Author Archives: Christina Lee

37 Must-Read Online Marketing Posts

Hard to believe, isn’t it? Just as quickly as 2011 kicked off, it’s come to a close. With the new year here, new businesses, channels, events, tactics and trends will surely be looking to populate 2012′s online marketing landscape. But let us not forget the breakthrough blog posts packed with top-shelf takeaways, classic case studies, and meaningful advice that helped make surfing the net in 2011 totally worthwhile.

This link library features 37 memorable online marketing blog posts that graced the web over the past twelve months, presented in chronological order. From search to social, analytics to organic community management, they span the spectrum of business on the Interwebz and offer value in abundance. Fabulous New Year reading as things rev up in 2012!

  1. January 8The Big List: 168 Marketing Trends, Predictions & Resolutions For 2011 | Matt McGee, SearchEngineLand.com (Did they come true?)
  2. January 25How To Build Agile SEO Tools Using Google Spreadsheets | Tom Critchlow, Distilled.net
  3. January 27How to Successfully Implement Facebook’s Open Graph to Generate Insights and Start Contacting Fans | Hamish Ogilvy, datalicious.com
  4. February 3How a Search Engine Might Identify the Functions of Blocks in Web Pages to Improve Search Results | Bill Slawski, SEObytheSea.com
  5. February 9The Noob Guide to Online Marketing | Oli Gardner, SEOmoz.com
  6. February 15A Tweet’s Effect On Rankings – An Unexpected Case Study | Jen Lopez, SEOmoz.com
  7. February 16The Red Cross’ Rogue Tweet: #gettngslizzerd On Dogfish Head’s Midas Touch | Dean Praetorius, HuffingtonPost.com
  8. March 9Chrysler’s Twitter Account Accidentally Drops the F-Bomb | Sarah Kessler, Mashable.com
  9. March 30Manage Like You’re Dying: A Humbled Entrepreneur’s Reflections | Marty Weintraub, aimClearBlog.com
  10. April 8The Community Manager’s Guide to Intra-Community Bloodshed | Lauren Litwinka, aimClearBlog.com
  11. April 10White Hat SEO: It F@$#ing Works | Rand Fishkin, SEOmoz.com
  12. May 3Facebook Funerals: When You Close a Brand, What About Fans? | Bernhard Warner, Ad Age
  13. May 10One Social Media Tactic Your Business Must Embrace | Marty Weintraub, aimClearBlog.com
  14. June 92011 Search Ranking Factors Survey Results | Rand Fishkin, SEOmoz.com
  15. June 14How Social Marketers Can Survive the Boss’ Paranoid Micromanagement | Marty Weintraub, aimClearBlog.com
  16. July 20A B2B Community Manager’s Guide To Identifying True Twitter Friends, Part I & Part II | Lauren Litwinka, SearchEngineLand.com
  17. August 1Proving PR & SEO Seriously Lift Advertising ROI | Marty Weintraub, aimClearBlog.com
  18. August 18Who Does Facebook Think You are Searching For? | Jeremy Keeshin, Keesh.com
  19. September 1Yes, You Really Can Build Links With Twitter | Casey Henry, SEOmoz.com
  20. September 164 Point Twitter Audit: Becoming A More Beloved B2B Brand | Lauren Litwinka, SearchEngineLand.com
  21. September 29How to Communicate in Twitterbites For Re/Tweet-Friendly Blog Posts | Pamela Vaughn, Search Engine Guide
  22. September 29SEO KPI-K.I.S.S. Chart: 646 Classic & Emergent Metrics | Marty Weintraub, aimClearBlog.com
  23. October 1212 Reasons Your Business Blog Is Failing | HubSpot.com
  24. October 13How to Use 3 New Facebook Features for Better Social Media Marketing | Andrea Vahl, CopyBlogger.com
  25. October 193 Stats to Think About When Crafting Your Social Media Campaign | Lisa Barone, smallbiztrends.com
  26. October 196 Ways to Measure Your Social Media Results | Phil Mershon, SocialMediaExaminer.com
  27. October 197 Quick Ways to Turn Your LinkedIn Profile into a Social Media Marketing Workhorse | Lewis Howes, CopyBlogger.com
  28. November 2Advanced Google Analytics Tips and Tricks | Fabian Alvares, SEOmoz.com
  29. November 22Making PPC & Social Media Work Together Seamlessly | Jordan Kasteler, SearchEngineLand.com
  30. November 28Mining Deep “Site:” Operator Search To Uncover Multilingual Social Threads | Marty Weintraub, aimClearBlog.com
  31. November 30Freshness Update + Social Media = Happy Users | Aaron Friedman, SearchEngineLand.com
  32. November 30#WTF Factor: #SEO Analytics Survival In The Age Of Vanishing Keywords | Marty Weintraub, aimClearBlog.com
  33. December 2Leveraging Social Media to Build a Network of Links | Harrison Lapari, Search Engine People
  34. December 621 Types of Social Content to Boost your SEO | Jordan Kasteler, SearchEngineLand.com
  35. December 19The Content Marketer’s Guide to Web Content | Amanda Milligan, BlueGlass.com
  36. December 202011 Social Media Sites That Will Be Missed… | Michael Streko, knowem.com
  37. December 20Staffers Gone Wild – Protecting Your Business from Damaging Social Media Content | Shaine Alleman, DreamSystemsMedia.com

How Educators Use Social Media to Change the Learning Paradigm

It’s been widely reported that America is facing an education crisis. Bleak numbers indicate that more than three out of ten students don’t graduate high school. Funding cuts, overcrowded classrooms and a shortage of teachers impact this even further.

To positively affect education and learning, educators and administrators are using social in many forms. Lesson plans and projects that worked 20 years ago are being rethought, taking into account a different and more connected audience of students today. Understanding the way digital content can help students in the classroom, and how students are using it to learn, is at the heart of fostering a new style of education.

At Ning, we see how forward-thinking educators are taking the lead to combat this trend. Here are four innovative ways they adopt the power of social to empower students to succeed:

Transform Passive One-Way Teaching to Two-Way Collaboration

Education is more than simply absorbing information. It’s about asking questions, challenging the status quo, and empowering students to make informed decisions and draw conclusions. Social platforms are tools to support the learning ecosystem; it’s a technology that turns a one-way dialogue into multi-point conversations, facilitating actionable collaboration.

As computers and technology have become more and more prevalent, Chad Bruns, a history and athletics public school teacher in Iowa, has sought out ways to use Ning’s technology to engage and excite his students. Ultimately, Chad chose Ning because it was safe and easy, taking the concept of social networking and applying it to an online community for his students. Students use their profile page on the Mr. Bruns 360 Ning community as an “e-portfolio,” creating an academic repository of their online work. Not only is it a place for the teacher to post homework assignments and syllabi, the community becomes a destination for students to share their viewpoints and grow with one another.

Chad also notes that U.S. schoolchildren are now competing with students worldwide, “In this global marketplace, kids have to be able to have specific skills. I know they’re going to leave my classroom knowing how to research well, which they can use in all aspects of life. They know how to speak well— and now have blogging and writing skills. We’re fostering all these essential skills through Ning to help them succeed in the real world.”

The learning process no longer ends with the 3:00 p.m. school bell; there is a constant ebb and flow of material being absorbed inside and out of the classroom.

Empowering Teachers to Make Curriculum Relevant for Tomorrow

To help students succeed, our curriculum must be relevant for tomorrow. Students need to be prepared for life beyond the academic setting and ready to embrace post-graduate and working lives. To create a curriculum that’s truly forward-looking, teachers need to have the time and space to do research, get inspirations, and share best practices – a luxury that many can’t afford.

One of the biggest benefits of a custom social community is that teachers who share the same passion can easily connect in an open and supportive environment. Conversations and idea sharing extend beyond the boundaries of four walls. On Ning, we are seeing educators connecting with each other, in turn finding the right recipe for integrating new technologies in classroom teaching. A great example is iPads in Education – a place where Ning Creator Sam Gliksman and other educators are laser-focused on exploring the ways the iPad and new technologies can integrate in the classroom. They ask how this technology can best be used to enrich the lives of students, while preparing them for tomorrow. Teachers do this through the community’s bevy of discussion forums, offering tips and best practices, and detailing implementation plans to centerpiece iPad in the classroom to ready students for success today and in the future.

Sam highlights that education is no longer passive, and that students and teachers alike need to be flexible to relearn, at anytime. His community is taking advantage of the opportunity for educators to help out each other by sharing ways to use mobile technology in the classroom to drive student success.

Build a Support and Professional Development System for Teachers

As education reform develops into a twenty-first century curriculum, teachers and school administrators are coming together as members of online communities to nurture a professional support system. By joining the conversation through education-focused Ning communities, teachers are no longer making the education journey solo.

Classroom 2.0 is one such community, attracting a worldwide teaching audience. There, educators become part of the digital dialog, enabling them to share and learn in their teaching success with educators from around the world. Because the conversation is happening within a safe space independent of any specific education entity, the topics covered are limitless, bypassing the control of academic institutions, governing bodies or bureaucracy. Members of Classroom 2.0 act as valuable resources to help guide other educators along pathways of successful teaching methodologies. According to Ning Creator Steve Hargadon, Classroom 2.0’s use of Ning has given teachers previously without a voice an opportunity to be part of the conversation:

“Ning opens the door to all kinds of things that teachers want to do. The word here is passion – teachers are a caring community. They’re people who care about others, getting into education largely because they wanted to make a difference. And for many of them, they had to abandon those passions. They were bound by so many constraints in their lives, that they couldn’t bring themselves to their job. So all of a sudden, Ning and other social media tools provided teachers with an outlet for this passion. Teachers contribute to Classroom 2.0 because they care. This is a huge release of purpose, and purpose-driven passion for educators wanting to make a difference. Ning and Classroom 2.0 give them a voice.”

Give Guidance to Underprivileged Students to Succeed

One purpose of education is to level the playing field, giving all students equal access to learning and content, no matter a student’s background—be it racial, socioeconomic, disability or upbringing. The key is finding a platform that enables educators to help students learn in a dynamic and open environment, and creates opportunities for students to help their peers.

Carlos Jimenez and Zoomz give students an avenue to find the academic support they need and encourage students to become the first generation in their family to attend college. The organization uses Ning to put middle and high school students in touch with recent first-generation college students and graduates, promoting a college-bound culture and a community lending itself to students seeking higher education opportunities after high school. These role model-college students set a positive example for underprivileged youths to follow, counterbalancing the many negative influencers they may encounter as they grow up. Through this trusting social community, children learn how to deal with stress, raise expectations, succeed academically and take control of their destiny.

As acclaimed education reform programs like Teach for America gain more and more traction around the world, educators are also sharing their successes with one another to help students reach academic success. Ning community Teach for All Synergies brings together worldwide active corps members and alumni of the education reform program, Teach For All. According to online organizer, Jacob Kestner, it’s a way for someone in a rural part of Lebanon to benefit from the expertise of teachers in the US/UK. What’s come out of the community is more than just publishing content or best practices – it forges relationships and opens the door to worldwide education success.

In the classroom, education is being reinvented to take advantage of new technologies, online mediums and web applications. For many educators, it takes their own initiative to get the ball rolling – and at Ning, we applaud the educators who have already begun revolutionizing the ways students learn and succeed. We look forward to supporting many more teachers, students and classrooms as these practices are adopted on a wider scale.

Social Media Nonprofit Best Practices: Grassroots Strategy

9 Killer Ways To Mobilize Action Without Burning A Hole In Your Wallet

There are tens of thousands of social-powered sites for non-profits on Ning that are the grassroots campaign headquarters for making a change. This presence online isn’t just a channel for broadcasting information but non-stop destinations that bring people together, facilitate conversations, spark excitement, and inspire action. Social media levels the playing field for non-profits where community building and creativity become more important than running expensive promotional campaigns.

Here are the 9 powerful tips we learned from the successful non-profits on Ning on how to mobilize action without burning a hole in your wallet.

1. Tell the story

Every day, we are bombarded by a ton of noise and information. To capture people’s attention, there is nothing more powerful than storytelling. Stories promote active listening and interaction, meaning that your message is much more likely to be digested and repeated to others. As Mother Theresa once said, “If I look at the mass I will never act. If I look at the one, I will.” So start connecting with your audience by telling the story of one person in need, instead of facts and figures about the issue.

2. Design matters

Let’s face it – often people judge by appearance and the same goes for non-profits. An unprofessional, disorganized site certainly wouldn’t inspire confidence, let alone getting people involved or inspired to donate. Thanks to new design tools and technology, anyone (not just professional designers or non-profit organizations with big marketing budget) can create a stunning online / social experience. So invest the time in understanding your audience and designing the right experience for them.

3. Make it fun

Rallying support for a cause doesn’t mean you need to be all serious and boring. TuDiabetes, one of our Ning Creators reached out to its community to create the first-ever poetry book on diabetes. To promote early testing for diabetes, TuDiabetes put together a Big Blue Test awareness campaign which is positioned positively and doesn’t appear intimidating. So don’t forget to make it fun to do good.

4. Make social media work for you, not the other way round

Social media is mainstream and having presence on the social web – Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Ning, Foursquare, Change.org and more isn’t just important, it’s a pre-requisite. The online presence of your organization should be completely integrated with your social media campaigns to convert lightweight engagement into action for moving toward your goals. And when supporters take online action on your site, broadcast the action to their social graphs to maximize reach.

5. Don’t be afraid to ask

Being aware of an issue doesn’t necessarily imply action. Think about your campaign goals (note: be sure they are measurable) and translate them into actions people can take. Tell people what you need and be specific. Having people take the first step usually is the hardest part, soconsider lightweight actions (e.g. Tweet or “Like”) to make it easy for supporters to get involved.

6. Get 20 influencers to get the word out

According to the recent Ning Point of View Report, you may have 1000 “friends” who never visit, but it only takes 20 people to evolve from one-way broadcasting from the community leader to meaningful many-to-many interactions. Identify the small group of quality influencers within your support base and focus on nurturing those relationships to get your community kick started.

7. Encourage content creation

One of the challenges non-profit organizations face is generating fresh content to inform people on what’s happening. You don’t need to shoulder that burden alone. Encourage your community to be content generators – let them blog about why they’ve become involved, share videos from fundraising events, and more. Not only is the workload is distributed, it also sparks dialogue and opens the lines of communication within your active support base.

8. Use different approaches to keep people engaged

Everyone’s learning style is different, meaning the best way to keep people engaged varies. When you put together a non-profit awareness campaign, think about different ways to deliver information. Use different methods to present your story – videos, photos, forums, and blogs all encourage participation.

9. Reward participation

A highly effective way to drive participation is with rewards. Often, what your audience values often may not be monetary in nature. For instance, Amplifying Education – the philanthropic group on Ning formed by a Boston-based band, Dispatch – rewarded fans who donated books, volunteered, or took online action for the education crisis in America with the ability to unlock exclusive song downloads. Think about what your audience values. Frequently, the powerful incentive that makes your campaign viral isn’t something with a hefty price tag but rather just a simple, creative idea.

The Ning POV: How Custom Social Communities Can Change the World

There are over 90,000 social websites on Ning worldwide. As a social platform that integrates with major social tools, Ning is in a unique position to observe patterns across the entire social ecosystem. The new Ning Point of View (POV) Report examines trends in community engagement across the ever-changing social ecosystem that all inspired organizations and businesses can apply to spark change with as few as 20 people.

20 = The Magic Number

You may have 1000 “friends” who never visit but it only takes 20 people to evolve from one-way broadcasting from the community leader to meaningful many-to-many interactions. This is an encouraging finding especially for small businesses and non-profits with resource constraints. With as little as 20 people, you can bring an online community to a significant level of activity – when members spend an increasing amount of time on the site, and visit more regularly.

The Unique Combination of Social Tools Builds Engaged Communities

Nearly 50 percent of Ning sites integrate with external social applications. Facebook and Twitter tie for the most popular external social media platform integration and nearly one in five Ning sites integrate with Facebook Like. The most popular features on a Ning community are the ones that facilitate dialog and engagement – Inbox and Forum in addition to Blog, and Photo / video sharing.

What makes a Ning community successful is not one particular social tool, but rather, the unique combination of social tools that each site employs, presented in a visually stunning way that draws members in, inspire them to participate and keeps them coming back.

Creating Communities That Change the World

Social communities within Ning span a diverse interest set—from education, entertainment, business, cause, religion, to health and politics. The common thread running through all of the sites is a goal of community creation that sparks meaningful action and activity.

Of the top 20 social categories we looked at on Ning, the Education and Business & Brands categories took the first and second spot, respectively:

  • As natural community builders, educators are taking the lead on the social web, connecting with students in new ways and amplifying the power of their message.
  • Businesses see the power of building strong communities with their customers. They mobilize fans to be their ambassadors, creating private customer communities and collect product feedback.
    • Want to dig deeper in the Ning POV report? Check out our report and infographic. What do you think transform people on your Ning site from a community of shared interest to a community of action?

      Connecting Teens Through Poetry on Ning

      It’s been a while since I was a teen (sigh), but I still remember it was a time when everything suddenly became a lot more complex. It was the time when I began the journey to explore who I was and to make sense out of the confusing world (does it ever end?). Asserting my voice was particularly hard with pressure from peers and limitless expectations from parents.

      For teenagers, there’s nothing more important than having a place where they feel they’re being accepted unconditionally; a safe platform where they can express their real emotions. Alex Trivas, an English teacher at the Brentwood School in L.A. recently put together a social site on Ning called One Billion Poets with the goal to provide just that. Why is it called One Billion Poets? There are one billion teenagers around the world, and Alex sees that as one billion potential poets who can “inspire and shape the world through their writing.”

      While every teenager is different (everyone comes from different backgrounds on many levels), they face many of the same challenges and share many of the same dreams. Alex describes his vision of One Billion Poets on his Ning site:

      Teenagers are often labeled as disaffected, disgruntled, and disengaged. However, we see numerous teens around the world striving to effect positive change. And frankly, if you are feeling a bit disaffected, that’s okay too. The world is complex and tough, and it can be doubly so for teens. One elixir for the disillusionment and frustrations we face is the potency of poetry. Focusing on the four following prompts: Where I’m From, What I Carry, Why I Laugh, and What I Wish, One Billion Poets invites all aspiring poets to connect with each other and to share and reflect on each other’s poems. We hope you will all see that although we certainly come from very diverse backgrounds — sometimes extraordinarily different — we all share many of the same dreams, burdens, loves, hopes, and emotions. Whether you live in Tunisia or Detroit, Moscow or Mexico City, we believe you all have something salient and beautiful to say about the teenage experience in the 21st century.

      Teenagers from around the world indeed see the connection with one another through poetry. Since its launch in March, there are already people across 14 countries and 27 states in the U.S. visiting this site. And the word is spreading among students, teachers, and parents.

      Big cheers to One Billion Poets for doing important work for teenagers everywhere! Reading their heartfelt poetry reminds me how important it was when I was a teen to have a community of people who could help me figure out Where I’m From, What I Carry, Why I Laugh, and What I Wish.

      Know a teenager who is still figuring these big questions out? They can get the word out with One Billion Poets.

      Ning Communities Pitch in to Help Japan Aid

      The recent 9.0 earthquake followed by a massive tsunami in Japan on March 11 led to thousands of death and hundreds of thousands of people displaced. What makes the situation tougher is that the challenges kept escalating in the past few days — with over two dozen aftershocks that were greater than 6.0, in addition to the radiation concerns caused by nuclear power plant blasts.

      Social media has already played a vital role in recovering from this devastating earthquake. Not only is it a way for affected people to connect and stay informed, it also brings the world closer as personal stories unfold in front of us despite geographic and language boundaries. A sense of community has been formed, and our hearts go out to the victims. Our cheers also go out to the heroic nuclear power plant workers, firefighters, and volunteers who are working against the odds to rebuild.

      Within the overall Ning community, a number of you have stepped up with creative ways to help with the recovery of Japan:

      Linkin Park has designed two new t-shirts that are now for sale on the official site. Proceeds will be donated to Music for Relief to help earthquake survivors. You can visit here to purchase.

      Spencer Barfuss from the Theologica Community on Ning created a beautiful new Ning Theme that anyone can purchase for $5. All proceeds go to an earthquake relief agency in Japan called Crash Japan. See details here.

      Theologica Community, http://theologica.ning.com

      These are just a few examples that were surfaced to us, and I’m sure there are many more. Feel free to share your own relief effort ideas in the comments below.

      Ning on the Road: Social Media Week in San Francisco

      Social Media Week is the platform that connects people, content, and conversation around emerging trends in social and mobile media.  As a driving force in evolving the Social Web, we are psyched to be playing a key role at this event.  On Friday, Ning will be in San Francisco hosting an informal breakfast with designers, three panels with the thought leaders in the social space, and the official closing party:

      Feb 11, 8:30 – 10:30 A.M.
      Topic: Designing for the Social Web
      Meet the peeps who designed social sites for Linkin Park, Tony Hawk and The Twilight Saga. Check out the latest Ning Design Studio, learn more about the upcoming design competition, and see how you can earn revenue in the Ning Theme Gallery.  Breakfast is on us!

      Feb 11, 11:45 – 12:45 P.M.
      Topic: Ushering Your Brand into the Social Age
      Our panel of social pioneers will lead a discussion around how to build a holistic social experience using all the major social channels in a way that works for your customers.

      Feb 11, 2:30 – 3:15 P.M.
      Topic: The Recipe for Success in Social
      Our panel of distinguished food bloggers and community organizers will share the secret ingredients for turning your passions and interests into a thriving customer community.

      Feb 11, 3:30 – 4:15 P.M.
      Topic: The Future of the Social Web
      Our panel of social visionaries will share their predictions about the big social trends for 2011. Find out what’s hot and what’s not for 2011, and learn about the social tools and technologies your company can’t afford to go without.

      Feb 11, 5:30 – 7:30 P.M.
      Social Media Week Official Closing Party – Join us at Bar Adagio for complimentary Ning-tini’s and appetizers.

      Admission is free of charge and the panels are filling up fast. RSVP by clicking on the links above. We hope you can be a part of these great conversations.

      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.