Category Archives: People Profiles

Business Fights Poverty: A Community With a Cause

Business Fights Poverty - A social impact community built on the Ning PlatformBusiness Fights Poverty was established in March of 2008 to pioneer new ways of fighting poverty utilizing economic and business opportunities by groups and individuals. Founder and Director, Zahid Torres-Rahman discovered and implemented the perfect platform for his idea through a chance conversation and a day’s worth of work. “A technology guru friend of mine first told me about Ning over breakfast, and by dinner I had set up the community.” Since its creation, the community has continued to evolve and expand its public profile. Business Fights Poverty has bloomed from 1,000 members after one year to more than 10,000 members today.

Openness, community, professionalism, respect, and integrity are the five core values that drive this vibrant network of business professionals, academics, philanthropists, and non-government organizations – all of whom share a passion for fighting poverty through business. Business Fights Poverty utilizes inspiring blogs from members, face-to-face events, and a powerful resource hub to captivate potential members and engage current ones. Their community also serves as the central station for public outreach via social outlets like Twitter, Facebook, and Linkedin. All these components have come together to make it the largest organization of its kind and a vital resource in the fight against poverty.

Zahid Torres-Rahman

We reached out to Zahid Torres-Rahman to get the inside scoop on how his community has grown and helped created a brand with public impact:

What made you start your Ning community?

All around the world exceptional people are finding new ways to fight poverty – by creating new jobs and economic opportunities in low-income communities.   The challenge we set ourselves back in 2008 was to help turn these individual acts of inspiration into a broader movement for change.   We wanted to build a sense of community by connecting these intense, but often dispersed pockets of energy.  We wanted people to be able to find, engage with, learn from and be inspired by like-minded peers.  Ning made this all possible for us – by offering an affordable and easy way to build an online community.

Have you achieved this original objective?  How else has your community helped you and your business, brand or mission?

I think we have come a long way. We’re now the largest community of our kind, with a brand that is steadily growing in profile.  We publish a great story every day, and pretty much all of these come from community members.  We are increasingly active in the real world too, with face-to-face events and publications.  At the same time, I feel that we are only at the beginning of an exciting journey.   We are constantly trying to learn and improve.  We recently hired FeverBee, following a Ning webinar (which you can watch again here), and they have been giving us some great advice on enhancing our member engagement.

If you had to pick one measure of the success or impact of your community, what would it be?

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We track all the usual metrics about visits and member engagement, but for me nothing beats the personal stories that I hear from members about howthe community has helped them – whether to find a new job; connect with potential project partners; or just to be inspired by what others are doing.  I enjoy reading what our Members of the Week say they hope to get out of being part of the community.

How long did it take your community to reach critical mass?

It took us a year to reach 1,000 and four more to reach 10,000.  But one thing we have come to appreciate is that it’s the number of actively engaged members that matters, and that’s where our energy is now focused.  The great thing about Ning is that by massively bringing down the costs of organizing online, it has made it possible to create successful, small, specialist communities.

What tactics drove the most growth and activity in your community?

We have focused our energy on three areas. The first has been on building the community brand.  We worked with professional graphic designers to develop a strong look and feel for the site, and we invest in great photography to illustrate stories on the site. The second area is around content.  We have put a lot of energy into our editorial calendar – to build up a strong flow of timely, high quality and interesting content, primarily from our own members.  We drive traffic to this content through our weeklSocial Mediay broadcast messages, and we are also very active on Twitter (@FightPoverty) and other social media sites. The third area is around member engagement. Every year, we have an active programme of face-to-face and online events, such as webinars.  Through our “Member of Week” and “Star Member” initiatives, we profile our most active members.  We have high hopes for our new member’s Forum, and have other ideas in the pipeline to encourage member interaction.

What feature(s) are most important to your members?

Right now, our blog is the most popular feature on our site, followed by our events.  Over the next few months, we are looking to grow our forum as a way to generate more member-to-member engagement. We’ll also be more closely integrating our offline and online activities – so for example, we’ll be running online discussions linked to our face-to-face events. Following member feedback, we’ll also be launching a jobs board.

Do you have any advice for other people building online communities?

We recognized early on that community management is a full-time and professional activity!  Continuous investment of time and effort is needed to encourage member activity and network growth. On top of that, listening and responding to what your members want is critical.   Recognizing when things are not working is important too! For us, we have been on a continuous learning journey, and are constantly looking to improve the site. I am a fan of the Ning Creators Network – and have picked up many great tips there.

What’s the craziest story you have about your community?

The craziest story is from our first day. A technology guru friend of mine first told me about Ning over breakfast, and by dinner I had set up the community. I was the first member and my wife was the second. I remember telling the third member – a colleague of mine who was working for a charity at the time, “I know you are only member number 3, but I promise that one day there will be many more of us!”

There is an African proverb that has been an inspiration to me: if you want to travel fast, travel alone. If you want to travel far, travel together.  For me that is at the heart of what the global Business Fights Poverty community is about, and I am excited about what the future holds.  I believe that for all the amazing things we are doing individually, if we can do more together – as part of a movement for change, the possibilities are limitless.

Looking Back at 2012: Identifying Success

As the year comes to a close, it’s a great time to look to a few Ning Networks that have had great success throughout 2012 for inspiration. We asked Network Creators on our Creators Network to let us know how their year went, and we received some exciting stories of success and lessons learned.

These Ning Networks were led by creative, hard-working teams and have achieved their own forms of success due to their dynamic leadership. Using the words of wellkunnected.com Network Creator, Armani Rouse: “There isn’t a hack for had work and creativity!”

eCoronado.com

ecoronado

The eCoronado team showing off their schwag!

eCoronado.com is the most popular newspaper website and online community resource for Coronado, Calif. During 2012, the eCoronado team looked beyond their online tools and developed successful strategies to incorporate their community with offline events/ giveaways/ discount cards/ sponsors/ pretty-much-anything-they-set-their-mind-to.

In brief, they hired two paid writers, a site admin, and interviewed many candidates to bring on their 13th intern. They now have 20+ paid sponsors and have launched over 40 physical photo/scavenger hunt contests to drive activity. In their spare time, they hosted an anniversary party and bought hundreds of local members ice cream, created a local discount card in partnership with public schools and started rewarding top photo contributors with badges and company schwag.

We’re not sure when the eCoronado.com team finds time sleep between advancing their development strategy and hosting ice cream giveaways!

IAVA.COMMUNITYOFVETERANS.ORG

iava-logoSome networks define their success by the number of members they attract, while iava.communityofveterans.org has amassed 24,500+ members, this is not where they see their triumph. The IAVA community is part of the largest nonprofit organization helping Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans.

The IAVA community team sees their triumph in the very real resources they have developed for their members. They implemented a Crisis Response SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) this year which was used to connect members with suicidal urges to life-saving resources. As Jason, the Network Creator, puts it: “Running a mental health / veteran network provided endless excitement. It’s been a crazy year on our network.”

They also had the opportunity to personally officiate a wedding of two long-time and active members of the community — who actually met because of the network — and secure a couple of grants to get some part-time support and a redesign for 2013. We look forward to continue to hear inspiring stories from this community in 2013. If you’d like to support an organization that Time magazine says remains the most important organization representing the new generation of veterans, please head to their donate page.

FOTOGRAFIAPUNTODINCONTRO.COM

sound check

Image by Riccardo Rossini

Italian photographer network fotografiapuntodincontro.com defines its success by the elegant, clean and efficient community they have created thanks to their decision this year to enable the option to have all new photos approved by administrators before they become visible. Riccardo believes this enables fotografiapuntodincontro.com to deliver the highest quality photos to enrich the member experience. “We are proud to offer in Italy something different about photography site, thanks to approval photo.”

Check out some of their featured photos; they truly are stunning. We’ll be keeping an eye on their network to see them grow and to enjoy more of their masterful shots in 2013.

PARENT-CHAT.COM

parent chat

Parent-chat.com is looking for founding members.

Three weeks ago, self-proclaimed web novice Jennifer realized her dream of managing an online parenting community with parent-chat.com. Having no experience whatsoever, she set about getting her network up and running and now has a solid founding-member base. The Network Creator, Jennifer, promises: “I am only related to 5 of them!” Creating something tangible from an abstract idea is definitely a great leap forward, so we’d like to congratulate parent-chat.com for launching their network in 2012!

Defining Success for Your Community in 2013

It’s important to remember that each community defines success differently. The end of the year marks a great point to look at your own community and decide what you define as success. Whether it is defined by page views, engagement, or financial profit, we wish you the best of luck in 2013!

A prescription for community and success

Chris Paton is a medical doctor, consultant and researcher. He specializes in the area of “Health Informatics,” which is all about using technology to enhance the provision of healthcare. One of the ways that Chris has been using technology over the years is to create online eLearning communities to help health professionals with their continuing education. The first community he created is called New Media Medicine and has been running for about 10 years, now with over 100,000 monthly users.

More recently, Chris has created the Health Informatics Forum Ning community and is running a Health Informatics Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) using curriculum resources created by 5 leading US universities through a $10 million grant from the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT.
 

Tell us about yourself.

I trained as a doctor in the UK and have worked clinically in the NHS and the NZ health service and academically at Cambridge University, Otago University and most recently at the University of Auckland at the National Institute for Health Innovation. I recently completed an Executive MBA at the University of Auckland.

My research area is “Health Informatics” and I’m particularly interested in how we can use social media for eLearning and knowledge sharing. Over the years I’ve created about 80 eLearning courses as an eLearning consultant for the healthcare sector.

When and how did you get started with creating social communities?

The first community I created was New Media Medicine (NMM) about 10 years ago. This was before Ning. I set it up as an addition to an anatomy eLearning course I created for medical students. I found that the students really enjoyed chatting on the community and it grew over time to become one of the largest communities for medical students with over 100,000 monthly users.

New Media Medicine has been running for almost 10 years. That’s awesome! What are the most profound changes you’ve seen in that time?

The biggest change since I created NMM has been the rise of non-specific networks such as Facebook and Twitter. These weren’t around when I created the community and I have found that many of our members now also have accounts on these sites, and even use their Facebook accounts to continue discussions started on NMM and vice versa. More recently, the shift to mobile platforms has been significant, with more and more users using iPhones and tablets to access the site.

Despite all these innovations, the basics of running a community have changed surprisingly little over the last decade. People use the forum at NMM in pretty much the same way as they always have in the past.

And what are the other communities you manage?

My main other community is the Health Informatics Forum (HI). I started the site a few years ago as there really wasn’t a good online community for people like me interested in using technology in healthcare. Health has been a little bit slow to adopt new information technologies and therefore HI has only really taken off as a speciality for doctors in the last few years. In fact, it’s only since last year that US doctors could be “Board Certified” in Clinical Informatics as a sub-specialty.

I’ve also created a Ning community for eLearning professionals called eLearning Talk that aims to fulfill a similar role to the Health Informatics Forum for the eLearning industry.

I’ve also started Ning communities for other organisations. I created the Health Innovation Exchange (HIVE) for the Ministry of Health in New Zealand and I’m working an number of new communities for organisations in the health sector.

Your communities are becoming important resources for thousands of people. Given your audience, how are you managing these communities simultaneously?

I rely on the communities themselves to help me manage them. We get lots of volunteers offering to help with moderation and we have a policy of fairly strict moderation that tends to limit problems that can happen with unmoderated forums.

What are the main things you’ve learned since being in this online space?

I’ve learnt a lot over the last 10 years, but the main thing is have patience and persistence!

What’s the primary way people are using your Ning communities? Is it to learn, consume, discuss — or a mix?

Most people just browse an online community. Compared to the number of registered users, the number of people just browsing without logging in is huge. However, once they are signed up and logged in, most people use the sites to ask questions and to help their colleagues by providing answers. The discussion forum is where the action is on my Ning sites.

What are people doing on your Ning community they aren’t doing elsewhere?

On the Health Informatics Forum we get a lot of people who are interested in Health Informatics as a career, which is something reasonably unique. There are sites where people discuss the technical or business side of health informatics, but our community is very open to new-comers and we’re trying to encourage people into the industry as there is a real need to build the health informatics workforce.

Are there any inspiring or health-related success stories that have come about because of your communities?

We have many success stories on New Media Medicine. One of the main uses on the site is to help people become doctors. Many medical students come from relatively affluent backgrounds and are able to pay for assistance and tutoring through the various entrance exams and the interview process. For people without these resources or family support, our site offers a wealth of free advice and support from other users to help them through the process. We’ve had many users who have tried unsuccessfully to become a doctor for several years before coming to our community and getting help from medical students and doctors on the site. It’s great to read their blogs on the site as they finally graduate from medical school and start practicing medicine.

For someone looking to get started with building a community, what’s the first piece of advice you’d offer?

The key to building a successful community is to have the passion to keep going over time and find other people that are willing to contribute to your community. Once you have a good base of users, things start to self-generate.

What’s next for you?

I’m interested in working with a wider range of organisations through my eLearning Consultancy service to help them make the most of social media in their eLearning offerings. I recently gave a talk at a corporate eLearning conference and there was a lot of interest in how organisations can go “beyond the LMS” and provide more modern and innovative tools to help their employees learn.

From a research point of view, I’m interested in exploring in more detail how using social media technology enable more effective learning experiences. This is a fairly difficult question to answer but my intuition is that, by providing a means of communication and trust building between learners, social media communities offer some real advantages over “traditional” methods of delivering online training.

Small biz meeting big visions through a Ning community

Alyssa Gregory is a small business collaborator and founder of the Small Business Bonfire. For the past 13 years, she has consulted small business owners, written about small business topics, worked on bringing entrepreneurs together, and spoke to groups about starting, managing and growing small businesses. In 2011, Alyssa was named one of 100 small business influencers in North America by Small Business Trends and Smallbiztechnology.com.

On a typical day, you can find her right on the Small Business Bonfire Ning Community, or sharing business tips, advice and resources on About.com, Small Business Bonfire Blog, Twitter, Facebook and Google+. For more information, please visit AlyssaGregory.com.

Alyssa’s Ning site, The Small Business Bonfire Community, has been invited to participate in the Local Resource Café during The NYT Small Business Summit on June 25 in New York City. We wanted to pick her brain and learn about her community’s success.
 

Tell us about yourself.

I’m a small business collaborator, which is a fun term I use to describe my passion for small business and the power of collaboration. I’ve been a small business owner for 13 years, and I use my “in the trenches” experience to help others by consulting fellow small business owners, writing about small business topics, and bringing entrepreneurs together. In 2011, I had the distinct honor of being named one of 100 small business influencers in North America by Small Business Trends.

How did you get started with the Small Business Bonfire Community?

I created the Small Business Bonfire in 2011 to provide entrepreneurs with a social, educational and collaborative community where they can network, share knowledge and learn from their peers. There are a few different components of the Bonfire, including the Small Business Bonfire Ning Community, our small business blog, the Red Hot Tool of the Week email, and our quarterly newsletter, The Spark.

How does the Small Business Bonfire Community fit amongst your overall social media and content strategy?

We do a lot with social media, particularly Twitter (@smallbizbonfire) and Facebook. Our Ning Community site makes it easy for us, as well as our members, to post updates across these platforms and engage with each other on other sites.

There is also a lot of discussion and interaction that takes place in the Community that often turns into content for our blog. For example, one of our writers, Emily Suess, uses a group in the community to start discussions, conduct research, and ask members for their input on specific issues.

What’s been the most interesting thing to happen within your Ning community?

What I find most interesting in the Community is the way our members have jumped right into networking and collaboration. It’s not a sales-y or overly self-promotional place, like so many online communities are (although we are all for helping our members promote their businesses, products and services!). Our members really “get it” in terms of helping each other and being open to learning from each other. I’ve seen our members enter into bartering relationships, guest post on fellow members’ blogs, help each other on a daily basis, and get lots of new business and referrals from each other.

What are people sharing within the community that they aren’t sharing anywhere else?

The biggest thing shared on our network that isn’t typically shared elsewhere is individual entrepreneurial challenges. Our members frequently explain problems they are experiencing or challenges they facing, and ask other members for advice, new perspectives, and ideas. These discussions can have a tremendous positive impact in the Community, not only for the member asking for help, but everyone who may be reading and learning in the background.

What features are you and your members using most?

Member blogs and the discussion forums are very popular in our community.

You have 600+ members. Do you have a sense for how they ended up joining your community? Word of mouth? Other sites/communities, offline events, etc?

Our members come from a number of places — word of mouth, social media and our small business blog are the biggest sources.

Tell us about the New York Times Small Business Summit.

The New York Times Small Business Summit is a one-day annual event in its 7th year designed to help small business owners improve their businesses. The Summit provides small business owners with the opportunity to mingle with the brightest and most innovative thinkers; brainstorm with “think tank” professionals; pitch directly to investors; build new entrepreneurial connections; consult one-on-one with today’s technology experts; discover the language of the press; and walk away with immediate tips and tools to help small business owners establish greater loyalty, gain new customers that can help boost profitability, and more. It’s taking place on June 25 at the Grand Hyatt in NYC.

What panel are you speaking on and what are you going to cover?

The Small Business Bonfire Community has been invited for a second year in a row to participate in the Local Resource Café during the Summit. Showcasing organizations in the tri-state area, the Local Resource Café provides a central area where attendees can mingle, pick up reference literature, find out about recent industry trends and talk directly with business experts. This year we will be participating with Constant Contact, Square, Batchbook, Manhattan Chamber of Commerce, SCORE and a few other organizations.

What’s the 1 piece of advice for someone looking to start their own community?

The best advice I can give to someone interested in starting a community is to have very specific goals that outline what you want to accomplish. It’s very easy to get distracted by the latest shiny thing and lose sight of what you set out to do. Instead, set goals and break them down into manageable phases. And use the resources available to you! Ning has some excellent resources that can help you set up your community, customize it, promote it, and manage it. Bookmark the Help Center and the Ning Creators network, and you’ll be able to get your community up and running very quickly.

Using Ning + Kickstarter to build a community around a project

Simon Cantlon is on a mission to document the power and allure of the American open road. And he’s using Ning as the community hub for the project. He’s producing an interactive documentary film and book called The Motels of Route 66. The project will explore the stories of the motel owners, the architecture, the travelers and the road itself, which runs between Los Angeles and Chicago.

For funding and publicity, he’s built a Ning community centered around the project and ties it closely together with his Kickstarter project, a funding platform for creative projects. By June 9, he’s looking for $30,000 in backing for the project. The funding will cover the month-long journey down Route 66 with a full four-man film crew (director, cameraman, photographer, lighting & sound), vehicle rental, equipment, gas, food, lodging and supplies.

It’s an ambitious goal, for sure, and we’re excited to follow Simon and his crew on their documentary-road trip across one of America’s most historic thoroughfares.

“We’ll be out on the road meeting travelers, the people who live in the towns, mom and pop businesses and the owners of the motels along the way, all the way down Route 66. We’ll be bringing them into the story, and letting them be a part of it. As the story unfolds step by step, it will be documented on our Ning community,” said Cantlon. “That’s awesome.”

You can back his project on his Kickstarter page and follow the endeavor through his Ning community, The Motels of Route 66.

Starting a non-profit community, helping breast cancer patients online

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. More than ever, breast cancer patients, survivors, friends and family members, and organizations are sharing stories, raising awareness, and gathering support through online channels.

We heard about The Pink Daisy Project, a non-profit online community and all-volunteer Ning Network started by breast cancer survivor Debbie Cantwell. The organization is dedicated to helping young women with breast cancer cope with the hardships of their treatment by providing them care and comfort, and a hopeful online place to share their stories of survival. Debbie was also featured as a CNN Hero in July for her work with the community.

Debbie started The Pink Daisy Project on her own, as a way to thank all the people who helped her during her treatment and to pay it forward. Through the Ning community, women undergoing cancer treatment lean on the bravery from others around the world, forging lasting friendships, sharing their stories of treatment and survival, and receiving positive support from the greater community.

The national organization also provides financial help and relief to women during treatment – from sending groceries for a month or having someone come clean their house, seemingly little contributions make a positive difference while undergoing cancer treatment.

Debbie has built and managed The Pink Daisy Project while juggling a full-time job, and busy life with her husband and 2 children. “It’s been very easy for me, without any technical experience, to maintain the community, keep it running, and make changes,” Debbie highlighted. “The website we had previously was really static. It wasn’t dynamic and it wasn’t engaging; there was no interaction. So, people would look at it, and then they’d leave. Using Ning gave me the capability of having the interaction we wanted to see on The Pink Daisy Project.”

You can donate to the Pink Daisy Project through their Ning community. How is your Ning community making a positive impact in people’s lives? We’d love to hear about it.

Mom 2.0 Summit and Ning’s place amongst “Mommy Bloggers”

I’ve attended many conferences, with major themes focusing on the music-tech community. Over the last 6 years, during the growth of social media and the expansion of community-building tools, I’ve observed recurring and like-minded questions asked by panelists from every background. Similar core issues arise amongst community creators and leaders. As niche intimate communities grow to bountiful online spaces where humans transcend physical boundaries and interact globally in meaningful ways, creators are asking:

What happens to the offline component? How does a community grow? What kind of space am I building? What’s it all for, anyway?!

Mom 2.0 Summit
I recently attended Mom 2.0 Summit in New Orleans. Marketers, Moms and Mums covered high-level concepts; the keynote from Abigail Disney and Lois Vossen united the audience as a powerful community, empowered by tools to “heal the world where you are.” As digital storytellers, the “mommy blogging” community is a powerful contingency and their energy is positively different; I knew I was in a room full of powerful and driven women, community creators, leaders and builders. They know what tools to use, and draw in amazing sponsors like Whirlpool. Not only did I want the washer/dryer on display at Mom 2.0 Summit, I knew I wasn’t going to end up simply teaching these women how to craft an “@ reply” on Twitter.

The Four Questions
Among a list of amazing speakers, Laney Whitcanack and I ran a workshop, Building Community or Building Business: A Blueprint for Creating Space.

In the music space, we often discuss the union between offline communities at live music events with online music communities. Many artists are trying new things to bring content online, but the live music online/offline space has yet to be conquered. Many of the moms I met in New Orleans expressed similar disconnections within their own communities. Together, Laney and I helped community leaders discover answers to this by going through a few exercises while shying away from mentioning any specific tools. We asked four questions of community leaders:

What is the purpose of your community?
What kind of space do you want it to be and what do you want from it?
Secret Sauce: What are you doing to help participants disclose, share, and follow information?
What is the structure of the community?

In a fast hour, we drew Venn diagrams, learned about a community of teachers sharing information online, and a community focusing on bountiful friendships between Muslim and Jewish Americans. We tried to focus mostly on answering the questions without relying on the preference of one social tool over another, but it was impossible to ignore the benefits of Ning and the benefits a community creator enjoys by choosing Ning’s platform. A creator might want to build a “living room” with a forum, or a “community recreation center” using Ning groups. Because they adapt so easily to growth, Ning’s products enable the “secret sauce” necessary to help participants disclose, share and follow information. Ultimately the creator must make regular decisions about the environment and is empowered to grow large spaces filled with people from around the world for distinct purposes. For our workshop, we reviewed what tools are best and for what purpose, and purposely focused on growth, space, and creative communication, all of which are fully enabled by Ning. It felt great to be there, knowing that these conversations were not future tripping – we were talking about what community leaders and creators can do right now. It dawned on me during the workshop that Ning speaks the language of a worldwide web; within the right space, any community can transcend spoken word.

Offline
The gap between online and offline communities can be tough to bridge. In music, the common activity is obvious; music fans go to shows offline. But moms have many common interests, ranging from teaching to aerospace engineering. While the communities grow en mass online, at the conference there was a strong desire to unite offline, too. One way to bridge this gap is to find leaders in a community who want to take on specific regions and organize activities to drive engagement, such as posting great content from activities for the rest of the community to experience. With Ning groups and calendars, this strategy is easy to execute. In the end, the number one question that must be revisited every 12-18 months: What is the purpose of my community?

Show Mom The Money
One unanticipated and recurring question raised: How do you monetize? The growth and popularity of “mommy blogging” communities built from the heart is incredible. And the thirst for these communities is ever-present. This leads to a conundrum—time needed to manage and money to support these mom epicenters. And that’s where choosing the right tool does play a role in community building decisions; this is where Ning shines. Having full control over if and where advertisements appear in online communities, or ways to incorporate guerilla advertising in an authentic way becomes incredibly powerful and attractive to advertisers and people trying to reach community members. Additionally, people are willing to pay a premium for valuable and useful content they can digitally access. Going back to the bridge between online and offline, branded merchandise and fundraising add true value to any social destination by making the online community more tangible, real. Giving a real value to your community makes it, well, priceless.

Corey Denis is VP of Digital Marketing at TAG Strategic, a digital entertainment consulting firm. She has been pioneering digital music marketing since 1999. She also founded Not Shocking, working with clients like SoundExchange, Michael Tilson Thomas, IRIS Distribution, Inu and Todd Fancey.

From the Red Carpet to Your Produce Aisle

It’s always exciting to hear first-hand of our customers’ success both on and off the Ning Platform. We think about social websites on Ning as the hub for social branding and identity. This naturally lends itself to having a presence, or spokes, if you will, around the web and real world.

BlackTree TV positions itself as the world’s largest urban entertainment network by producing and posting high quality videos distributed across the web. They cover everything from red carpet interviews, celebrity one-on-ones, and frontline social commentary from artists and politicians alike. They decided to use Ning to have a website layering in community, monetization flexibility and a branded experience encompassing BlackTree TV’s entertainment focus.

Between BlackTree TV and their accompanying YouTube channel with 400+ million views, their success is nothing short of awesome! In a recent tweet by Tony Idem, BlackTree TV’s Community Manager, we learned about their new partnership with an in-store content provider. In short, the deal paves the way for BlackTree TV to bring the same great content from BlackTree TV to Walmart, Albertsons, Costco and 10,000 retail locations nationwide! They’re making moves to produce aisles near you – keep an eye out for BlackTree TV. Congrats to the BlackTree TV team!

Interview: Box.net’s Cloud Content Management System

Bay Area residents who drive down Hwy 101 are used to seeing Box.net’s cheeky billboards. They challenge Sharepoint users to try Box.net’s Cloud Content Management system — and see if they don’t like using it better. One additional benefit of Box.net over Sharepoint? You can install Box.net on your Ning Network, thanks to their Ning App. Platform Manager Jeremy Glassenberg chatted with us about the company, their Ning App and what’s coming up.

jeremyCan you give a little company background on Box.net?
Box.net was founded in 2005 on a simple, powerful idea: it should be easy for people to access, collaborate, and share all their content, wherever they are. We’ve since grown into the leading Cloud Content Management solution for 4 million users and companies ranging from small businesses to Fortune 100 companies.

Who is a typical Box.net customer?
To be honest, there is no ‘typical’ Box.net customer. We’re a horizontal solution that serves individuals, small businesses and large enterprises that need a simple way to share and collaborate on files with people, both inside and outside of their company. In larger organizations, we’re typically adopted by marketing departments first, as they tend to have the most content to share.

How did you decide to create a Box.net Ning App? Had you created OpenSocial applications before?
We have in fact created OpenSocial gadgets before, including one for Ning [member pages]. The new Ning Apps, however, were especially exciting for us by providing a means of deeply and seamlessly connecting a Ning Network to a Box Business deployment. Both Ning Networks and Box Business provide consoles for administrators to manage users and product permissions. So, when a Ning Network Creator adds the Box Ning App, they automatically have full control over their Ning Network’s Cloud Content Management system, even though it’s powered by Box.net.

Did you develop your app with a specific type of Ning Network in mind? (i.e. professional one, education related, etc)
Yes. While our standard profile application is available to anyone, we’re especially proud of our Ning App’s ability to work with professional and business networks.

Why would a Ning Network want to install the Box.net Ning App? What type of functionality does it add?
Box.net provides advanced content management capabilities to a Ning Network, empowering organizations to easily manage, access and share any type or size file directly within the Ning environment. Ning Network Creators can easily make marketing assets, videos, and branding artwork available to their Network members. Even better, users can easily collaborate on projects with their Ning Network connections in a secure online workspace, keeping their content and workflow centralized on Box.

Do you have any plans to add new features or functionality to your Ning App?
We’re always looking for ways to enhance our applications, and are currently corresponding with the Ning team to learn more about the next set of updates we can use.

Stay tuned — tomorrow, we’ll have a second Box.net post on the Ning Blog that you won’t want to miss.

Interview: TokBox’s Easy-To-Use Video Chat Ning App

Instant messaging is easy on a Ning Network, thanks to the Chat feature. Displayed as either a persistant chat bar on the bottom of the page, or as a feature on the Main Page, Chat is an easy way to let your members conenct with each other in real time. But what if you want something a little more… visual?

Enter TokBox, a Ning App that allows members to easily video chat with one another. VP of Marketing and Business Development Micky O’Brien walked us through some of the TokBox need-to-know info.

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What’s the background of TokBox? Can you describe what the product does?
The TokBox team believes in the power of face-to-face communication as a way to build teams, build communities and build relationships. So we wanted to create a really simple way for people to video chat with a group of their friends, customers or colleagues.  You can video chat with up to 20 people at once, or with Broadcast Video Chat you can add an audience of up to 200 people. Because TokBox is web-based, all anyone needs to join is an internet connection and webcam, no need to download or configure anything or have any special equipment.

Since we launched in October 2007 we have seen thousands of groups of people get together to discuss the things that matter most to them, whether that is a book club, a prayer group, a support group or simply a group of friends that share a passion for the movies.

How did you decide to start developing on Ning?
As we increased our understanding of who was using TokBox and what for, we realized that Ning, as a network of groups and communities, was the perfect place to offer TokBox’s group video chat functionality. We already had a video chat API in place and so making the changes that we needed to create the OpenSocial App was easy.

Is there a specific type of Ning Network you had in mind when you built the TokBox Ning App?
Video chat really is applicable to anyone who wants to communicate face-to-face, meaning most Ning Networks. That said, since it has launched, we have seen some Ning Networks find it more relevant than others, particularly those who want to build a deeper rapport and relationship between their members or have a more visual message.

Can you provide an example of a Ning Network that is are using the TokBox Ning App?
My Shimmer is a Ning Network for women to share their beauty secrets. They have lots of tips and tricks to share that are reliant on a more visual form of communication.

What’s next for TokBox? Where do you see it going from here?
We’ve recently launched a number of features on tokbox.com that we think would be really useful for Ning Networks.  Moderation and Scheduling enables the chat organizer to schedule the chat in advance, control who comes in to the video chat as well as the media shared. Broadcast video chat enables the organizer to have up to 12 people in a video chat and then add an audience of 200 people. The audience can participate by submitting video questions, text message or even being moved on-screen to participate directly in the video chat. We would like to launch all these features in to the OpenSocial App in the coming weeks. Following that, we will continue to listen to Network Creators to hear what features they would like to add next.