Author Archives: Eric Suesz

“How to Grow an Online Community” — Recorded for Those Who Missed It

This week, we held the second webinar in our series with Richard Millington, one of the most respected voices in the field of community management. The first one was about increasing activity, and it was definitely the most successful webinar Ning has ever held. If you missed it, you can find it on YouTube or Vimeo. I absolutely recommend sitting down with a cup of something and watching it if you want to hear about increasing engagement in your community. It was a good one.

This one was a good one, too! And, like the last one, Richard gave away a PDF version of half of his new book, Buzzing Communities: How to Build Bigger, Better, and More Active Online Communities. I’ve been reading the book (and online reviews of the book) and it’s getting a great reception, as it should. It’s got a lot of advice that no one tells you when you start out managing a community, but even better than that it points to a lot of social science studies that put data behind ideas and hunches. Richard has a knack for pointing out things that question conventional wisdom and make you realize that conventional wisdom can be completely bogus. Simply put: His book is an excellent resource, and we’re thrilled to have Richard sharing his expertise with Ning Creators.

Or anyone else! Richard’s talks aren’t specific to Ning. Whether you’re a Ning customer, someone who runs a community on some other platform, or just someone who’s curious about how community works — or should work — we hope you’ll get something good out of this talk. Give it a watch!

How to Grow an Online Community from Ning on Vimeo.

A few things covered in this talk:

  • Should you grow your online community? You might be surprised to hear a contrary view from Richard when it comes to some kinds of communities.
  • Assuming you can answer that last one in the affirmative, Richard gives you 5 reasons you should grow and 4 channels you should use.
  • Word of mouth, promotion — and how to make sure all that effort isn’t wasted.
  • Very few people are able to effectively convert visitors into members. Richard shows you how to ensure more registered members participate.

Earth: The Biggest Community of All

One of our absolute favorite movements/sites/events/unique-things-that-can’t-be-pigeon-holed-into-a-simple-category is One Day on Earth. If you haven’t heard of it, it involves many thousands of people (anyone who wants to participate, really) from all over the world filming snippets of video on one single day. People record what they think, what they do, what they need, what they love — whatever’s on their mind. Then, everyone uploads their clip to create a compelling time capsule that may just live forever. After the big day is done, the people behind the One Day on Earth project get to work editing it all into a movie masterpiece. It’s a brilliant idea that we look forward to at Ning every year.

I first stumbled across this Ning-driven site in 2010. I thought 10/10/10 was a very neat and brilliant idea. Since then, they’ve kept going. It’s no flash in the pan. On 11/11/11, they expanded their reach by sending 1,000 video cameras to places around the world where cameras are hard to come by. This year, they’ve gone even further and created a full-length film that compiles the past two years’ footage, which debuted on Earth Day earlier this year.

One Day on Earth is only going to get bigger, and you can be part of it. There’s still plenty of time to join in and participate (6 more days, in fact). Chances are you can accomplish this by simply taking video footage with your phone.

So, what are you waiting for? Take 15 minutes out of your day next Wednesday to film something extraordinary — or even just plain ordinary. Show the world who you are, where you live, what you do, what you care about — anything that’s important to you. If you’re a Ning customer, we’ve got an even better idea: Why not encourage your community to join in and film yourselves doing whatever it is all of you do best.

Everyone who contributes at least one minute of footage gets to watch the final film! But more importantly, everyone who participates gets to be part of something bigger than themselves. It’s community on the grandest scale imaginable. And it only costs a little bit of creativity.

One Day on Earth – Film on 12.12.12 from One Day on Earth on Vimeo.


Are you an educator? Get the toolkit and make this happen!


Sign Up for Our Second Community Management Webinar: “How to Grow an Online Community”

You know you’ve had a successful webinar when you get this kind of feedback:

An excellent talk, extremely useful. Packed with concrete stuff and techno-babble-free. Great Q&A at the end.

We strive to be techno-babble-free, so it’s nice to hear we succeeded last week during Richard Millington’s first webinar with Ning, How to Increase Activity in Your Community.

The event was our most well-attended talk ever, and it’s already getting tons of replay on YouTube and Vimeo. We expect it will be a valuable resource that will reach a lot of people over time who are looking for straightforward advice about managing their community.

It’s even better to hear feedback like this:

Your wish is our command, James! Response to this first webinar was so positive that we’re going to do another one next week….


Community Management Webinar #2: How to Grow an Online Community

When: Wednesday, December 12, 2012, 1 p.m. Pacific time

Richard Millington is back to coach Ning customers — and anyone else who needs advice — on how to genuinely make your online community a big success. In his first webinar for Ning, Richard talked about strategies for generating activity. This time around, he’s going to talk about growth. There are lots of things to think about when you think about growth:

  • Key steps to build your base.
  • You can grow too fast. Didn’t think that was possible, did you?
  • What is the total feasible audience size (TFAS) of your community?
  • If you only have limited administrative power to support the community, too much growth can actually hurt you.
  • If you already have a mature, happy, and highly engaged community, is an influx of strangers actually a good idea?

Whether you want to be the biggest community of sports fans in the world or just a private community of committed scrapbooking hobbyists, you want to find your ideal size — and getting there isn’t about papering email inboxes with a million invites. Smart community managers follow tried-and-true strategies. Richard will share some of the best.

Growth is just one way toward realizing a more valuable community, but it’s an important one — and one that nearly every Ning customer will be interested in. So, join us next Wednesday for another get-together with one of the experts in community management. We’ll start on time and pack as much into an hour as we can. We’ll stick around and answer some questions, too. Plus, Richard is giving away an excerpt of the e-book version of his new book “Buzzing Communities” to all attendees. It’s 50% of his book in handy PDF format. Free!


Help us reach every continent

Disappointingly, not a single person in Antarctica appears to have attended or watched the first webinar. So, we’re making it our personal goal with this second one to get the word out to at least one person in Antarctica. If you, um, happen to know anyone in Antarctica, we’d appreciate a little help. Or, if you just happen to know someone next door or a few cubicles down who manages an online community, let them know that this free session can help them do it better.

You can help us spread the word by pointing people to our Smore page for this webinar.


Buy the book!

Richard’s book is one of the best we’ve ever read about community management. He’ll be giving away half of the book at this webinar, but we think it’s definitely worth buying, either in physical or Kindle format. Buzzing Communities cuts through the fluff to offer a clear process for creating thriving online communities. This book combines a century of proven science, dozens of real-life examples, practical tips, and trusted community-building methods. This step-by-step guide includes a lifecycle for tracking your progress and a framework for managing your organization’s community efforts.

Ning Community Management Webinar: Online and Ready for Viewing

As community manager of our customer community, the Creators Network, I scour the Web looking for good advice on the subject of running online communities. It’s my goal to share the best things I find that can help our customers be better community builders, whether that is advice about how to design a Javascript slider or nuts-and-bolts tips for getting more responses out of community members by asking the right questions.

Pursuant to that goal, I subscribe to nearly every blog that’s remotely about community management, follow the most respected people in the field, and read waaaay too many blog posts about how social media is changing the world more than every other technological advancement since the printing press combined. There’s a lot of jargon and fluff (and frankly some nonsense) out there that’s masquerading as good advice for community managers. And there’s a lot of stuff that gets repeated endlessly. But every once in awhile, I find a few pearls of wisdom in this sea of advice. I find a voice that backs up common sense with data or very insightful reasons why a particular community strategy works. Richard Millington is one of those voices.

If you’re not familiar with him, Richard runs community management seminars, publishes a no-nonsense blog called FeverBee (which I strongly recommend you follow), and has a few books under his belt, including his newest, Buzzing Communities: How To Build Bigger, Better, And More Active Online Communities.

We were privileged to host Richard at a very well-attended webinar earlier this week: How To Increase Activity in Your Community. It was chock-full of useful advice, including a Q&A session where we gave out free copies of Richard’s new book. Even better, we gave every attendee 1/2 of his new book in PDF format. Totally free. Even better than that… you can still get a free copy for a limited time (even if you didn’t attend the webinar).

Want a free copy of the PDF?  Visit our S’More flyer page.


Did you attend? Enjoy it?

Thank Richard on Twitter for generously sharing his time with Ning Creators. Or…

 

Richard Millington + Ning Webinar: How to Increase Activity in Your Community


Why you should attend Tuesday, November 27th

  • Richard approaches community management from the point of view of social science. He focuses on data that shows what actually works — not anecdotes and hunches.
  • Richard is giving away an excerpt of the e-book version of Buzzing Communities to all attendees. It’s 50% of his book in handy PDF format.
  • Ning is giving away 5-10 free copies of the hardcover version of the book. If you ask a question that gets picked by the chat moderator in the Q&A, we’ll send you a book.


Ning is home to tens of thousands of communities that serve many millions of people every day. Every one of Ning’s customers has one question in common: How can I get people more involved and active in my community? Great question!

To help answer that question, we got the guy who has a lot of smart answers: Richard Millington. The author of the new book Buzzing Communities, Richard tackles some of the most-asked questions about growing and running online communities. He’s an expert that hundreds of companies and thousands of readers rely on, either in direct consultation or as readers of his influential blog about community management, FeverBee.

Whether you’re a brand-new Ning customer, an old hand who needs some fresh tips, or a community manager who’s never even heard of Ning before but wouldn’t mind hearing from one of the top experts in the field — this webinar is for you.

The webinar will explain how to increase activity in your community:

  • Why many communities struggle for activity.
  • Why members participate in community.
  • The principles behind sustaining highly active communities.
  • Practical tips you can *immediately* implement to increase activity in your community.

You’re busy, so we’ll start on time and pack as much helpful information as we can into an hour. We’ll even stick around after that to answer as many questions as possible to help you get the most out of your time.

Sign up here.


Title: “How to Increase Activity in Your Community”
Cost: Free
Date: Tuesday, November 27, 2012
Time: 1 p.m. – 2 p.m. Pacific time
Hosted by: Richard Millington + Ning
Capacity: 500 people
Sign up now

Richard Millington is the founder of FeverBee Community Consultancy, The Pillar Summit Professional Community Management training course, and the author of The Community Management Manifesto, The Proven Path, and Buzzing Communities: How To Build Bigger, Better, And More Active Online Communities.

Over the past 12 years, Richard has helped over a hundred organizations develop successful online communities. His clients have included: The United Nations, Novartis, Oracle, EMC, The British Medical Journal, The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria, OECD, AMD, BAE Systems, Greenpeace, Autodesk and many other brands.

Nerd Alert! Nerdfighters Using the Power of Community to Increase Awesome and Decrease Suck

We were thrilled to hear a story about Nerdfighters on the radio this morning (WAMU in Washington, D.C.) about their ongoing campaign to make the world a better place using wonderful services like the micro-loan site Kiva. Take a listen:

Not familiar with Nerdfighters? It’s one of those online phenomenons that makes some people scratch their heads and wonder how it is that a rarified group of Internet celebrities can live their lives — and maybe even make a living — by simply existing on the Internet.

This list of Internet celebrities includes Rhett & Link, Smosh, Tobuscus, Freddy Wong and Ze Frank. They’re all masters of the video blog — speaking directly into the camera to anyone who will listen and making their videos as creative and pop-culture-rich as possible. Most of them release a new video out to the world once or twice per week, which helps them organically pick up new followers as people stumble onto their often hilarious and insightful observations about life. Such is the case with Hank and John Green, the two brothers who started Nerdfighters as a way to stay connected via videoblog (one lives in Montana; the other in Indiana).

All of these Internet celebrities use YouTube as their direct-to-the-Internet video broadcasting medium, but what makes them hugely successful is often what they do beyond their YouTube channel (which has an impressive 746,564 subscribers and 246,389,701 video views). The best ones are masters at nurturing communities of online followers in all kinds of locations online — including on Ning. They have over 81,000 members on their Ning site. Serious nerd alert!

In addition to their Ning community, which is one of the most trafficked on the Ning Platform, they have spawned fan Tumblr blogs like Eff Yeah Nerdfighters, Nerdfighters Don’t Fight Nerds, and Little Nerdfighter Things.

We wanted to give a shout out to Nerdfighters for all that they do to “increase awesome and decrease suck.” Their Kiva-raising efforts have resulted in a phenomenal 21,000+ loans totaling over 1 million dollars. Not bad for a bunch of nerds. Keep challenging your community and the world to be a better place!


Join them in donating on Kiva.

Not familiar with NerdFighters? Here’s a recent video:


 

Make an iPhone or Android App for Your Ning Network with ShoutEm

All those little apps on your phone are huge!

How huge? The Apple App Store reached a massive milestone this summer: They’ve served up over 30 billion apps to consumers. Of course, that’s just the apps that have been downloaded to Apple devices. Throw in Android and BlackBerry and other platforms, and it’s clear that the entire world has gone app crazy in the four years since the Apple App Store opened the door for everyone. People love them apps!

Ning Creators are no exception. While Ning offers a built-in version of every Ning Network that’s optimized for mobile devices, some communities can really benefit from having their own dedicated iPhone or Android app. If you have special branding needs or want to use the Ning API to do something unique, a dedicated app from our partner ShoutEm may be the way to go. Their platform allows just about anyone to make a beautiful iPhone or Android app without being a coding wizard.

Thinking of going the extra step and creating a dedicated iPhone or Android app for your own community? Want to see some examples of these apps in action? We’ve heard a number of requests from customers for examples of ShoutEm-created apps, so I’ve put together a few that will give people an idea of how Ning Creators are using ShoutEm to occupy the all-important real estate on mobile phones that is the dedicated app. Feel free to download these apps and try them out yourself. You should be able to access any public-facing pages as a visitor.


This Is 50: Exclusive Content + In-App Ads = Added Revenue

If you’re not just running a community but also building a brand, you probably want your mobile experience to match the look and feel of your site, your logo, etc. If you’re the type of person who knows the exact color of your logo down to the hex code color #, a custom app might be what you need to make sure your presentation is perfectly realized.

ThisIs50 is this type of brand. His team just built a brand-new app with ShoutEm that does a few neat things that builds on the brand while enriching the pocketbook:

  • The app offered early access to stream an exclusive snippet of the lead single from his upcoming album.
  • They include all kinds of rich video content to supplement the already attractive music content.
  • They’re running advertising directly in the app. Not just Google Ads, but visually rich Glam ads.
  • They’ve included deeper event integration. This is surely a good complement to a phone app’s ability to buzz out app notifications when members need to hear about something important.

Want to check out ThisIs50′s new app first-hand? Download it from the Apple App Store or get the Android version from Google Play.


GovLoop: Streaming Community News & Views

Ning Creators who have created their own iPhone apps with ShoutEm usually want an app that simply does more. Maybe you have a community that uses one or two features extensively and you need those features to have some extra options. Maybe you want to pull in some data about your members that exists on the desktop version of your site but not on the default mobile interface. Or, maybe you have something even more unique in mind. When you create an app with ShoutEm, you’re accessing the Ning API directly, which gives you many more options than you’ll see on your default mobile version.

Case in point: GovLoop. They have a wonderful iPhone app that offers something very unique: not just relevant news but streaming podcasting for on-the-go listening. What’s really neat about this ShoutEm integration is that they’ve combined more than one service on their iPhone app to create these podcasts. They’re streaming Soundcloud files and pulling in Ning data into the same iPhone app, and it works seamlessly. It’s a great-looking app that has some of the best content from their Ning site. Not just podcasting, but the news and discussions and blog posts that drive their particular community.

Browse around their public community with their dedicated iPhone app.


Trucker Social: Now, *That’s* Mobile

We’re hard pressed to think of a Ning community more mobile than Trucker Social. It makes total sense for them to have a dedicated iPhone app. Their members probably rely on accessing the Internet from their smartphones way more than they do on a laptop over Wi-Fi or a dedicated desktop computer.

They’ve really created a unique app with their ShoutEm/Ning integration. They offer what you might expect: member interaction and a feed of activity from their desktop site. But, they’ve gone a lot further and are offering content that really is tailor-made for their community: the latest trucker-related news, trucker job listings, and geolocation features to help their members spot nearby food options, shopping opportunities, entertainment choices — you name it. Dial up the nearest truck stop, get directions, and even see who’s tweeting nearby. Want to check in when you get there? This dedicated app offers full-featured geolocation-friendly social networking.

Download their iPhone app and see for yourself.


Those are just a few of the ShoutEm apps we’ve seen being created by Ning customers. Let us know if you’ve created one for your community.

Want your own? ShoutEm doesn’t require you to deal with any of the technical aspects of compiling and submitting apps, and you don’t even have to enter a credit card to get started. Just enter your Ning Pro API Key and start choosing which features you want to include in your app. When you’re ready to publish, pick a monthly plan that suits your needs.

Ning Mobile: A New Interface Designed for Modern Smartphones

We’re happy to report that by the end of this week a new mobile experience will be rolled out to all Ning Networks. This upgrade is a complete re-write of the old Ning mobile experience. It’s built-in, completely free, and offers a lot more options for driving activity.

The contrast between the old and new couldn’t be more different. The old mobile interface was originally released around the same time Apple unveiled their App Store. We’ve been upgrading the mobile version regularly over time, but we knew it was high time for a thorough rebuild and redesign. We chose future-friendly HTML5 because it allows us to create a great-looking experience across numerous mobile devices. We were able to create something that’s high quality and that provides a frictionless experience for users. And it’s an excellent base for adding more to the mobile version down the road. Let’s take a look at a few things the new Ning Mobile offers.

A better app-like experience for your members

The old and new are radically different, but the look of the new probably won’t throw you for a loop. It’s designed in a familiar app-like way. It provides the same kind of swiping and tapping gestures most people are used to performing with their iOS and Android devices. It’s optimized for smartphones so your members can access it easily with the devices they already use every day. You won’t need any advanced design skills or a $100 Apple App Store developer’s license to publish, either. The new mobile version will be consistent and running in the background all the time. Most important: It’s very stable.

More pages, more options, new choices

While the old version didn’t provide many options for customization, the new Ning Mobile lets Ning Creators choose which features and pages they want to appear — in the order they prefer. There’s also many more features available in the new mobile experience. You can add pages to display Latest Activity, Members, Blogs, Photos, Forum, a member’s Profile Page, Groups, Events, an RSS feed, and even custom HTML pages. This greatly expands a Ning community’s mobile presence and possibilities, and we’re excited to watch as the entire Ning Platform adopts this new mobile version.

Most of the administrative settings will probably be pretty self-explanatory. A few details to keep in mind:

  • Design details: The Ning Mobile site is standardized for design consistency, but there are a few branding options for Ning Creators to take advantage of. You can upload a logo to replace the name of a network in the header or change the background color of the header. A preview mode is also provided to see what it all looks like before committing to a change.
  • Choose your pages: Ning Creators can choose the pages they wish to display and how the data on the pages is sorted (e.g., by “Latest Activity”). Some pages include choices about whether to show or hide preview-style content. Don’t like the order of pages? Ning Creators can drag and drop them and reorder them to their satisfaction. The first one listed will function as the “Main Page.”
  • Opt-out option: Don’t want a mobile version? We’ve got you covered. If a Ning Creator removes all of the pages from the Mobile section of the dashboard, visitors will instead be shown the desktop version of your Ning Network.
  • Back-out option: We’ve included a “Desktop View” for any member or visitor who wants to switch off the mobile version and rely on the standard desktop view.

As always, we’re big fans of our customers’ opinions, so let us know what you think about the new mobile version, either here or on the Creators Network. How have your members used the mobile version of Ning in the past? What can we do to help make their mobile experience even better going forward — and make your community even more vibrant and active?

Ning Relaunch: Social, Mobile, VIP

Today, Glam is re-launching Ning as the next generation social platform for creators, businesses, and brands and announcing new ad options, a new mobile web version, and a VIP subscription service.

If you’re already a Ning customer, you may not have noticed any drastic changes since Ning and Glam joined forces to become one entity last December. We’ve been working diligently behind the scenes to make sure the transition has been a smooth one. What did we know when we started? We knew the combination of our two companies was going to be all about social. Ning + Glam = Social Publishing. This short-hand equation sums it up pretty well. Now what, specifically, have we done so far? And what comes next?

Social Aggregator

A big focus this year has been on engineering the heart and driver of engagement on Ning Networks — the Activity Feed. We’ve integrated a range of social aggregation options directly into the Activity Feed. Things like Twitter search, hashtag results, and custom RSS options have helped make Ning the true hub of social activity for Ning Creators. Even better, we’ve been able to drive this development directly in tandem with the launch and growth of Foodie.com, a Glam social network powered by Ning technology that’s been eating up market share in the online food world. Look for even more social networks in that vein, like the new Tend.com social network for parents. Social hubs like these can take advantage of Glam’s advertising reach and Ning’s technology, providing even more momentum to Ning’s already impressive 50 million unique monthly active users.

Social Mobile

ning mobile Perhaps the biggest project this year has been a complete rewrite of the Ning mobile experience. We’ve been working on it with our beta group of testers for the past few months, and we’re happy to report that all Network Creators can turn on the beta right now if they wish — look for it in the Ning Labs section of your dashboard! It’s a major revamp that eliminates the need for Network Creators to create customized apps for every platform (and every app store). This new version works for mobile devices, iPads and tablets right out of the box. It’s been designed in future-friendly HTML5, and it’s a giant leap forward in usability and on-the-go convenience. Best of all, it’s a great starting point for ongoing advancements. What’s next with this new mobile platform? More money-making opportunities with Glam mobile ads. Ning Creators will soon be able to earn some additional revenue on that all-important and ever-growing mobile traffic.

Glam Social Ads on Ning

Just as Ning has already made Glam more social, Glam is helping Ning become more advertising friendly. We started by rolling out a program for larger Ning Networks to run premium, high-quality Glam brand advertising on the Ning Platform. It’s been a great success, and we’re happy today to be able to hint at more revenue generating opportunities in the future — for Ning Networks large and small. We’ll soon be introducing optional, easy-to-turn-on ads that can appear directly on Ning Networks and will allow even more Ning Creators to join in the revenue generating opportunities.

Ning VIP & Design Services

We’ve always had requests for more. For example, some business and professional customers have asked us for a higher level of service or a premium SLA (service level agreement). Others want our internal design folks to take our collected years of experience and make them a unique, stand-out design for their social network. We’ve been adding some of those services quietly in the past few months, and with the re-launch of Ning we’re now ready to officially roll out the new Ning VIP plan, complete with tons of storage and bandwidth, a dedicated account manager, training, consultation, and custom design and development. Don’t need the full VIP treatment? You’ll be happy to know that we also offer a range of Design Services for both new and existing customers.

The Ning Product Roadmap

We’ve always been different than most tech companies in that we publish a public Product Roadmap. It’s our way of showing our customers that we’re committed to continual development that is based on specific features they’ve requested us to build. If you’ve been following along this year on the Creators Network, you’ll know that we’ve already:

  • Added a slew of social options like expanded sign-up and sign-in using LinkedIn and Windows Live. Up next: an improved invitation system with additional third-party integrations.
  • Introduced Member Categories + Badges which provide all kinds of new ways to expand member reputation, as well as provide an enhanced sense of belonging to the community. Plus, avatar badges can be a whole lot of fun.
  • Rewrote the Ning Chat application completely from the ground up in HTML5.
  • Transformed our limited customer knowledgebase into a beautiful new butterfly of a Help Center. We’ve consolidated all of the content that our customers need to be successful in one handy location.

Those are just a few of the things we’ve created in the first half of the first year of Ning and Glam, and we look forward to adding more and building more. For example, be on the lookout for a massive redesign of to the administrative Dashboard that Network Creators use nearly every single day. It’s all part of the Glam + Ning equation that’s already adding up to some winning numbers.

A Brand-New Help Center

This week, we’re excited to be rolling out a revamped Help Center. Huzzah! This is a project we included in the 2012 Ning Product Roadmap, and one that is very much a group effort by the Ning advocacy team.

When our product managers and engineers prepare to roll out a new feature for the Ning Platform, it’s the Ning advocacy department’s job to document the nitty-gritty details. We dive in and quiz everyone involved about nearly every detail of the upcoming product release. We take the answers to our many “okay-but-can-it-do-this” questions and marry it to the wealth of content that lives on our internal wiki. We combine it all — from first spec to wireframes to release notes — to create articles for our knowledgebase; a.k.a., the “Help Center.”

This is the fourth incarnation of the Ning Help Center. The previous Help Center has served us very well — and for a long time. For the past three or four years, it’s been a highly trafficked site visited by tens of thousands of Network Creators each month. The previous Help Center had an understated elegance to the design that encouraged customers to search and find what they needed. Over time, though, the content in the knowledgebase grew. Finding helpful articles through search wasn’t enough. This has been especially true for brand-new Network Creators, who have often requested a way to browse content based on their skill level. First-timers, in particular, are better served by introductory videos, a list of Top 10 Newbie Questions, and a downloadable PDF launch plan. They need guidance and friendly advice more than they need to find out if the new Chat lets you block out swear words. (BTW: It does!)

Here are a few of the high-level goals that guided the Help Center redesign:

Make it more friendly

First and foremost, we wanted to make the home page and everything that sits beneath it much more visual. We needed visual cues, FAQ lists for complex articles, asides and tips, the ability to put different types of content on a page, etc. It needs to reflect the always-changing document it actually is, and it should have the personality and “Ning Voice” that we’ve always cultivated in our Creators community and elsewhere.

Better navigation, better organization

We absolutely knew customers would enjoy more options for discovering content, and we definitely wanted a step up from asking customers to search and find. We created an understandable top navigation scheme; an always-available feature list for drilling down by feature; quick access to our often-used troubleshooting articles; exposed tags for those who use them; inviting landing pages for special topics; an attractive home-page slider with revolving content that can easily be changed to announce new product releases; and much more. Most important: We now have the flexibility to change all of this as needed.

Consolidate our content

We took this opportunity to unify our popular Best Practices articles, Inspiration gallery, and Getting Started guide under one umbrella. Previously, this content was distributed in different locations. Now, nearly everything that isn’t part of the Creators Community is located in the Help Center. Long-time Network Creators may have seen some of this additional content, but now it’s all in one place for everyone to access.

Unleash our advocates’ expertise

Our old system was a bit of a bear for us to update, so we wanted to make it incredibly easy for every Ning advocate to jump in and make a quick change on the fly. Further, we want to encourage our advocates to get creative and really share their expertise. They speak to customers every day, and we want to give them more power to immediately add new content to the Help Center based on specific feedback from our customers.

Those were a few of our main goals, and we think we’ve got a great start on making the Help Center more friendly and usable. Take a look at the old and new home pages, side-by-side:

And, take a gander at one of our most popular articles, which covers the complex task of setting up a custom domain:

It’s a marked improvement. Of course, this migration to a new Help Center is just a beginning and not the end. We still have more to create. Now that all of our advocates can get in there and add new content, here’s a few more things we may be doing going forward:

  • Add more examples of super-succesful networks to the Inspiration gallery and divide it into deeper categories (e.g., education, business, craft niches, etc.). Sometimes, people like to just browse through other networks to see how other people do things.
  • Incorporate some of the best tips from the Creators Network into the Help Center. Every Friday afternoon, we send out a newsletter to all members of the Creators Network that includes the top tips of the week from the community. This is the type of content we think can be graduated to the Help Center so everyone can reap the benefits of these excellent shared tips.
  • Our screencasts have always been well-received, and we’d like to create new ones for more complex topics like adding a custom header, fooling around with CSS, or setting up Google Webmaster tools. Screencasts are time-intensive to create, but by watching closely how people use the new Help Center, we can surely identify spots where a video walk-through would be useful.
  • Include articles about using outside tools like Google Alerts, Firebug, free online image editors, outside polling services, etc.; anything we can “review” for you and show you how third-party tools can be easily used in conjunction with your Ning Network.
  • Provide ready-made content for Network Creators to take and use like a “Welcome Center” or “About Us” HTML page; Broadcast Message templates you can copy and paste; and perhaps a Mini Help Center for your own network that’s as brand-free as possible and that covers the basics for your members; things like that which can make creating content easier for you.

Those are just a few of the ideas we have for this next generation of the Help Center. Feel free to let us know your thoughts and feedback, particularly about how those last few things should work — or whatever else you think would help you find and get information you need to help you build and grow your Ning Network.