In my last post I outlined some of the steps you need to take if you’re thinking of building your own social membership site or social network. They include thinking about your target audience, how you’ll meet their needs the content you’ll be providing and more. Interest in building a private social network is only going to increase in 2010. I normally avoid all the crystal ball pronouncements common at the end and beginning of a New Year, however the other day I did I comment on an interesting prediction blog post by Daniel Levis called 5 Bold Marketing Predictions for 2010. The move to private social networks is already underway. I suspect has been quietly going on for some time.
For one thing, people are getting weary of the restrictions of some of the current social networks, or, in some cases, the loosening of restrictions, (such as privacy in the case of Facebook). Many are also weary of the social media noise…and the seeming need to clone oneself so you’re on every social network there is. I know some people who are closing their twitter accounts and narrowing down where they spend their time. And of course there is always the niggling doubt as to who actually will own your content, since platform owners can (and often do) change the TOS at the drop of a hat leaving your hard earned effort and members in their hands and not yours. People (particularly older people) want to create social networks without the hype and with like minds
It’s going to be a question of niche social networks and membership sites. Sites are going to need to be very narrow to be successful. The only way to be completely in control, is to well, be completely in control of everything. That comes qt a price, but it might be one worth paying.
It’s The Content
Whether you have a social networking site or one combined with a membership component content will make or break it. Doesn’t matter how new-fangled the techie stuff, content (quality, not tat) is still the undisputed King. Which brings me to my next point – content creation. I blogged my last post on Ecademy and had an interesting comment from a member who has built a successful social networking site.
Vanessa Warwick makes some points worth keeping in mind, summarised here:
Groundswell and Seeding
You need groundswell to start a social networking site. This groundswell consists of people who know you and care enough about you to come to your site and fuel it with their content. They are the seed members and they are critical. You need to create them if you don’t have them and you must nurture them once you find them. Vanessa says she and her husband built their network for 4 years before launching their social networking site. Something to ponder. While you may not have to wait that long, and you may have a network of a couple of hundred people already – you do need seed members to get the ball rolling and you need to keep up the momentum until it’s rolling by itself.
You need to keep the content fresh and interesting. I’m going to go into this in more detail in a later post, however this will be the killer for most social networking and membership sites. Content has to be consistent, high quality and updated regularly. If it isn’t your social network will die as quickly as it sprang up. And if you are charging members, you have to make sure the content meets their high expectations. Vanessa says of her social site…
“Our site constantly updates with new posts and comments which keeps it fresh and interesting and, most importantly, relevant. That in turn keeps people coming back. It builds momentum as more people join and contribute, but you definitely need a few hardcore members to help that happen.
Content is definitely king as it earns people’s continued attention.”
Key thing to note: the members provide the content, through their postings comments, groups, sharing. In fact you have the crown jewel of social networking… user generated content. The effort it takes to keep that constant shouldn’t be underestimated.
A membership site is slightly different in that you might get people to contribute via a forum or in groups. Either way, most people in a social network want to converse, learn and connect with each other over common aims and ideals. They do it through content.
Making it Pay
Vanessa’s social network is on Ning. She’s been able to make money from the Ning platform (which is free) through paid sponsorship and two levels of membership. As I mentioned in my last post, you must have a model for how your social network is going to make money – even if it’s on a free platform.
I checked out Vanessa’s social network forum, it’s called Property Tribes and she noted in her comment that it launched last May with little advertising. It’s very active – and probably a social networker’s dream. You can see it here:
I’ve narrowed down my potential social networking platforms to 1. It isn’t Ning, though I know there are hundreds of social networks on Ning and I’m a member of a few of them. For reason’s I’ll mention later it will also probably be more a membership model than pure social networking… but that’s still under consideration. In a couple of posts or so I’ll let you know which platforms I’ve personally considered and my thoughts on each.
Thanks to Vanessa Warwick for sharing her insightful comment with me on Ecademy.
Comments, thoughts welcome… especially if you’ve set up or are thinking of setting up a social networking/membership site.