Monthly Archives: December 2010

Guest Blogger: HootSuite

Hoot Hoot Ning Creators. HootSuite is excited to be part of the Ning Extensions Program through the integration of Ning into the HootSuite dashboard. In case you aren’t familiar, HootSuite helps brands and organizations use the social web to launch marketing campaigns, identify and grow audience, distribute targeted messages across multiple channels and more.

This means you can now monitor your Ning Social Website from the same place you manage your other social media networks, such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace and Foursquare. You will also have access to some great tools and resources to make managing your social media activities simpler and more efficient, and to help you expand your network’s reach.

We at HootSuite want to make sure you get the most out of this integration, so here are five things you can do with HootSuite today to help build your networks and communities:

  • Broadcast over Multiple Services – with HootSuite you will have the ability to send messages to multiple social services at once.
  • Monitor Member Activity – track and monitor your community members’ activities through various channels; track brand mentions, product enthusiasts, campaign feedback, competitive insight, industry info/news and more.
  • Better Manage Multiple Services – the HootSuite dashboard offers multiple tabs and streams that make managing social media and multiple services simpler and more efficient.
  • In-Depth Analytics – HootSuite offers a number of ways to analyze your networks and communities. Basic users have access to Ow.ly Social Stats. In addition to Ow.ly Social Stats, Pro and Enterprise users enjoy Google Analytics and Facebook Insights integration and Custom URL Parameters.
  • Collaborate with Teams – HootSuite gives you the ability to securely invite teams to share streams, assign and respond to tasks, collaborate on messaging, track follow-ups and more.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to some of the cool stuff you can do with HootSuite – there are many more tools and resources waiting for you. And now, with this integration of Ning into the HootSuite dash, you can post messages to your Ning site, monitor your networks and communities, view profiles and images in-dash and more, in much the same way you would for other popular social networking services.

I encourage you to check out all the things HootSuite can do for your networks and communities. Network Creators can activate the extension, then head over to HootSuite.com for more information and to learn more about the integration with Ning. Happy Hooting!

– Dave Olson, HootSuite Community Director

Mobilizing epic social movement: An interview with Andy Smith

Andy Smith is the co-author of The Dragonfly Effect –  an inspirational and yet practical handbook on how to use social media to drive seismic social change.   In this interview, Andy talks about what the Dragonfly Effect is and the secret to building customer loyalty with social media.

1. Let’s start with the obvious question.  What’s the Dragonfly Effect?

The Dragonfly Effect, is an idea from chaos theory describing how a small act can cause big downstream effects. We extend it to encompass the power an individual can have to set positive change in motion.  This is done through the careful and coordinated execution of four distinct processes:

  • Focus – Establishing a clear, simple, measurable goal that the mere thought of achieving makes you happy
  • Grab Attention – Making people look and pay attention to what you have to say in a way that’s true to your effort
  • Engage – Making people care through telling a true story that inspires people to act
  • Take Action – where you put the tools from Grab Attention and Engage into your audience’s hands and make it easy and fun for them to take on your effort as their own

The dragonfly symbology fits because the creature is a symbol of change, transformation and rebirth. And the dragonfly is unique in that it is the only insect that can fly in any direction and even hover when its four wings are moving in concert.

2. Many books have been written on how to create social media strategies for the ever-increasing number of tools.  You have a rather different perspective – social media is a means to an end and that the revolutionary power of social media is truly elicited when it’s connected to a specific goal that deeply matters to an individual.  Tell us more about that.

When you start with deep empathy (human-centered design), you move to the forefront both for your own reasons for doing something as well as why an audience will care. The forwards, re-postings and actions then become much more predictable and replicable.  When you design programs that connect with what brings meaning to people and offer them a way to achieve it, success becomes much more likely.

3. The number one challenge that many organizations and brands face in using social channels to getting the word out is noise.  There is just a ton going on –endless feeds you get from people you follow, updates from friends, and advertising. Social media tools have become our best friends and enemies.  How could one break through to make an impact?

Once you’ve established and vetted your goal, breaking through the clutter is your next task. We call it grabbing attention. This process is deeply informed by the very best marketing and advertising programs. The key is to stand out and there are four design principles we identify to achieve this:

  • Personal – Create an appeal with a personal hook in mind
  • Unexpected – People like consuming then sharing new information. Draw them in by piquing their curiosity. Seek to reframe the familiar
  • Visual – Show, don’t tell. Photos and videos speak millions of words
  • Visceral – Design campaigns that trigger the senses through sight, sound, hearing, or taste. Music can be especially helpful to tap into deep, underlying emotions

4. Can you share some tips with our new Ning Creators who’re trying to build a following?

I can’t over-emphasize the importance of having single, clear goal. This will remind people why they are at your site and want to belong to your community. Having and telling your story well is another often-missed piece of socially-minded efforts. Facts and figures, no matter how shocking, don’t motivate people to act. Stories do. What’s the story behind your site? Why are you creating it? Who is the protagonist? What is their struggle? Stories are easy for people to share because they remember them and because stories are interesting. Clearly tapping into the power of storytelling will pay huge dividends as you approach all the other aspects of your effort.

5. One thing we constantly heard from our Ning Creators (many of whom are marketers and non-profit organizers) is that you need to work hard to engage and grow your members.  Utilizing social channels doesn’t mean a community is formed organically.  What’s your perspective?

We know there are no perpetual motion machines. Particularly at the early stages, membership growth will take a lot of effort. Also, no matter how decentralized you make your effort, there is still a crucial role for those at the center, particularly in the dragonfly wing.  Focus – keeping the effort clear and singular in its goal and Take Action – ensuring that the tools, and tips are constantly evolving and make it fun and easy to help you with the heavy lifting.

The community certainly contributes to the effort and may yield some extremely motivated people who want to take on larger roles — and you should let them [see the write-up on the Obama campaign in the book for the gold standard in doing this].

As Ning Creators, you recognize that the same tools that make it easy for you to establish your cause online also make it harder to stand out. You can avoid this by being vigilant – seeing tools as means to an end not as differentiators and, staying close to your effort and to the deep-seated motivators of the people in it.

6. I know you’ve done a lot of research on this topic.  What are the common characteristics of the thriving communities you’ve seen?

We profiled two thriving communities in our book: Charity: Water and Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation (ALSF). Both of them use the power of story extremely well —  a disillusioned club promoter seeking deeper meaning, and a little girl struck with cancer who decided to sell lemonade one cup at a time to fund childhood cancer research. They both deeply understand the power of giving people something they can do with their time — not just their money.

Charity: Water encourages people to forgo birthday presents and instead ask their friends to donate the amount they would have spent on a present to fund a well for a village in the developing world. ALSF provides you with all the materials, guidance and even the PR you need to hold your own lemonade stand to raise money to fight cancer.  Another key element that’s evident in the above is that online activity is not an end in itself but is always directed to offline action (cancer research, well digging). Offline action not only provides the community with a physical social outlet which strengthens bonds but also ensures a connection with purpose and goal achievement.

Plenty of criticism has been leveled at social media for it’s potential to enable slactivism, the appearance of activity where there is none. In many cases, such criticism is unfair, but it is up to the organizer of any effort to ensure that the energy they concentrate is directed to real-world action; both Charity: Water and Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation ace this test.

7. To many people, Ning is the platform that weaves social conversations into content to inspire actions.  The key to success is about finding a way to motivate your evangelists to spread the word. Do you think one can engineer virality? If yes, how?

Both individuals and brands have spent a lot of time and energy chasing success in social media, particularly trying to make something go viral — the holy grail of the space. The trouble is that although plenty of videos do get a million views on YouTube, you can’t Frankenstein your way to viral success, dissecting then reassembling appeals based on what seems to have worked for someone else. We know that humor, pain, embarrassment and – inexplicably – cats often play a role in viral hits, but in many cases the magic, irresistible element of the piece was unintentional – making it extremely hard to replicate.

We think time is better spent deeply understanding the viewers than poring over previously successful viral content. Social media effectiveness is the product of exposure times and desired action.  In the social space the people ARE the media buy. Their forwards, ratings and re-postings are the means by which your message is exposed to a broader audience. Having a clear call to action in the item is the other half, because awareness itself does not solve any problem. The one-two-three punch is to first connect the piece to deep meaning, then present a clear and appropriate call to action, and finally make it insanely easy to spread the word.

8. While social media has gone mainstream, it’s still in a nascent stage with limitless possibilities.  What do you think is the next big theme in this space?

I think the next theme will be refinement. We will see more subtle variations than entirely new themes themselves.  I think we will see the line get blurrier between social media and what we think of today as traditional media, as well as between media and commerce. As an example, when you last made an Amazon purchase, did you pay attention to the consumer reviews of the product?  I bet you did. It turns out that presence of customer reviews (even bad ones) can increase sales of a product.

Another encouraging theme is the increasing emphasis that people, particularly those entering the workforce now, are placing on working at a place that shares their values. This trend will lead to better business where the ‘good’ is baked in to the business model. They will do this because doing good as part of doing well will lead to higher employee satisfaction and lower turmoil, greater customer loyalty (Will you buy your morning coffee from the cafe that only buys Fair Trade grown beans, or the other one that doesn’t?) and a clearer business direction.  I see social media playing a key role in these transformations and in the process, it too will be transformed.

Introducing: an upgrade to our text editor

We’ve rolled out an upgrade to one of the heaviest used features on Ning: the text editor. It’s used for all sorts of activity ranging from writing a Blog post to sending a private message, to editing member Profile pages. Previously, each of those tasks would involve using a different text editor for each different type of page. Now, Ning Creators and members will have a clean, consistent user experience when adding content. We’ve been beta testing the new text editor on dozens of Ning Networks, and feedback from our Ning Creators has greatly influenced how this new text editor works.

New Ning text editor

You’ll find the new text editor in just about every place on your Ning Network that requires typing. By default, members will be in WYSIWYG mode — but wherever you see a toolbar, you’ll have the option to switch back to HTML mode if you prefer. Aside from a consistency and a clean design, the new text editor is loaded with useful functionalities:

  • The ability to drag and expand boundaries of the text editor so that you’ll never run out of space when you write, minimizing the need for scrolling
  • Embedding rich media content is now easier. The video embeds pasted in WYISWYG mode will be automatically visible, without the need to switch to HTML mode. There’s also a new “Embed” button that allows members to paste and see embed codes without leaving WYSIWYG mode.
  • Links added into the text editor will, by default, open in a new window if they link off your Ning Network, and open in the same window if they link within your Ning Network. Not happy with the default? Just click on a link after you add it, hit “Edit” and change the setting.
  • Text pasted from a Word document is better handled. And now you have the option to paste in plain text so that only basic formatting is retained to ensure your text appears cleanly when it’s posted.

We’ve also added new functionalities specifically for members on any Ning Network:

  • More control on alignment, padding, and size when adding image. Members can also choose from linking the image to the URL of the image file, a webpage, or another image.
  • Even more room to share their thoughts: Just hit the “Full Screen” button to use the entire browser window.
  • Ability to customize the link and text when adding hyperlinks

If you’re a Ning Creator and want to join the discussion with the Ning Team and other Ning Creators or learn more about this feature, join us on the Creators Netowrk. Let us know your thoughts and suggestions about this new feature.

Ning at Le Web

This week we were at Le Web 2010the tech conference for Europe. Our CEO Jason joined a panel, discussing how to leverage social for businesses. He caught up with Robert Scoble and Ben Rooney from the Wall Street Journal, sharing his insights on the business and the latest metrics including 70 million unique visitors and 80,000 paying customers on the Ning platform.

Check out the interviews here:

The Ghost of Business Past (Great Moments in Consulting History)

Yesterday, we unveiled a Constant Contact Extension, which provides Ning Plus and Pro subscribers a new way to easily send out email newsletters. You’ve probably heard of Constant Contact. I definitely have. I often hear them advertising on my local public radio station, sandwiched between episodes of Fresh Air and All Things Considered. I’ve been paying attention to the progress of Constant Contact for quite some time. In fact, I have a history of not choosing Constant Contact when I probably should have. To elaborate, I decided today was a good day to tell a little story about business foolishness. I call it “The Ghost of Business Past (Great Moments in Consulting History).”

Way back in the previous century — 1999 to be exact — I was helping a fledgling company build a Web site and a marketing plan. All from scratch. They had a URL and a list of customer email addresses, but that was about it.

One of the first things I did was start researching online services I could use to send out regular newsletters and sales promotions for them. I put together a business needs document (amazingly, it’s still on my backup hard drive!) that listed four email newsletter services, with the customary pros/cons breakdown of each service alongside other important factors — like price. As a freelance jack-of-all-trades, I was just as cognizant as the company I was working for about the importance of affordable pricing for early stage companies. Or to put it more bluntly: We were both poor! Some might say “cheap.”

What’s funny to me about looking at this list now is that I realize I made a very foolish choice. At the time, I went with one of the least expensive solutions that had been around longer but was also a little more “no frills.” I didn’t choose Constant Contact; which, now that I look back on it, was actually a steal. As a result, we ended up with countless problems of deliverability. We were occasionally accused of being spammy. When we were ready to step up the design of our newsletter, we found out the hard way that the service we had chosen wasn’t very fond of our new design choices. In short, we probably lost customers we shouldn’t have and ended up spending way too much time focused on the tools we were using, rather than on the actual messages we wanted to send out. It was not a Great Moment in Consulting History.

Interestingly, none of the competitors I listed in that business needs document even exist anymore. Doesn’t surprise me one bit. But I’m still here. (Thankfully, so is that company.)

I’ve since gotten 11 years smarter, and Constant Contact has gotten 11 years better, and the choices small businesses have these days are way more than 11 times smarter and better. For example, these days a small business could use Ning to set up an attractive social website in the course of minutes with zero coding skills for less than $20/month. And they can get an introductory Constant Contact plan for $15/month. Today, using Ning and Constant Contact, I could probably do everything I did back then for a monthly fee that’s much less than what I charged for one hour’s work (in 1999 dollars!). Now that would be a Great Moment in Consulting History.

If you’re interested in learning more about the new Constant Contact Extension, check out our announcement on Creators. If you’re already a Constant Contact customer, you can use the new Extensions to connect your account to your Ning Network. If you’re interested in adopting Constant Contact, check out what they have to offer.