Author Archives: Guest Blogger

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?


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.

How User Guidelines Help Your Community

By Patrick O’Keefe

Online community guidelines detail the types of behaviors that are and are not appropriate on your community. They include things that some might consider obvious, but they also include items that are somewhat unique to you and your community. I liken an online community to a country. Each country has culture, laws and social norms that make it different from every other country.

I believe user guidelines are pretty important. Let’s discuss why.

  • They Level the Playing Field and Mitigate Uncertainty

The absence of guidelines leads to people making up their own or thinking that anything goes. With no official set of guidelines that is applied consistently, you instead get everyone else’s interpretation of what they believe “should” be alright. In some cases, this may also lead to them defending their interpretation against the interpretation of another member. Certainly, that can get messy. But the uncertainty of it all is a big turn off because most people aren’t going to be the ones bold enough to try to set their own guidelines. They are more likely to join a timid group that is unsure of what is acceptable and, as such, just tries to play it as safe as possible. For some, this will just mean that they decide to go elsewhere, to another community that has a more established structure that matches with what they are looking for in a community.

Good guidelines, like good rules and laws, tend to help us to all participate on a level playing field.Once we know the ground rules, we are free to express ourselves in a manner that respects them. Some may view guidelines as restrictive but, just as much, they free people up because they no longer need to worry about what might or might not be OK.

  • (Some) People Look for Them

Now, I know what you are thinking. “No one reads them.” You’ve probably heard someone say it before. However, the truth is that some people do read them. I’m not saying it is a lot of people, but some members do seek them out, especially new members, but also veterans in search for a refresher. Those people who do look for them are trying to do the right thing. They want to make sure that something is OK. This is why it is not only important to have guidelines, but to link them in visible areas, such as your header, footer, near areas where contributions are made (like reply boxes), in staff member signatures, etc. If everyone knows where they are housed, it maximizes the usefulness of your guidelines.

  • They Serve as a Vision Statement (of Sorts)

Community guidelines are a living document and, more than a set of rules, they speak to the type of community you are and the audience that will most appreciate what you have to offer. No community is for everyone. Even a community for everyone isn’t because not everyone wants that. Your guidelines help to demonstrate this and help people to come to that understanding sooner. Vision statements tell people where an organization wants to go in the future. Your guidelines should speak to that. And if a part of your guidelines ever stops speaking to that, you should change it.

  • They Give You Something to Refer To

This may be the biggest one. If you try to apply any sort of standards to your community and you don’t have any sort of public guidelines, it feels unfair and arbitrary. How can people know that something violates the guidelines if there aren’t any guidelines? If you remove content without guidelines to refer members to, then it looks like you are removing content based on imaginary rules that only exist in your head. It doesn’t inspire confidence. When you remove content, you notify the person who posted it and tell them why. When you tell them why, you include a link to your guidelines, so they can see the publicly posted standards that all members must adhere to.

To sum it up, having guidelines isn’t about making sure that everyone reads them. Instead, they exist to serve as a point of reference, so that everyone knows what standards exist and what is expected. There is no guess work, there is no mystery. This helps to create an environment of honesty and fairness.


Patrick O’Keefe is the author of “Managing Online Forums,” a practical guide to managing online communities, and “Monetizing Online Forums,” a guide to generating revenue from them in the right way. He blogs at and can be found on Twitter at @iFroggy.


Images courtesy of OregonDOT and mtsofan

5 Years strong on Ning: Benefitting from the shared experiences of others living with diabetes

©2010 Obert Houser

Manny Hernandez is a nonprofit leader, a recognized social media author and a passionate diabetes advocate. He is a frequent speaker at international conferences about health, diabetes and social media and has been interviewed by The NY Times, NPR, Fox News Health and Bloomberg News on these topics. He authored ‘Ning for Dummies’ and has collaborated in other books on social media and health 2.0.

Manny heads the Diabetes Hands Foundation (DHF), a nonprofit that connects, engages and empowers people touched by diabetes through its social networks on Ning, (in English) and (in Spanish) and programs like The Big Blue Test and No-Sugar Added Poetry. DHF offers information and support to more than 200,000 people around the world every month.

In March 2007, we started TuDiabetes because we saw that too many people with diabetes were feeling isolated instead of benefiting from the shared experience they could have by connecting to other people touched by diabetes.

Today, Diabetes Hands Foundation‘s networks allow members to find support locally and globally. Our more than 23,000 members describe the TuDiabetes family as a lifeline, a source of guidance, a sanctuary, and even a college education! We proudly connect advocates, artists, dreamers, thinkers, and people touched by diabetes of all types so that all of us may live a more expansive life with diabetes.

I sit back and reflect on where we were 5 years ago and where we are now:

  • I have learned to stay flexible, both about my diabetes (not pretending to be perfect) and in the way we do things on TuDiabetes and the Diabetes Hands Foundation (adapting to changing circumstances, challenges, and signals along the way).
  • I am more hopeful than ever: I have had the opportunity to talk with (and share the conversations on video) with some of the world’s most brilliant minds working to make our lives better and one day have diabetes be a thing of the past.
  • I have witnessed the power of social media beyond socializing: seeing how connected people touched by diabetes now feel better understood and more empowered. Who would have imagined this when MySpace was the big thing?

On our fifth birthday, please help us keep going strong in our mission to improve the lives of people living with diabetes worldwide.

If all members of TuDiabetes donate $5, we will raise more than $100,000. Our goal is less ambitious: we are seeking to raise $20,000 before the end of March. So we ask you to give us 5 dollars, or more if you can.

Thank you for your support! And here’s to another 5 years!


How Individuals Use Social Media to Personalize Medicine

By Joyce Ho

Social media in particular has revolutionized how patients and doctors interact with each other. Communication barriers are being broken with services like email, Twitter and Facebook. Getting access to trusted and peer-reviewed resources is easy, and finding a community of others going through similar disease experiences no longer requires joining a physical support group.

At Ning, several health-related groups have focused on implementing the best ways to harness the power of social media for medical purposes. The following are a few themes we picked up from our clients.


Learn to Live with Your Disease

Many Ning-supported medical and wellness websites give patients a platform to make their voices heard in a community of other users who understand and can provide support for the disease. One example of this is the blogging feature, which allows users to publish blog posts about anything on their minds. By allowing for constant reflection and feedback from others going through similar and shared experiences, these websites provide a positive space for users to explore how they and others live with this disease.

Tara is a member of®, a Ning website designed for diabetic patients to come together and share resources, get support, and help each other live with the disease. The following is an excerpt from her introductory blog post:

Hello, tudiabetes, I’m Tara.

I was diagnosed 6 months and 13 days ago with Type 1 Diabetes. I’m 22 years-old, work out on the regular, and no one in my family has ever had this disease so to say it came at a bit of a shock is an understatement. Diabetes wasn’t even on my radar, I’ve never known anyone with the disease and I knew next to absolutely nothing about it. But when the nurse checked my blood-sugar and a result of 579 came staring back at her, there was no question about it- I have diabetes…

As site creator Manny Hernandez explains, the idea for using social media for a greater good appealed to him, and after he was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, the idea dawned on him to create a community for diabetic patients, a site that has since been described as “Myspace on insulin.”

“In®, we write blog posts, exchange ideas in discussion forums, share photos of ourselves and our loved ones and videos that we find useful and informative,” wrote Hernandez on the Ning community.® offers a unique tool, TuAnalyze, that allows users to track their Hemoglobin A1C level. Hemoglobin A1C is a marker that gives patients an idea of how well they are performing with long-term blood sugar control. TuAnalyze, developed jointly with Children’s Hospital in Boston, gives users a tool to record, share and compare their own diabetes information against community aggregated data maps. Through this tool,® helps patients manage their disease, another way of helping them learn to live with their condition.

Connect and Receive Support

On December 1, 2011, a member on Living with TN posted that she was feeling nervous a few days before a Micro Vascular Decompression surgery, the gold standard surgical treatment for trigeminal neuralgia (TN). Within a few days, other members commented back, reassuring her of her choice in doctor and treatment, pointing her to more resources within the website.

This is just 1 example of how Ning sites are bringing people together to create collaborative communities supporting members going through similar experiences. The traditional support group has evolved into online forums, discussion boards, and chat platforms, allowing members to connect with others like themselves. Members can even send each other virtual “gifts” to other members at, a Ning site for members battling arteriovenous malformations, a disease of the blood vessels. These gifts consist of icons displayed on users’ profile pages and are meant to be signs of comfort and support.

The communities created through these Ning sites are also meant to provide sources of encouragement. A new campaign called the “Thrive Challenge” was recently started at Vega Community. Members post their work out and fitness goals for 2012 and beyond. By doing so, the community can continuously encourage members to keep on track with their targets and celebrate successes.

At Raw Food Rehab, a Ning site for individuals partaking in the raw foods diet, members can join different groups that the site lists as “rooms.” The rooms contain more specialized discussions on topics ranging from books, women’s health, tools and gadgets for making raw food, and more. One room is titled “The Chapel,” where members can post about prayer requests and discuss spiritual support. Though these discussions are not purely centered on raw food, these parts of the community connect like-minded people with similar goals for further conversation about various aspects of their lives.


Share and Access Resources

A common thread that links every health-related site on Ning is the wide availability of resources, either through forums and live chats or information packets available for download off these Ning communities.

From peers:

Forum discussions allow members to post information for sharing or frame informal questions for others on the site to answer 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Posted content depends on the nature of the website. For example, users have an outlet to recommend wig manufacturers and stores to buy wigs for individuals who have alopecia (hair loss) related to medical conditions. For patients allergic to gluten, Gluten-Free Faces provides a space to share tasty recipes from others suffering from the same condition.

Innovative ways to share information through media-rich features like pictures and videos give users more tools for communicating disease-specific knowledge. At®, videos demonstrate how to use certain types of insulin pumps much better than written manuals. Members can also post videos of themselves and their journey with diabetes, or inspiring speeches that help them with their treatment course.

From colleagues:

Information exchange is not only among patients – several Ning communities are centered on physician communication within the field. is a Ning site specifically created for social networking among medical students, residents, and physicians. Here, members of the medical community can ask their colleagues, in and out of their specialties, for advice on tough cases and share interesting clinical findings, instantly. Users also post about study tips for board certifications and medical school standardized exams. The ability to post media-rich content allows members in the medical field to share images of physical findings and videos highlighting different surgical techniques.

For, image sharing is especially important as the Ning site allows radiologists to ask colleagues advice about reading different types of films (X-rays, CT scans, MRI, etc.). This site offers unlimited storage space so doctors can upload images and files for consultation, and physicians can stay up-to-date with the latest radiology news and technology through forum discussions. By connecting physicians, Ning websites facilitate greater information sharing to better physician knowledge and, ultimately, patient care and health.


About Joyce Ho

Joyce Ho graduated from Stanford University with a BA degree in Human Biology. She is a third year medical student at the Stanford School of Medicine and is currently participating in the NBC News Fellowship in Media and Global Health. Read her blog or follow her on Twitter @MedGlobalHealth

Teens: Pushing the Migration to Mobile

This is the second in a two-part series by Ning’s Marketing intern, Nicholas O’Farrell, on teen mobile use. You can check out his earlier post on the basics of mobile in the teenage world.

To understand teen mobile use is to understand the teen mobile market. As a group, the teen sector is unique – while most mobile markets change as technology advances, the teen market depends on and transforms with the ever-changing interests of its teenage consumers. We typically hear about new things to check out from each other, and we’re less likely to sign up for a service or purchase something without having heard about it from a trusted friend. The endorsement of a mobile product by a peer is infinitely more valuable than advertisements on the Internet or TV. This is responsible for the perception that trends in the teen mobile market are so quick to emerge and expire – the transient nature of what is in high school vogue results in a market that is constantly transforming to keep up with its teen consumers.

Switching gears, as we hear talk of a shift to a “Post-PC world” and the mass migration from traditional computers to mobile devices like tablets and smartphones and the cloud, I’ve begun to consider the fact that teens may in part be driving this migration. While still pricey, tablets and smartphones, like the iPad and Android devices, do offer less expensive alternatives to computers and laptops for teens, a group that, as a whole, is not yet financially independent. These devices are more portable and convenient, and oftentimes easier to use than traditional PCs – think back to the teenagers and accessibility concept I highlight in the first part of this post.

As I see it, today’s most advanced mobile devices are so developed that they can serve as practical and realistic substitutes for the conventional computer. I use my iPhone 4 more than any other device – for communication, entertainment, school – anything and everything – and my use is more the norm than the exception. In truth, mobile is the future of consumer technology, and the fact that teenagers are so attracted to mobile’s accessibility, popularity, and connectivity may very well be a driving force behind the migration away from the traditional computer.

Post by Nicholas O’Farrell. Nicholas is a Marketing intern at Ning. Over the summer, he’s worked on a variety of projects with us, spanning from online community building for political organizations to working with Ning’s legal team and blogging for the company. A triplet and citizen of three countries, Nicholas enjoys reading, writing, traveling, skiing, and exploring new cultures and languages.

Interested in working at Ning? Learn more at!

“Generation Z” or “Generation Mobile”?

This is the first in a two-part series by Ning’s Marketing intern, Nicholas O’Farrell, on teenage mobile use. Stay tuned for his Friday post about the teen mobile market and their role in the migration to mobile.

In many ways, “mobile” is a teenage concept. From its beginnings in the 1970s to the 3G and 4G networks used today by the likes of Verizon, AT&T, Vodafone, Vivo, Orange and T-Mobile, it has experienced much of the same physical and conceptual growth that teenagers undergo to become adults. In fact, mobile’s foundation was laid with the introduction of earlier mobile technology in 1991 – coincidentally the year today’s oldest teenagers, now 19, were born – and the technology has boomed ever since. Growing alongside today’s teens, mobile has become one of the defining technologies of Generation Z (people born between 1991-2010), so much so that the generation – my generation – might be more aptly named Generation Mobile.

While teen mobile use appears complex, it boils down to 3 vital characteristics. A service that incorporates all 3 of these attributes into its mobile product is more likely to have a large teen base:

  1. Accessibility: If it’s not easy and fast to use, teenagers will not use it.
  2. The most important motivation for teens to use and continue using a mobile service is ease of use. It’s one of the reasons for the massive popularity among teenagers of Facebook’s mobile app and texting – communication services like these are quick to learn, easy to use, and offer instant gratification.

  3. Popularity: If it’s not popular, there will be a limited teenage use base.
  4. It’s no surprise that the percentage of teens owning cell phones increased 15 times between 2000 and 2010 (from 5% of the teenage population owning in 2000 to 75% of teens owning in 2010. Mobile use amongst teens, like many other things in middle and high school, is driven by the notion that “if everybody else has it, you have to have it too.” No, it’s not traditional peer pressure – it’s the feeling that if you don’t have something, you’re missing out!

  5. Connectivity: If it can build on established online connections, it’s even more appealing.
  6. Having come of age during the era of social networking and online sharing, many of us now look for mobile services integrating with the many accounts we already use, such as Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Zynga. We want mobile apps that allow us to chat with our Facebook friends, our AIM buddies, and friends still tied to SMS. Mogwee takes this idea and merges its interactive social tools to create a fun and quirky multi-platform group communication mobile service. Now I can use one app to interact and connect with my friends, all from the palm of my hand — it’s this all-in-one mobile connectivity that teenagers crave.

Check the Ning Blog on Friday for the second half as Nicholas discusses the teen mobile market and teens’ role in the migration to mobile.

Post by Nicholas O’Farrell. Nicholas is a Marketing intern at Ning. Over the summer, he’s worked on a variety of projects with us, spanning from online community building for political organizations to working with Ning’s legal team and blogging for the company. A triplet and citizen of three countries, Nicholas enjoys reading, writing, traveling, skiing, and exploring new cultures and languages.

Interested in working at Ning? Learn more at!

4th of July: Having an Explosive Impact

As summer swings into full gear and the 4th of July fast approaches, communities across the nation are preparing to host Independence Day celebrations. From Maine to California, Americans all over are getting ready for barbecues, parades and outdoor gatherings not so different from the first July 4 celebration in 1777. In Hawaii, one community is preparing for an epic fireworks display – volunteers are raising $60,000 for the Kailua Fireworks show. Since funding for the show was cut in 2009, local businesses and community members have taken it upon themselves to raise money to keep their fireworks tradition alive. In 2010, community organizer Brook Gramann brought the fundraising effort online, and their Ning Network was born – Kailua Fireworks.

The community serves as an online hub for its explosive endeavor, highlighting pictures and videos of past displays and ways to fundraise. Members can donate to the fireworks fund or buy Kailua coupon books, read press excerpts about successful past shows, and get updates on the race to $60,000. While Kailua Fireworks focuses on the financial aspect of the show, the emotional and traditional is just as meaningful, as described on the Kailua coupon book:

The 4th of July Fireworks in Kailua not only light up the sky and the hearts of our community, but also remind us of what it means to be an American. They give us a shimmering light of hope for a bright future. Fireworks unite families and our community under the mutual goals of being together, celebrating freedom, and seeing the night sky in all its glory.

As of July 1, Kailua Fireworks has raised over $34,000 and we’re excited to track their progress over the next few days as they gear up for their big 4th of July show. If you’d like help them out, please visit Kailua Fireworks’ donation page.

Post by Nicholas O’Farrell. Nicholas is a Marketing intern at Ning. Over the summer, he’s worked on a variety of projects with us, spanning from online community building for political organizations to working with Ning’s legal team and blogging for the company. A triplet and citizen of three countries, Nicholas enjoys reading, writing, traveling, skiing, and exploring new cultures and languages.

Interested in working at Ning? Learn more at!

SheCon’11 and the trail-blazing women of the Web

Whenever I am surrounded by women of the Web, I am impressed with how they leverage new digital products and services to enrich their lives and to help other women succeed in digital channels. This spirit of innovation and collaboration was especially noticeable at SheCon’11 and defined the tone and the energy of the conference in Miami this May 20-22.

The event was packed with trail-blazing women like Eleanor Hoh, aka Wokstar, who is using her blog, Twitter profile and YouTube channel to teach people that cooking is easy and that, with a few basic wok lessons, you can prepare quick, healthy meals without even glancing at a recipe.

One of my favorite speakers was Rosie Pope, the pre- and post-natal fashion icon who’s now the star of Bravo TV’s hit Pregnant in Heels. Rosie explained how she is using her Facebook page, blog, Twitter and guest blogging opportunities to capitalize on her newfound fame and audience. She said that her Facebook page has allowed her “to design into her clientele versus dictating over them, “ which I think is a pretty profound change in how clothes being designed. She can clearly see that different demographics and people from different parts of the U.S. want different things from their maternity fashions.

I met Terry Wheatley, founder of #winesister of the @winesisterhood, and CMO/Partner at Canopy Management. Terry is a brilliant brand developer of wines; she is focused on community-building and she wants women to feel empowered while sharing a glass of wine. She spends a good portion of her marketing resources building the Wine Sisterhood following on Facebook and ensuring the Wine Sisterhood website is full of easy-to-read information on wine.

Terry organized a Sassy Suite each evening so that we could all meet, mingle and enjoy a few great wines with intriguing names like Rebel Red and Promiscuous while taking turns getting hand massages from a professional masseuse. (Yes, attending conferences is hard work.)

This is truly an amazing community of women. I’m grateful that we have both a physical community of SheCon events and a digital SheCon community on Ning to keep in touch and share information on the ways digital is helping us improve our lives. I’m proud to be a member of this community, and I strive to be a member who harnesses the power of digital not just to improve my own life but to enable other women to thrive. I hope all of you will reach out to me on the network on my profile.

SheCon official Ning Community

Rachel Masters is a partner and co-founder of Red Magnet Media. Before co-founding Red Magnet Media, Rachel was the Vice President of Strategic Relationships at Ning, a social networking platform with more than two million individual social networks. At Ning, Rachel managed over 300 branded social networks with partners like 50 Cent, Red Light Management and The Collective.

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.

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.

Constant Contact and Ning Together Make for a More Social Web Experience

At Constant Contact, we’ve been heavily focused on integrating the power of social media into our suite of products. We know it’s increasingly important for our small-business customers to have a robust social media marketing strategy in place, one that will deliver results. That last part is key: How can an organization use social media in a way that delivers something tangible to its holistic online marketing efforts? Well, we are happy to say that we have an answer — the integration of Ning with Constant Contact. We are simply delighted to partner with the pioneer and leader in social websites.

Ning is an incredible tool for creating your own social media hub that can be used to raise awareness, solicit donations, and organize powerful groups of like-minded people for a cause. With the integration of Constant Contact, Ning Creators can now simply and effectively reach out to their network with newsletters, sales promotions, event invitations, and more. Conversely, Constant Contact customers can now create a Ning Network, instantly adding a social experience for conversation between customers and enabling sharing content across all major social networking platforms.

Ning Creators looking to start using Constant Contact can find a lot of helpful information, webinars, and other resources for getting started on our website. I’d like to share a few of my personal favorite best practices for using our Email and Event Marketing products:

  1. Create and send interesting content. This can be a piece of news from your organization, a case study from a customer, or a valuable offer. Remember, your communication is only valuable to you if someone opens and reads it.
  2. Carefully maintain your list. Email marketing only works when you have a completely permission-based community. You should always make sure to have a clear place to unsubscribe, which, if you provide the valuable content discussed above, will rarely be used.
  3. Integrate social media with event marketing for optimal event management. While social tools let you communicate throughout the event, our Event Marketing product lets you create an event homepage, send personalized invitations, effectively manage the guest list, encourage attendees to share your event, and drive better attendance.

We’re excited to hear your success stories using Ning with Constant Contact, and we encourage you to share them with the Constant Contact community.

— Steve Johnson, Vice President, Constant Contact