Natalie Lesyk
Natalie Lesyk
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Social media is a primary vector of the digital world future. By 2021 the number of social media users is estimated to exceed 3 billion. At the same time, big names like Facebook and Instagram make it more obvious that their development strategy focuses on connecting people with their peers rather than connecting people with brands. The shift has started to be noticed in 2014 and has become more visible every day since then, leading to significant drops in the organic reach and engagement for the posts on business pages.

The challenge many business owners will have to address is: how to benefit from social media if big players like Facebook and Instagram make it an exclusivist area for businesses? Add to this concerns about control over content, users’ data privacy and freedom of choice on the layout and features. The ideal solution for overcoming these challenges is to have your own social media site where you can be in control when it comes to features and content.
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Ning is one of the best platforms for creating a social media site from zero. It offers you all the tools for making it from zero to hero, including customizable features and analytics tools. If you want to play the social media game by your own rules and build a vivid community around your brand, learn how to start a social media site in a few simple steps:

1. Know your audience.

As with any social media, you will need to narrow down the audience you target. Your users’ characteristics like age, professional profile, geo-location, interests, even personality profile, will set the tone for your future communication with them and define all the attributes of your new social media site. Are you targeting tech geeks or highly creative individuals? Are your potential users teens or mature persons? Are they serious and sober or rather witty? Such info will help you define features, layout, colors, content.

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What tools can help you identify your audience?

  • Web analytics tools: if you already own a website and track it with web analytics tools, go to the demographics section and collect info about your users. It will give you a first clue on who they are and where to head out further for attracting them.
  • Social media stats is another method you can use if you have already played the social media game on some platforms and you are now making the shift towards autonomy.
  • Surveys. Suppose you are brand new and have no website, no social media presence at all. Luckily you may have an emailing list you can use to launch a small survey to help you shape your future audience’s profile. Otherwise, use your own network to help you get preliminary info about what users may expect from a community like the one you plan to build.
  • Competition analysis. Finding out who is interested in your competitors, what is the type of content they react best to is a simple way to collect info about your targeted audience’s needs. Competition in this phase serves as a mean to reach your potential users.
  • Use personas. Sketch the ideal profile you imagine your user to have and start from there. Adjust on the way, by assessing the impact of your social media on real users.

Your target audience cannot be everyone, and this is where Ning makes the difference. As the branding expert Todd Friedman explained for Business News Daily “the more you can define not only the demographics — like age, gender, and household income — but also the type of person (psychographics), including attitudes, tendencies, and preferences, the more you can directly speak to your audience. Owning a specific market’s mind share is the key”

On large social networking site, the audience is general and difficult to segment and target. When you create a social media website with Ning, you can focus on smaller groups that are likely to generate high engagement rates and valuable conversations.

 2. Decide on the features

Once you have figured out who your audience is and what they expect, you can start integrating the functionalities of your social media website. In fact, “integrating” doesn’t precisely define what you should do in this step because with Ning drag and drop feature, all you need to do is pick up the features you want to be integrated. No programming skills are required. There are many features available on the platform, but the decision on which ones to integrate into your website should be backed up by data. That is why we encourage you start small and make a selection of features estimated with high potential of engaging users rather that jumping into building a sophisticated website from the very beginning.

What features to choose in the first place?

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  • Easy login.

Since the goal is to build a social media website, therefore a space for users interactions, the first feature you should think about is enabling users to become members of your community very easy. Even if you integrate a native sign-up process that includes forms with customized info, allow users to join you also in one click through their Facebook, Google, LinkedIn or Twitter accounts.

  • Visual content and videos.

According to the latest social media industry report from Social Examiner, images are the assets most widely used by social media marketers, followed by blogging and videos. Video traffic will take over 81% of the overall Internet traffic by 2021. If you want good advice on how to make a social media website word, here it is: keep an eye on the future. With features like photo sharing, YouTube and Vimeo integration you are all covered.

  • Blogs

Blogging is still an effective marketing strategy, even if it is more used in B2B (75%) than in B2C (61%). It is, however, one of the most engaging types of content and helps you build up a good reputation in your industry.
Furthermore, depending on the feedback you receive from your community, you can add new valuable features to your social media website. A few examples of advanced features available on Ning platform are: forums, possibility for your members to organize in groups based on their common interests, features to build users profiles, comments to make your social media an interactive space, sharing and liking to help your content go viral.

As your social media grows, consider the real-time Activity Feed feature to help your users quickly catch up with community life since their last visit and to bring relevant content closer to their reach.

3. Set-up the layout

There is a common misconception about design being the glaze on the cake. However, 94% of the people who reject a website, do it for design related reasons including complex layout, misuse of colors, poor navigation.

With Ning, you get to choose from multiple layout themes, but you can also customize unlimited HTML pages. You have full support for mobile responsive design to ensure you meet your users where they are most of their time: on mobile devices.

4. Populate your website

Here comes the most challenging part: populating your website with users and content.
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Where to get users:

  • Traditional social media channels like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter. Even if you are starting your own social media website, use popular platforms as communication channels with your potential users and to increase your brand awareness
  • Search Engines. Did you know that 70% of the links users click on are organic? This means that optimizing your website content for search engines is a strategic move you will have to make to drive users to your site.
  • Get users to contribute with content. Come up with features that enable your website to sustain itself. Users who exchange ideas on forums and groups or users who open a blog are the engines of your social media website. They generate the content that feeds your website, and through the content they create, they attract like-minded users to new conversations.

5. Analyse and adjust

So your own social media site is up and running, users enjoy their time interacting with each other through the features you have provided them with…sounds like work well done. It is, but it is not a closed job, that’s for sure. Having a social media website that pays off requires constant performance monitoring, listening to the users’ voice and adjusting based on data collected. If you build your social media website with Ning, you benefit from a Lightweight analytics tool that ensures visibility over how your community is growing and how your users engage with your site. Use data to focus on the type of content that matters to them.

It takes time to grow an online community, but when you use a platform like Ning, you will offer your users a customized and secure experience. You get to make the rules of the social media, you take full ownership of the content, you have complete control over your users’ data and you can re-purpose it for growing your business at any time. And these are just a few of the reasons why it is worth knowing how to start a social media site with Ning.