No other element or feature of a social network elicits as much venom or praise as the member profile page. Why? It’s simple:
Profile pages on social networks represent the very heart of freedom, self-expression, and the ability to make something uniquely your own.
A profile page is all mine to do (almost) anything I want with it.
Profile Page Features
So, this is my profile page on Ning’s Network Creators:
By default, my profile page comes with the following features:
- A Profile Photo that I have the option to add and can change at will.
- A Profile Section on the right column whose questions are customized by the Network Creator and presented to every new member who joins. Network Creators can make these questions required or optional.
- A Simple URL that always takes the same structure. You can find me on any network on which I am a member by adding “/profile/gina” to the end of any profile URL, including domain masked ones. This means if you’re on We Live Here [Uploaded], you can find my profile by typing in http://welivehere.fineliving.com/profile/gina.
- A Blog.
- A Comment Wall where other people can leave messages for me.
- My Friends and notifications when I have new friend requests.
- The option for other members to request to be my friend or send me a message.
- The ability to completely change every aspect of my page via the Edit the Appearance link in the upper right of the page. I can choose from themes or use my own CSS and HTML. I haven’t changed the appearance of my page yet in this example.
Beyond these basics, for each feature you, as the Network Creator, add to your social network, each feature shows up on every member’s profile page as well.
Today these options include:
- A Text Box for members to add more text, embedded videos, photos, and widgets.
- RSS Reader for members to pull in feeds from their blogs off the network.
- My Photos, which also show up under the Photos tab.
- My Videos, which also show up under the Videos tab.
- My Groups, which also show up under the Groups tab.
- My Music/Podcast Player which on a member profile page plays the music or podcasts that that I add.
- My Discussions, which also show up under the Forum tab.
All of the fields (or places I enter stuff throughout my profile page) allow me, as your member, or people coming to my profile page to add text, embedded videos, photos, and widgets from a variety of places. You can add anything, but a few examples of widgets might be a YouTube video, a RockYou photo slideshow, or images from Photobucket.
This exponentially expands the number of options I have on my profile page to make it uniquely my own. Plus, it opens my page up to some friends who constantly add color to my day.
You, as the Network Creator, also have the option to feature any of my photos, videos, discussions, or blog posts on the Main page of your social network.
Profile Page Appearance
I have full control over the appearance of my page. The option for members of a social network to control the appearance of their pages can have some mindblowing results. It’s also one of the things that make successful social networks, well, successful.
On my profile page across any network on Ning, I can choose from a set of themes, point and click options to customize that theme, or I can add my own CSS and HTML.
Changing the CSS and HTML of my profile page enables me to:
- Change the basic layout of my page, albeit in a somewhat more complex way than will ultimately be the case.
- Take default features off that I don’t want to show on my profile page.
- Change the shape of my different features. For example, I can make rounded corners from square ones or take the boxes off entirely while still leaving the feature.
The bar we used to define the options offered on the member profile page of any social network was, “can I make this look like terrible?” If I could, we knew we were on the right track. Here’s why: if I have the freedom to make something look terrible, then I also have the freedom to make something look amazing. It’s entirely up to me. That’s freedom.
It’s the freedom for me to express myself in my own unique way. For example, if I absolutely, positively love, say, a movie, I can trick out my profile page to revolve around that movie:
(Yeah, I know. It’s even more mindblowing when you actually visit it. Take it for a spin. But it also makes my point 🙂 )
Getting the Most Out of Your Network’s Profile Pages
I’ve hopefully convinced you at this point that freedom and options on a profile page are key features of any successful social network. Highlighting for your members their profile page options is a great way to engage them and get them invested in what you are creating.
There is a direct correlation between a core group of members who are heavily invested in a network and that network’s success.
Experiment. Make your profile page a showcase. Spread the word with your members. And, most importantly, take advantage of the rich opportunities presented by this feature on your social network.
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