than they have a hard time making any profit, so best advice? Make a niche social networking site for a subject / group you enjoy dealing with.

    I just joined this site: http://www.StartingStage.com, made for stage, film and theater artists.

    It’s one of the few that actually gets the niche formula right. The site is free, the interface simple and quick, you get your own URL with a meaningful name (good for SEO-ability), and their support staff is pretty top notch.

    It’s still new though, so we’ll have to see how long it lasts.

  11. Dave Earley April 9, 2009 at 11:57 am #

    Great tips Nicky! Social sites will be popular for years to come, and setting one up would not be a bad idea. Of course, if you wanted to earn income from it you would need to self host and do all of the technical stuff.

    Dave Earley’s last blog post..Help Voice of the Martyrs Fight Persecution Around the World

  12. Nicky March 22, 2009 at 6:27 pm #

    @Greg, the easiest way to define a social networking site is a platform where like-minded people can come together and network and share whatever they want to about a common interest. They can create
    an online community. The difference between, say Ning and Facebook is that on Ning (and Drupal) you can create the features you want rather than being limited to whatever the site owners want.
    So let’s say you were interested in scrapbooking and there weren’t any sites dedicated to it. You could set up a social networking site to fill that need. The network could be invitation only or you could set the permissions for joining. How you run it is up to you, but it’s usually member driven. It could have any Social networking tool you wanted, forums, photos, discussion groups, you name it. It’s driven by user generated content, from sharing tips, to articles and events to videos. The best way to get a feel for what one is to explore the sites on Ning, and see what others are doing or simply type “popular social networking sites” or social networking sites into Google.
    You can set up a Social networking site on almost any topic. I’m actually a member of a couple. I personally feel they are better at building relationships than Twitter for example. And, as the comment above mentions, Drupal is another option worth checking out.

    How a business might use it depends on their goals and the business. I think I’ll make that the topic of another post so as not to make my comment too long ;)

    @ Social Trending – Thank you for suggesting Drupal, yes – definitely up there on the list especially when it comes to having more control of your site and content. The only thing I’d say about Drupal is that (from my limited personal experience) it has a rather steep learning curve and in terms of usability if you weren’t a developer (as I’m not) it could be intimidating. I can get around basic .php but I avoid it if I can. Of course, if you have some money to spend you get a developer to do all that! Thanks for commenting… I am off to check out the sites.

  13. Social Trending March 22, 2009 at 8:31 am #

    If you have are looking for a site that will be hosted on your own servers and have a little bit of money to spend (but not a great deal) you may want to go with an OS platform like drupal. We have developed some fantastic communities using Drupal (www.drupal.org) and only had to pay a limited amount of designer fees for some of the more expensive applications we needed to integrate. – check it out when you get a chance.

  14. Greg March 18, 2009 at 9:35 am #

    Hi Nicky -

    Can you further define a social networking site, and how a typical business might use it? Or should I just check out Ning, etc. for examples?

    gm

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