Everyday, we speak to hundreds of Ning Creators across the globe. We really enjoy hearing from customers, and learning about the ways they are leveraging the Ning Platform to create wonderful communities and businesses using our product. We recently spoke with John Mitchell, an entrepreneur with 11 niche communities on Ning. One of his communities is Garden-Share, a social network of 29,000 passionate gardeners from around the world, and we wanted to hear first-hand from John about his success with Garden-Share.
Tell us about yourself.
I live in Houston, Texas with my wife and 3 children. I operate 11 niche Ning social networks under my company, Share-Media, Inc. and I am a Content Editor of Garden-Share. I have a history working in IT software before starting my Share-Media venture.
Why did you create these communities?
Back in 2009, I saw the limited features and customization of Facebook Groups. Users were mostly sharing with people they already knew. There was a void for creating organized groups covering subjects large enough to be powered by dynamic data. I was looking for a place where new and interesting data could be shared, attracting people to join and contribute. I envisioned this place to be both an online and open periodical.
Why did you pick Ning to power your communities?
I thought, if I could build a hub with something centered on a specific interest, I could turn this into a business. I hired a small web development company, and they tried building on an open-source platform. But, they were unable to deliver a tool I could easily use. I was struggling to find a solution that would work, and was sold on Ning after another organization I was part of started using Ning to power their community. Ning was the solution I had been looking for in a scalable hosted platform.
What has been the most rewarding thing to blossom out of Garden-Share?
The shear amount of information I’ve been able to aggregate in such a short period of time – it’s something I’m really proud of. There’s 29,000 members, 150,000+ photos, and we continue to grow. The positive feedback from members gives me a strong sense that I’ve built a digital online brand with many loyal followers.
You now have 29,000 gardeners on Garden-Share. That’s an amazing number! How have you scaled with this growth?
A lot of hard work and moderating. Along the way, I have had people help me as content managers. You have to engage people when they join the community, welcome them—this personalizes the community for our members. We also listen—it’s important to get a pulse of what’s going on, so you have a gauge for customer satisfaction.
We encourage people to contribute content, and this can turn into an opportunity to become an administrator. It’s also a way for them to forge a deeper connection with more members, and now I have evangelists out there beating a drum for me, letting me know what’s going on in the community.
What’s the driving force to get your members contributing and visiting again?
When members post content, we feature it. We respond directly, letting them know we saw what they have posted and that we like it. Members love receiving instant recognition; they’re engaged.
We also continually ask for more content. We’re truly trying to set up a place where people can maintain their entire gardening experience for the rest of their life. People can share their photos and experiences with friends on the network, and also with other friends around the world, instantly.
If there’s 1 feature you couldn’t live without for your community, what is it?
Photos – this feature is at the very core of the Garden-Share brand. It’s about sharing garden photos with likeminded, passionate gardeners. Photographs are the most effective way at gauging peoples’ interactions. If they like the photo, they’ll usually engage with the photo by commenting, sharing it with others, or uploading something in the same vein.
You’ve built a business out of your communities. What’s next and how will Ning help get you there?
To continue to attract and aggregate more amounts of garden information and data. We’re encouraging people to come join us at Garden-Share; Ning provides the most dynamic information-sharing tool available for what we’re trying to do. It’s a different way of engaging on a social network.
As a Network Creator, the Ning Platform provides me with a place to have vertical-specific communities with far-reaching and excited audiences—it’s about the content. This is the reason driving people to come back. In the process, you get to know the people. It’s about members’ content, and their willingness and excitement to share it with others, making it unique, special and authentic.