Category Archives: General

How User Guidelines Help Your Community

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.

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Decorating Your Online Community for the Holidays

If you run an online community, what are you doing to mark the season? The last candle of the Menorah will be lit on Saturday, and many are eagerly awaiting a visit from St. Nick. Historically, there is a sharp downturn in web traffic for non-ecommerce websites around Christmas time.

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Talking Politics, Voting with Confidence

The debates are over and there’s just under a week until the U.S. makes its decision at the polls. More than 19 million people have already voted, either by mail or in person. But states including New York, Connecticut and New Jersey may have less of a voter turnout than originally thought due to Hurricane Sandy, and there’s even been a call for President Obama to postpone the elections. Since that’s unlikely to happen, now is a good time to ask yourself: Are you prepared to vote?

One of the best ways to ready yourself for the voting booth is to study up and get familiar with local and national issues. Voter guides are helpful, but nothing beats discussion and debate. Online communities can be an ideal place to get a better grasp on the policies up for debate in this election.


We’ve heard a lot about taxes, the economy, jobs, Big Bird, and reproductive rights this election, but issues like climate change, the housing market, gun control, immigration, Medicaid, the war on drugs, foreign policy and the Euro crisis have gotten short shrift during the campaign. And then, of course, there are state issues to consider.

Ning communities can help you discover how certain policies might change in the coming years and how new government proposals could directly affect you and your neighbors. The Concord Square hosts discussions on the the economy and jobs, for example, and promises to get you up to speed on budget and deficit issues. Smart Girl Politics, a political network for conservative women, live streamed the debates and hosts an active chat room where members can discuss the issues in real-time. The First Coast Tea Party is counting down to election time and firing up its members by organizing local action groups to canvas and get out the vote. GovLoop, a popular network that connects government professionals and inspires public service, is currently discussing topics that run the gamut from social media policy for political professionals to new opportunities in public service and everything in between.

Connecting readers to resources and leading conversations that result in meaningful action is a trademark of many online communities, whether they are political by nature or embrace this theme seasonally. Wherever you are and whatever you’re looking for, don’t be afraid to join the conversation and broaden your perspective. And however you choose to vote, make sure you get out there and do it!

Images courtesy of Cain and Todd BensonDave Hosford and robertpalmer via Flickr

Make an iPhone or Android App for Your Ning Network with ShoutEm

All those little apps on your phone are huge!

How huge? The Apple App Store reached a massive milestone this summer: They’ve served up over 30 billion apps to consumers. Of course, that’s just the apps that have been downloaded to Apple devices. Throw in Android and BlackBerry and other platforms, and it’s clear that the entire world has gone app crazy in the four years since the Apple App Store opened the door for everyone. People love them apps!

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What does it take to nurture and build a community?

In January, I was asked to go back to my alma mater, Colgate University, to speak to students about what it’s like to work in the social media space. Before I dive into the details, I’ll take a step back and say that much like many of the communities built on Ning today, Colgate is a close-knit and hyper-passionate community of people, so the chance to share my story and experiences working at Ning and Glam Media was something I couldn’t pass up.

©2012 Colgate University / Andrew M. Daddio.

Sian-Pierre Regis of Swagger New York (left) and Jason Rand, Ning & Glam Media. ©2012 Colgate University / Andrew M. Daddio.

A number of alumni also speaking at Colgate work in the social media and community-building space, and I wanted to hear their perspectives on creating and managing successful communities — something that’s definitely on the minds of Ning Creators and Glam Publishers. Sian-Pierre Regis, a classmate of mine, has created a media empire through his street lifestyle site, Swagger New York. Swagger introduces readers to the people, the music and the trends that are hot in New York. And they’re expanding to cover everything from news to fashion to technology to culture. Coincidentally, Swagger is also a Glam Publisher, meaning that premium brand advertisers can reach Swagger’s trendsetting community in authentic and engaging ways.

I also met with Matt Hames, Colgate’s Manager of Media Communications. His job entails managing Colgate’s digital presence and reaching out to people to showcase Colgate’s offerings as a nationally-renowned learning institute. He’s also an avid competitive curler, and leads a private Ning Network for the sport.

For all intents and purposes, Matt and Sian-Pierre are community managers at the helm of building recognition for a brand. For Matt, it’s Colgate University, and for Sian-Pierre it’s Swagger New York. More generally, they’re focused on bringing people together to share their excitement for something. This is the exact thing we see our Glam Publishers and Ning Creators doing everyday. Given their leadership, I asked Sian-Pierre and Matt to discuss their approach in building successful communities, and the things they’re doing to yield engagement, lively conversation, and valuable and impactful relationships.

How have you gone about building successful online communities?

Sian-Pierre: I have a very strong vision for the brand, and have always maintained that if the brand came off as cool, smart, different and YOUNG that Gen-Y’ers would stick by us. And they have. Through our Facebook channel specifically we have an intimate relationship with over 125k people, writing back to them when they comment, liking their posts and genuinely showing an interest in their personalities, loves, dislikes, etc. We’ve been able to get brand evangelists who have reblogged us or hyped us up with international press outlets, etc. We even used three of our fans in a GILT Man campaign, so our followers feel like they are actually a part of something bigger.

Matt: The first step is to decide what value the product or service can offer in return. It can simply be “getting people who are fans of this” into one place. Or it can be the exchange of ideas. There needs to be a thing that people get out of joining the community.

What was your uh-huh moment that an online community was not only important, but necessary?

Matt: Unlike a marketing campaign designed to get people to think a certain way about a brand, a community can be harnessed to continually learn about fans and members. Part focus group, part evangelists, this is the first time brands can give back to their best customers while giving them a voice.

What advice do you have for community organizers looking to get started?

Sian-Pierre: No one’s watching you when you start. So just start. And then build every day until you’ve got your identity…and then ATTACK.

Matt: Try to learn what your best customers/supporters want or like. They will be the beginning of your community. Learn from them. Also, they self-identify as fans. Try to let them as far inside as possible. Show them the making of TV spots. Give them access to important people.

How are you measuring success?

Sian-Pierre: Up until this point, I measured success in visual quality of the brand, press mentions, all the more superficial stuff. Now, it’s engagement, and website traffic. The fact is, if your fans and members aren’t engaged then your brand isn’t really marketable.

Matt: Good question: we’re setting some initial goals on the Facebook page. One is to attract more current students, so we’ll compare that age group’s growth in stats.

Measurement starts with specific goals. Attract more students to Facebook. Use Google+ to attract more international students. Get people who come to to engage in social media.

Facebook fans and Twitter followers are important – what’s the next step beyond getting these likes and followers?

Sian-Pierre: Taking them off Facebook and Twitter and having them live on your own site.

Matt: Involve them. Most other advertising (for example, Super Bowl TV spots) tries to entertain people. Social media needs to involve people in the inner workings of the brand or organization. Let them see as far under the hood as possible.

How do you weave all the conversations together happening across the web about your brand?

Sian-Pierre: We try and interweave all the conversations together by referencing what’s happening on our other channels and driving people between where we have a presence.

Matt: First listen. Find out where people are and what they are saying and get involved.

How do you reward your community or active individuals contributing?

Matt: People like stuff. But more importantly, they like an inside look at stuff.

How do you keep people engaged and coming back to your community?

Sian-Pierre: Showing up every day, giving them what they tell us they want through their comments, and building the community with their guidance.

Matt: Work at giving them a reason to come back. Content. Think about the goals – who you want to attract and why you want to attract them. If you can answer that, you will have an idea how to engage them.

I like to think about the community in real life. If all those people were standing in a room, what would I tell them? How would I get them talking? How often will I talk?

Then, I do what I can to plan what I’ll say.

Proposed Legislation Threatens the Web

We’re writing as a company today to express our concerns with a couple legislative bills currently being debated in Congress (the “Protect IP Act” and the “Stop Online Piracy Act” (SOPA). Much has been written, many have opposed, but the beat goes on. We think this kind of legislation is a big deal that doesn’t come around often. Here’s why:

As background, these bills would give the US government and private individuals additional enforcement tools to combat websites that may be engaged in copyright infringement or counterfeiting. The goal is clearly well meaning—online infringement is a serious issue that demands serious enforcement. As with many things, however, the devil is in how the goal will be accomplished. In summary, court orders can be sought against any website (wherever located) that is believed to be engaging in online infringement. If an order issues, payment providers and advertising networks can be barred from doing business with the site, search engines must stop returning results for the site and domain name servers would need to blacklist access to the site’s domain name.

Even after Congressional revision last month, the current bills remain extremely broad. Legitimate websites can be put on an “American blacklist” without warning or an opportunity to defend themselves (whether that blacklist would even be effective at stopping traffic to an offending site is a whole other issue). A single complaint could trigger a blacklist, with the burden of proof on that website to get itself unblocked. This could lead to unprecedented monitoring of websites, subject to individual judgment (read: censorship). Here at Ning, we don’t think our Network Creators should be subjected to that kind of policy.

This would be a radical restructuring of Internet law. Oodles of unproductive and time-consuming litigation would arise to challenge and interpret the bills. We think it’s necessary to have a careful, broad-based debate on more targeted and effective measures for combating online IP infringement.

Here’s what you can do: Learn more, join the fight. Contact your Representative or Senator and tell them to oppose these bills. These bills are being debated again when Congress returns to session in late January. Or just use the power of social media—you can make a difference.

A Very Mogwee Thanksgiving

As people in the United States prepare to spend time with their families for Thanksgiving, Mogwee is here to help coordinate the hustle and bustle. Here are a few ways to make good use of Mogwee this week:

  • Make a family Hangout to coordinate plans, share shopping lists and post real-time photos with relatives that can’t make it to the feast.
  • Picking people up? Make things easier with the “Share a Location” feature.
  • Can’t decide what side dishes to serve? Make a quick poll to settle things.
  • Get everyone in the spirit by sharing some classic Thanksgiving-themed YouTube videos. Here’s one to get you started.

Mogwee is free, and you can get started in seconds using your iPhone, iPod touch, iPad, Android device or the Web. Have a great holiday!

A social community to encourage social good: 4 steps to fundraising and spreading the word about your cause

Movember is a month-long event raising awareness and funds for men’s health issues, such as prostate cancer. Men of all ages are growing out their facial hair to raise awareness. Zaniness aside, donning some scruff in November sparks the conversation and gets people thinking about the health issues affecting millions each year.

During Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October, we highlighted the Ning Community, The Pink Daisy Project, which helps and supports women going through breast cancer treatment. We spoke at length with Ning Creator Debbie Cantwell about her experience in building the community, fundraising and helping women afflicted by breast cancer.

This got us thinking… What is the recipe for building and supporting fundraising drives and initiatives by non-profit organizations, do-gooders, and even everyday Joe Schmoes? It’s clear the Internet is now a driving force for causes, initiatives and passion projects, encouraging volunteerism and bettering real-world communities around the globe; How are people using democratized technology like the web to make the world a better place?

So, we wanted to dive into the bread-and-butter ways people are using their Ning communities to turn projects and initiatives into positive and tangible realities.

1. Make a personal appeal
In one way or another, you’ve likely been touched by the cause you’re promoting and raising funds to support. Telling your story about why it’s important to you makes it personal and humanizes your mission. Share your personal story with your circle of friends and acquaintances, and make it accessible to everyone. Personal stories strike an accord with people, in turn giving others the strength to share their own stories and how they’ve been affected – soliciting both positive feedback, and a continuous loop to promoting the cause to others through more story telling and sharing.

One way to tell your story is put it in a blog post, or in the main section where you’re promoting your cause through your Ning community. Incorporate text, photos, videos, sound bites and links to news clips or prevalent information. This weaves your story into something that can be consumed by anyone.

2. Make it easy for people to contribute and donate
Whether your goal is generating awareness, fundraising, or something else, you want to make it easy and straightforward for people to engage with your cause. Your Ning community makes it easy for anyone to join, post and share. If you have social-in enabled, people can join and post with their Facebook, Yahoo!, Twitter or Google identities, removing the need to remember another screen name, account or password.

Collecting donations should also be frictionless. To collect donations, you can create a donate page on your Ning Community, or add a direct link to donation and payment services at your disposal, like StayClassy and PayPal. Ning offers an integrated Donate App that lives within your community, and facilitates direct donations to your organization’s PayPal account. Use Ning’s Paid Access add-on feature to solicit donations in exchange for access to special sections or content within your Ning community.

3. Thank your biggest supporters
Everyone likes to be acknowledged or thanked, and doing so can be done in an authentic way, in just a matter of clicks. Post links to stories people have shared with you, or highlight the financial generosity of others by posting a link to the donor or the donating organization, solicit feedback from your community – all within your Ning Network. You can also send community-wide email messages to tip your hat to contributors.

Others will see your shout-outs and thanks to donors and contributors, encouraging them to pay it forward by taking similar actions like contributing to your cause.

4. Partner with like-minded organizations and people
You’re likely not the only person or group supporting the same cause – especially if you’ve built a bustling destination with supporters joining as members! Connecting with allies and partners affords you more opportunities to spread the word about your efforts and further raise awareness.

Through partnerships, you’ll also be helping in the success of others with the same goals as yourself. To achieve this, cross-sharing stories, content, pulling in RSS feeds, events and meet-ups can create multiple touch-points for the cause and allows people to engage with your organization in the ways they’re most comfortable. Casting a larger net from an audience through outside parties and social channels like blogs, Facebook pages and Twitter streams can turn a scattering of likeminded people into a critical mass of social good.

Have you applied the above steps for social good through your Ning community? What’s worked for your cause? Let us know in the comments.

Ning in the education department: The writing’s on the blackboard

As educators and students head back to school, we wanted to highlight a few ways Ning is used in the classroom as an e-learning tool. The goal with any community is to foster and drive conversation and learning, in meaningful and engaging ways, bridging the online conversations with the real world ones happening in the classroom.

We’ve heard that students and teachers really like the social aspects of services like Facebook, yet want a separation from their Facebook identity when it comes to the classroom and learning. The beauty with a Ning Network is that every student (and teacher) has their own profile page, showing their Latest Activity and content posted, blogs and discussions within the Ning Network. The profile is specific to the community, separate from their online identity elsewhere and is a safe way to share within the comforts of their Ning Network. Ning Creators can add profile questions that students can answer – helping students get to know each other.

Since the layout and features used is totally customizable, posting a course syllabus or weekly assignments on the Main page, which all members see upon signing in, is an easy way to disseminate and share information with students.

A discussion forum using a media-rich embed from SoundCloud to listen to music

As we highlighted in the Ning POV, Forums is our most popular feature, and offers educators a great deal of flexibility in terms of how to structure the conversations for classes, lectures and sections. We’ve seen specific discussions based on readings or assignments, and we’ve seen students create their own discussion topics based on general themes and topics, allowing them to dive into threaded or chronological debates with peers, sharing various points of view, and bringing that conversation along with them into the classroom. Discussion starters and anyone responding can embed media-rich content such as YouTube videos, podcasts, music, images, and links to cited sources across the web.

We recently came across a Ning Network for art classes at Yarmouth High School in Maine. Students are using the community to upload their artwork, turn in assignments and cross-share their work with students in China. The end result is a repository of student work, open discussions, and transnational learning: