Category Archives: Guest Posts

How User Guidelines Help Your Community

By Patrick O’Keefe

Online community guidelines detail the types of behaviors that are and are not appropriate on your community. They include things that some might consider obvious, but they also include items that are somewhat unique to you and your community. I liken an online community to a country. Each country has culture, laws and social norms that make it different from every other country.

I believe user guidelines are pretty important. Let’s discuss why.

  • They Level the Playing Field and Mitigate Uncertainty

The absence of guidelines leads to people making up their own or thinking that anything goes. With no official set of guidelines that is applied consistently, you instead get everyone else’s interpretation of what they believe “should” be alright. In some cases, this may also lead to them defending their interpretation against the interpretation of another member. Certainly, that can get messy. But the uncertainty of it all is a big turn off because most people aren’t going to be the ones bold enough to try to set their own guidelines. They are more likely to join a timid group that is unsure of what is acceptable and, as such, just tries to play it as safe as possible. For some, this will just mean that they decide to go elsewhere, to another community that has a more established structure that matches with what they are looking for in a community.

Good guidelines, like good rules and laws, tend to help us to all participate on a level playing field.Once we know the ground rules, we are free to express ourselves in a manner that respects them. Some may view guidelines as restrictive but, just as much, they free people up because they no longer need to worry about what might or might not be OK.

  • (Some) People Look for Them

Now, I know what you are thinking. “No one reads them.” You’ve probably heard someone say it before. However, the truth is that some people do read them. I’m not saying it is a lot of people, but some members do seek them out, especially new members, but also veterans in search for a refresher. Those people who do look for them are trying to do the right thing. They want to make sure that something is OK. This is why it is not only important to have guidelines, but to link them in visible areas, such as your header, footer, near areas where contributions are made (like reply boxes), in staff member signatures, etc. If everyone knows where they are housed, it maximizes the usefulness of your guidelines.

  • They Serve as a Vision Statement (of Sorts)

Community guidelines are a living document and, more than a set of rules, they speak to the type of community you are and the audience that will most appreciate what you have to offer. No community is for everyone. Even a community for everyone isn’t because not everyone wants that. Your guidelines help to demonstrate this and help people to come to that understanding sooner. Vision statements tell people where an organization wants to go in the future. Your guidelines should speak to that. And if a part of your guidelines ever stops speaking to that, you should change it.

  • They Give You Something to Refer To

This may be the biggest one. If you try to apply any sort of standards to your community and you don’t have any sort of public guidelines, it feels unfair and arbitrary. How can people know that something violates the guidelines if there aren’t any guidelines? If you remove content without guidelines to refer members to, then it looks like you are removing content based on imaginary rules that only exist in your head. It doesn’t inspire confidence. When you remove content, you notify the person who posted it and tell them why. When you tell them why, you include a link to your guidelines, so they can see the publicly posted standards that all members must adhere to.

To sum it up, having guidelines isn’t about making sure that everyone reads them. Instead, they exist to serve as a point of reference, so that everyone knows what standards exist and what is expected. There is no guess work, there is no mystery. This helps to create an environment of honesty and fairness.

 

Patrick O’Keefe is the author of “Managing Online Forums,” a practical guide to managing online communities, and “Monetizing Online Forums,” a guide to generating revenue from them in the right way. He blogs at ManagingCommunities.com and can be found on Twitter at @iFroggy.

 

Images courtesy of OregonDOT and mtsofan

20 Conversation Starters That Will Get Your Community Talking

Are you struggling to stimulate activity in your online community? Do you have lots of members but little participation? Try asking the sorts of questions that stimulate discussion in every online community.

Here are 20 to get you started:

Roosevelt and Churchill in conversation

  1. What is your favourite ………. ? Asking members about their favourite anything will stimulate a response. Try it.
  2. What is your average day like? People love to talk about themselves. Ask them what their average day is like and they’ll tell you. They’ll also compare it with anyone else that answers.
  3. What do you think about ……….? Giving opinions is human nature. When you ask for opinions you’ll get a lot.
  4. What advice would you give to the person above you? Careful about these. Can stimulate a lot of activity, can also get way out of hand. Useful for a light-hearted touch to your community efforts.
  5. Can anyone recommend ……….? People like to be helpful and show off knowledge. Asking for recommendations will solicit knowledge and engagement from users.
  6. What is the worst thing that has ever happened to you whilst ……… ? Self explanatory. Let members share their stories. It’ll almost certainly boost activity and return visits. Members will slowly get to know and like each other.
  7. Can anyone fix ………. ? Present a difficult problem, let members try to suggest ways to fix it.
  8. What is the best/worst ………. ? Opinions, opinions, opinions. Solicit them in as many different ways as possible. Pick a sub-category and ask people for their best/worst suggestions.
  9. Who do you most admire? Pick someone in your niche you most admire and tell others why.
  10.  Is {x} really better than {y}? Make it controversial. Pick an issue members will be split on – but not divisively so. Ask questions about it. Let people take sides.A question and exclamation mark of jigsaw puzzle pieces
  11. If you weren’t ……… would you ………. ? Create a hypothetical situation in which all members can give their opinion on something radical.
  12. Who/What are your top 5 ………. ? Ranking is addictive. Ask people to rank their top 5 anything and then try to create an overall ranking based upon the community.
  13. How would you handle {topical issue}? If your members in charge, how would they handle a topical issue in your sector?
  14. What ………. do you use? Relevant in almost all online communities, ask people to compare what relevant products/services they use. Companies love this information too.
  15. Does anyone know how to ………. ? Does anyone know provokes interest, the how to can be broad or specific. People are likely to participate.
  16. Has anyone tried………. ? Again, has anyone is all-encompassing and people are likely to share their experiences.
  17. Is ………. right about ………. ? Take someone’s stance on a topical issue and throw it open to comment by the entire community.
  18. What would you do if ………. ? Create a hypothetical situation, perhaps a problem lots of people face, and ask members what they would do. Life problems work well here.
  19. What should every newcomer know about ……….Well, what should every newcomer know about something relevant in your sector? It’s great advice – perfect for a sticky-thread.
  20. Share your pictures/top tips here. Sharing advice and pictures can be an easy win for stimulating activity. Try it. I suspect you will find it easy to gain lots of valuable insights.

Your mileage with any of these questions will vary depending upon the topic sector and the progress of your community. However, if you’re looking to generate some activity, you can try a few of these basic conversation starters to get going.

The more open-ended the question, the more everyone can participate. When you post a question, try prodding a few members to reply and get the activity started.

Images courtesy of Zorba the Geek and Horia Varlan

5 Years strong on Ning: Benefitting from the shared experiences of others living with diabetes

©2010 Obert Houser

Manny Hernandez is a nonprofit leader, a recognized social media author and a passionate diabetes advocate. He is a frequent speaker at international conferences about health, diabetes and social media and has been interviewed by The NY Times, NPR, Fox News Health and Bloomberg News on these topics. He authored ‘Ning for Dummies’ and has collaborated in other books on social media and health 2.0.

Manny heads the Diabetes Hands Foundation (DHF), a nonprofit that connects, engages and empowers people touched by diabetes through its social networks on Ning, TuDiabetes.org (in English) and EsTuDiabetes.org (in Spanish) and programs like The Big Blue Test and No-Sugar Added Poetry. DHF offers information and support to more than 200,000 people around the world every month.
 

In March 2007, we started TuDiabetes because we saw that too many people with diabetes were feeling isolated instead of benefiting from the shared experience they could have by connecting to other people touched by diabetes.

Today, Diabetes Hands Foundation‘s networks allow members to find support locally and globally. Our more than 23,000 members describe the TuDiabetes family as a lifeline, a source of guidance, a sanctuary, and even a college education! We proudly connect advocates, artists, dreamers, thinkers, and people touched by diabetes of all types so that all of us may live a more expansive life with diabetes.

I sit back and reflect on where we were 5 years ago and where we are now:

  • I have learned to stay flexible, both about my diabetes (not pretending to be perfect) and in the way we do things on TuDiabetes and the Diabetes Hands Foundation (adapting to changing circumstances, challenges, and signals along the way).
  • I am more hopeful than ever: I have had the opportunity to talk with (and share the conversations on video) with some of the world’s most brilliant minds working to make our lives better and one day have diabetes be a thing of the past.
  • I have witnessed the power of social media beyond socializing: seeing how connected people touched by diabetes now feel better understood and more empowered. Who would have imagined this when MySpace was the big thing?

On our fifth birthday, please help us keep going strong in our mission to improve the lives of people living with diabetes worldwide.

If all members of TuDiabetes donate $5, we will raise more than $100,000. Our goal is less ambitious: we are seeking to raise $20,000 before the end of March. So we ask you to give us 5 dollars, or more if you can.

Thank you for your support! And here’s to another 5 years!

-Manny

SheCon’11 and the trail-blazing women of the Web

Whenever I am surrounded by women of the Web, I am impressed with how they leverage new digital products and services to enrich their lives and to help other women succeed in digital channels. This spirit of innovation and collaboration was especially noticeable at SheCon’11 and defined the tone and the energy of the conference in Miami this May 20-22.

The event was packed with trail-blazing women like Eleanor Hoh, aka Wokstar, who is using her blog, Twitter profile and YouTube channel to teach people that cooking is easy and that, with a few basic wok lessons, you can prepare quick, healthy meals without even glancing at a recipe.

One of my favorite speakers was Rosie Pope, the pre- and post-natal fashion icon who’s now the star of Bravo TV’s hit Pregnant in Heels. Rosie explained how she is using her Facebook page, blog, Twitter and guest blogging opportunities to capitalize on her newfound fame and audience. She said that her Facebook page has allowed her “to design into her clientele versus dictating over them, “ which I think is a pretty profound change in how clothes being designed. She can clearly see that different demographics and people from different parts of the U.S. want different things from their maternity fashions.

I met Terry Wheatley, founder of #winesister of the @winesisterhood, and CMO/Partner at Canopy Management. Terry is a brilliant brand developer of wines; she is focused on community-building and she wants women to feel empowered while sharing a glass of wine. She spends a good portion of her marketing resources building the Wine Sisterhood following on Facebook and ensuring the Wine Sisterhood website is full of easy-to-read information on wine.

Terry organized a Sassy Suite each evening so that we could all meet, mingle and enjoy a few great wines with intriguing names like Rebel Red and Promiscuous while taking turns getting hand massages from a professional masseuse. (Yes, attending conferences is hard work.)

This is truly an amazing community of women. I’m grateful that we have both a physical community of SheCon events and a digital SheCon community on Ning to keep in touch and share information on the ways digital is helping us improve our lives. I’m proud to be a member of this community, and I strive to be a member who harnesses the power of digital not just to improve my own life but to enable other women to thrive. I hope all of you will reach out to me on the network on my profile.

SheCon official Ning Community

Rachel Masters is a partner and co-founder of Red Magnet Media. Before co-founding Red Magnet Media, Rachel was the Vice President of Strategic Relationships at Ning, a social networking platform with more than two million individual social networks. At Ning, Rachel managed over 300 branded social networks with partners like 50 Cent, Red Light Management and The Collective.

Constant Contact and Ning Together Make for a More Social Web Experience

At Constant Contact, we’ve been heavily focused on integrating the power of social media into our suite of products. We know it’s increasingly important for our small-business customers to have a robust social media marketing strategy in place, one that will deliver results. That last part is key: How can an organization use social media in a way that delivers something tangible to its holistic online marketing efforts? Well, we are happy to say that we have an answer — the integration of Ning with Constant Contact. We are simply delighted to partner with the pioneer and leader in social websites.

Ning is an incredible tool for creating your own social media hub that can be used to raise awareness, solicit donations, and organize powerful groups of like-minded people for a cause. With the integration of Constant Contact, Ning Creators can now simply and effectively reach out to their network with newsletters, sales promotions, event invitations, and more. Conversely, Constant Contact customers can now create a Ning Network, instantly adding a social experience for conversation between customers and enabling sharing content across all major social networking platforms.

Ning Creators looking to start using Constant Contact can find a lot of helpful information, webinars, and other resources for getting started on our website. I’d like to share a few of my personal favorite best practices for using our Email and Event Marketing products:

  1. Create and send interesting content. This can be a piece of news from your organization, a case study from a customer, or a valuable offer. Remember, your communication is only valuable to you if someone opens and reads it.
  2. Carefully maintain your list. Email marketing only works when you have a completely permission-based community. You should always make sure to have a clear place to unsubscribe, which, if you provide the valuable content discussed above, will rarely be used.
  3. Integrate social media with event marketing for optimal event management. While social tools let you communicate throughout the event, our Event Marketing product lets you create an event homepage, send personalized invitations, effectively manage the guest list, encourage attendees to share your event, and drive better attendance.

We’re excited to hear your success stories using Ning with Constant Contact, and we encourage you to share them with the Constant Contact community.

— Steve Johnson, Vice President, Constant Contact

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.

Guest Blogger: Double Dutch

Hey, Network Creators! You may have heard about the recent Ning Everywhere launch, which for most of you will mean more options for building mobile apps for your networks. I wanted to introduce you to DoubleDutch. We’re one of the new Ning partners, and our service is all about bringing you the opportunity to make your network geosocial.

As many have pointed out in many different contexts: Mobile is the future. If you’re on board with that idea, a mobile app for your Ning Network may become a key component to your network’s future growth and engagement. As our CEO Lawrence is fond of saying, “location changes everything.”

A great example of that statement applied to a Ning Network is She Writes. They’ve created a Double Dutch iPhone app that allows their community of women writers to view their friends and fellow writers’ locations, and even meet up serendipitously or schedule meetings in advance. Because their community is grown around a very specific, shared interest, the potential for real world collaboration is very strong. Furthermore, the private nature of the app ensures that sensitive location data is shared only with members of the community. Locals can meet up, share strategies, and argue philosophically about the art of writing. What happens in She Writes stays in She Writes.

There’s a lot more to what you can create using our service. I won’t go into all the details here, but these features may be of particular interest to Network Creators:

  • Branding: A primary and basic feature of our apps is that you can apply your own branding. Every Ning community app will have its icon displayed, as well as the option to match a theme to their Web-based Ning Network.
  • Game and badges: Each DoubleDutch app comes with about 200 achievement badges, awarded for things like checking in, posting photos, and exploring new places. The app also boasts a place specific “Rockstar” title for people who check in the most at a particular place.
  • Administrative dashboard: From the hot spots to the hot badges, you can see what the community enjoys doing and where they enjoy going. With this knowledge, you can begin to reward users with badges or physical goods for activities. And, of course, you can watch the analytics closely to see which campaigns work the best.

Those are just a few of the things you can do with a Double Dutch iPhone app. There’s no better way to build a strong community than in the real world, so start building those real-world connections today among your community with a DoubleDutch mobile app. I encourage you to check in on our site and check out the new options you have to bring a unique mobile experience to your members.

Mathew Spolin, CTO, Double Dutch

Guest Blogger: Skimlinks

skimlinks_blogger Hello, Network Creators! Interested in monetizing your network through affiliate links, but not sure exactly how it works?

We’ve been working with Ning to provide a seamless integration of the new Skimlinks Extension, allowing Network Creators to start earning in just one click. If you’re a Network Creator, you can create an account from within your Ning interface, and in one click our technology is installed automatically and instantly. Just like that, you can start earning from a new revenue stream through your content using both SkimLinks and Skimwords — hooked in to 12,000 international online retailers. Network creators also have access to the Skimlinks interface, allowing you to use our other tools and products, as well as our comprehensive reporting suite. We’re really excited to launch our integration with Ning and give you an opportunity to harness the power of the conversations happening on your network, and help make sure you’re rewarded for the purchase intent that’s created through your content.

Skimlinks is ideally suited to networks that have a product or retail focus, such as electronics, gadgets, mothering, automotive, sports and fashion. To get a break down of how the Skimlinks technology works, and how you can make the most of it, download our easy Skimlinks Startup Guide, or find out out more about affiliate marketing with this video.

If you have your own Ning network, make sure you check it out today.

Hannah, Skimlinks

Guest Post: Create A University Class Ning Network

Today’s guest blog comes from Jack Hadley, CEO of Lava7 and an adjunct professor at BYU. We frequently hear about educators using Ning in the classroom, but it’s rare to find out just how effective using a Ning Network in a school setting is. That’s why it was so exciting to read a recent post from Jack, explaining how he used a Ning Network in an advertising class he taught at BYU. Jack’s post not only included how he used it, but what his students thought of it — and if they’d recommend it. After reading, we asked him to pen a similar post for the Ning Blog.

Powerful social media tools like Ning, Twitter, blogging and Ustream aren’t just for socializing and marketing. They facilitate fundamental shifts in the way people are connecting and communicating—shifts that can improve university learning.

I just completed a four-month exercise in a Comms230 class I teach at Brigham Young University. I designed and built a Ning network (with the help of our Lava7 team) to use as the foundation for our class. My goal was threefold—to better engage students with the subject matter (and with each other), to help students begin creating personal online brands, and to digitally centralize and manage day-to-day class functions.

There were 49 students enrolled in our class. Last week I asked them to answer three questions about their experience using our Ning network. It’s important to note that I instructed them NOT to put their names on their responses. I wanted candid, honest feedback without brownie-point undertones. 43 students were in attendance that day.

A representative handful of those responses are highlighted in the boxes below.

Q2

Uber-Engaged Students

The three questions I asked were open ended:

  1. What did you like, or not like, about the Ning network we used this semester in class?
  2. What did you like, or not like, about blogging on our Ning network this semester.
  3. Would this type of social network be useful in your other classes? Why, or why not?

100 percent of the students (43 of 43) answered “yes” to question #3 (and included supporting reasons). Approximately 98 percent of the 140+ comments I received could be described as “enthusiastically positive” about their experience.

Most of the students in our class had never blogged before. Hundreds of posts and comments later, blogging was the network component that made the biggest difference and had the most profound effect on their experience. My advice? If you use a Ning network in a university class, encourage (or better yet, require) blogging.

Q1

The Beginnings of Personal Online Brands

Teach students the concept of creating personal, online brands. It doesn’t matter what subject you teach. New media tools have changed the rules. What happens in Vegas no longer stays in Vegas. Help students discover how to use social media tools to their advantage. Your Ning class network can be a great starting point.

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