8 Steps to Creating a Great Social Network

8 Steps to Creating a Great Social Network
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Or how I stopped worrying and learned to love a good online party


Creating your own social network is a lot like hosting a fabulous party. Like all parties, it usually starts with being an interesting person and a love of meeting people. Bands and porn stars work too. Just kidding.

Like any party, it also takes a little bit of preparation to take cheap beer and stale chips and turn it into a night to remember.

Ning might give you a fantastic foundation for creating your new social network, but it’s only one piece of the puzzle. Only you can make it awesome.

Here’s our list of the 8 basics:

1. It all starts with a great idea and the host behind it.

Call it a core reason to exist, mojo, or whatever you’d like, but there’s no substitute for passion and believing in what you create. If you’re not authentic, it’s hard to get people to show up and stick around.

Start by picking a passion, niche, theme, community, or topic you love. Perhaps nothing exists out there for your interest or you’re just ready to go beyond a discussion board or group page on a “one-size-fits-all” social network. Whatever the case, having a clear purpose – even if that purpose is to just hang out – is important.

Some good questions to ask yourself before starting your own social network are:

  • Is this going to be fun for me?
  • Have I given people a great reason to join my network?
  • Can my friends help me kick start this thing? If not, how will I attract new people to it?

2. Set the mood.

First impressions matter. Especially when you show up at a party where you don’t know anyone. Do I want to hang out with these people? Am I going to stick around?

Let people know right away what your social network is about. Add a tagline and description for your network. The more specific, the better. If you have a logo, by all means, add it. Use consistent styles across your network so that it looks polished, but not perfect. You don’t want people afraid to sit on the proverbial furniture.

3. Invite the right people to the pre-party.

People make the party, and the folks who show up at the pre-party are the critical to kicking things off right. The same is true for social networks.

It’s always easiest to start with people you know. Successful social networks have all started small and nurtured their early community. It’s a like a virtual pre-party. The first 50 members set the tone for any network. 150 million people later, and MySpace is still about music and women.

If you have friends with a shared interest, by all means invite them and experiment. If they aren’t fired up about it, skip to step #5, make some new friends and invite them to join you early.

4. Spend time setting up.

All great parties have a fantastic host. What makes you a great host of your new network? For starters, fill out your own profile page.

Then, add photos, videos, a couple of blog posts, and a few discussions that underscore what your network is about. It helps to have a unique point of view and way of describing things. Brand gurus call this “a voice” or a “point of view.” Cute Overload and Perez Hilton are both great examples of what I’m talking about.

A point of view is a great way to draw people in. So is being entertaining, provocative, and providing a unique outlook on the world, so give it a shot!

Now, your point of view is key, but a great host also lets their guests shine in their own unique ways too.

Your members should have the option to express themselves through their profiles in (almost) any way they’d like. Remember, no one wants to party with Stalin.

On your social network on Ning, your members can make their page uniquely theirs. They can customize their own theme for their page or even add their own custom CSS and HTML.

5. Open the doors.

Once you’ve set the mood and have some early members, there are a couple of easy things to do to let people outside your inner circle know about the awesome world you just whipped up:

  • Link your new social network to your blog or website.
  • Include your URL in your signature on blogs, your MySpace page, or discussion forums.
  • Advertise on other websites geared towards the same interest.
  • Take videos and photo slideshows from your new social network, add your own logo, and put them to your blog or any website in general.

On this last point, these types of “embeddable” video players and photo slideshows come standard with your network on Ning. It works in the same way YouTube does, except they link back to your new social network, not someone else’s video service.

Find a video, grab the code, and paste it into a post – then watch people follow the links to your new network.

Search engine optimization is also important. On Ning, if you add a tagline and description for your new network, we’ll automatically let the major search engines know about you.

6. Kick it into high gear.

This is the online equivalent of turning up the music, keeping the drinks flowing, and letting people crash on your couch.

People want to be where the action is, so new discussions, new posts, new photos, and new videos on your network are key, even if at the beginning you are the only one adding them. Come back to your new network often – ideally every few hours – and keep it going.

If nothing happens right away, remember that all social websites (forums, marketplaces, and networks) take time. YouTube was live for six months before Lazy Sunday became a hit. It may be weeks or months before you start seeing things take off, but keep at it. Hone your voice, tweak your tagline and network description, experiment with content, and keep adding.

If you don’t personally have time to nurture your new network, promote other members to help. They can take some of the pressure off you while making sure your network is alive and well.

7. Expect party crashers. Then the police.

All blowouts have the requisite number of party crashers. If the police don’t come, is it really a party? The web is no different. Expect spam, porn, hackers, and trolls on your new social network, especially as it gets popular.

Like a great host, it’s your job to kick out guests who are out of line. What the trolls bringeth, you can taketh away.

Provide your members with an easy way to report spam or offensive material. On your social network on Ning, the option for your members to report an issue is built into every page. You automatically get these emails and have the ability to delete anything or anyone you find inappropriate throughout your network.

Give your members the ability to monitor and delete, if necessary, what people do on their own profile, photos, videos, and posts. Again, this built into your new social network on Ning automatically, but even if you don’t use Ning, this is pretty important. Delete members and content that are a problem.

As your network grows, recruit a few other folks to monitor things, occasionally review your rules with everyone, and make sure that people adhere to the policies you outline.

8. Bask in the afterglow of creating something special.

My favorite part of a great party is the fact it lives on in stories and conversations long after the music stops. There’s nothing like creating something out of nothing and having people remember it forever.

With a good idea, a little planning, and a small amount of work, you can pull off just about anything, including your very own social network!

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16 thoughts on “8 Steps to Creating a Great Social Network

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  5. George Harnett

    Step one is always important. The important part is making sure its something you like and enjoy. Because, if not, you will not keep at it and become bored very quickly.

    I love this post, it is very informative, and very correct. People, anyone really, always has something to say. Whether it about politics, hobbies, school or even work.

  6. Hostgator Coupon Guy

    Yeah, this will probably inspire the next facebook wannabees, but seriously, following your passion and picking the right topic can do the trick. People were talking for ages that niche will work. Niche search engines, niche directories, and niche social networks. Just makes sense to hang out with folks who like what you like

  7. Sam

    Looke like a well strucured method. I think that finding a good original idea nowadays can be a little too difficult.

  8. Reina

    I’m Very Interested in using Ning but the first thing I have to do to work with someone is to trust them. You have a video I saw here: . . . http://www.crunchbase.com/company/ning . . . which you state “Ning is a FREE SERVICE” (right at the first part of the video). HOWEVER, when going to YOUR site (Ning.com), . . . There is a whole page dedicated to “Plans & PRICING” and they are clearly written. I AM CONFUSED and the “free service” part sounded “legite” in light of ALL of the posts of “Series E Funding & etc.” that I saw your company was receiving. Can you please respond and explain? “Trial” was never mentioned in your video and if this is the “free service” you were referring to, you should have just said ” . . . offers a free service as well as reasonable paid plans as well”. Please Respond at your earliest convenience. If all is well, I would love to give it a try. Thank You (You should have the email)

  9. Eric Suesz

    Hi, Reina. The video you saw (and the blog post you are commenting on) is from three-and-a-half years ago, when we did offer a free service. We no longer offer a free service, but I hope you will consider trying out one of our plans.

  10. Dr Jeremy Hunt

    thanks for the great post Gina! My social presence is becoming ever more important as my career matures believe it or not! I will take this on board as discuss it with my website company.

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