Laura Oppenheimer
Laura Oppenheimer
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Give it to me Raw, the members of this network say

It’s not for everyone, but there are many people who swear by an all-raw diet. Raw foodists, as they are called, eat only vegetarian food that hasn’t been cooked above a certain temperature. The network for these eco-friendly eaters is appropriately titled Give It To Me Raw.

With more than 5,000 members — and growing every day — we thought we’d check in with Network Creator Dhrumil to find out what makes his members tick (and keep coming back for more). And because the start of the new year is just days away, we thought a little healthy eating advice wouldn’t hurt.

Where did the idea for Give It To Me Raw come from? Why start a social network?
I run a fun little blog called We Like It Raw and we were looking for a way to make it easier for our community to connect and support each other. Blogs are great, but they are top-down. It’s tough to build a community with a top-down approach. That’s when I heard about Ning and thought it would be a fantastic opportunity to expand our support network.

Going raw can be pretty tricky. How does your network balance the needs of both new raw food eaters and long-time raw foodists?
Since we have [more than] 5,000 members it would be tough for us to try to maintain this balance on an administrative level. Instead what we do is try to create the right environment for the balance to happen on its own. The way way create that environment is removing extremism from the site, giving a platform to people who have the heart of a teacher and continually welcoming new members personally.

In our profile questions we ask a very important question that we require all members to answer, “How can the community best support you in your journey?” I’ve found this to be a very useful question to try to encourage members to support each other with specific topics.

Which features do your members use the most?
Forums, by far. Our community has a lot to say and the forums are the perfect outlet for that. Sometimes, it gets out of hand, because — to be honest — the raw food movement attracts a lot of people who have emotional issues. These individuals, we call them trolls, become very radical in their approach and insist they know what’s best for everyone else. When this energy hits the forums sometimes we have 300+ replies to a thread that never made any sense to start. As a steward of a supportive community it’s my responsibility to deal with those people and ask them to leave; otherwise, it brings everyone else down.

Trolls also come in the form of spammers, inauthentic marketers and people looking to create drama. You have to make sure these people don’t take over your community.

Any tricks of the trade for Network Creators looking to grow their networks?
Members know how much a Network Creator cares based on the creator’s level of involvement in the community. They can spend five minutes on a community and know whether or not this is a place that works or doesn’t for them. What your responsibility is, as a creator, is to care for the community like it’s your house. Here are a few tips to do just that:

1) Welcome Members Individually: I welcome each and every new member personally to the site. Often I’ll comment about something specific in their profile that I can relate to or shed some light on.

2) Don’t Be Everything to Everyone: No one wants to be in the club that everyone is allowed to be in. I highly recommend being exclusive in some way. Focus on quality members, not quantity.

3) Stand For Something: Communities at their core need some shared level of interest and a way to communicate, I learned this from author Seth Godin. The way to network is the Ning Blog, but the shared interest has to come from you. It’s not enough to give your network a title or logo. You have to come up with a little mini manifesto for yourself to understand what your network stands for. If you have a community about knitting ask yourself, “What’s different about my network about knitting than the other ones out there? What makes my network special? How do I approach thinking about knitting differently than others?” Maybe you have the hippest kitting network for young folks of the Web for people under 35. Maybe your network is trying to make knitting sexy. It doesn’t matter what you stand for, just make sure you stand for something.

What suggestions would you offer someone who wanted to start a network based around healthy eating or lifestyle changes?
Know that the no. 1 reason that people don’t stick to healthy eating is because they lack network support. Setting up a network on Ning is a great step to help them get that support, but also remember that you have to go further. Step by step, member by member, address your network’s concerns and create a true culture of caring. Your members will deeply appreciate it and your network will become stronger.

It’s getting to that time of year when people make resolutions to eat healthier or lead a healthier lifestyle. Any suggestions?
Green smoothies. It sounds nasty, but they taste amazing. Fresh greens are one of the biggest things people are missing from their diets. Green give you crazy energy and also mineralize your body. A lot of people avoid greens because they haven’t found a way to make them where they actually enjoy them. Green smoothies are packed with greens but they also contain a little fruit to balance out the sharp flavor of the greens. Just got to YouTube and search green smoothie. You’ll find tons of recipes.