Category Archives: General

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

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. A jolly atmosphere that reflects shifts in your real-world environment creates new potential to bridge this lull and may even boost engagement in your community. Give members a reason to spread the joy with you.

Brick and mortar establishments don’t have a monopoly on holiday decorations. You can break out the twinkly lights, poinsettias and dreidels and set your online community ablaze with winter warmth and merriment.

Consider your community, however—you’ll want to update the look of your network in a way that adds holiday spirit but doesn’t overshadow your members’ main reason for visiting. Adding animated auto-play carolers to the main page could scare some people off, but including a festive banner, virtual mistletoe or twinkly lights can be charming and memorable.

Ning Network holiday design main page CSS and JavaScript

Twinkly lights with CSS

Ning Superstar soaringeagle shared the following CSS code that you can use to make twinkly lights brighten up your community.

#xn_bar,.xg_theme .xg_module_head {background-image:url(“”);background-repeat:repeat-x;}

See the festive holiday decoration live here.

Snowstorm with JavaScript

Scott Schillman has been “bringing snow to the web since 2003.” Even if you’re in Australia this December, you can enjoy a light snowfall with Schillman’s JavaScript hack. To add the snow effect to your network, you’ll need to upload the original file, grab the new URL for the snowstorm, paste it into the code (see below), and then add that code to the Custom Code section on the dashboard of your network. If this sounds complicated, head to our Creators community for some extra guidance.

<script type=”text/javascript” src=”Replace-this-text-with-the-snowstorm-URL”></script>

Seasonal header or banner images

Don’t want to introduce a cold front or controlled blizzard into your community? You’ve got options! You can pack quite a holiday punch into a banner or redesigned header image.

If you’re not already using the Instant Ad Boxes on your network, you can repurpose them for just about anything—holiday banners included. The Instant Ad Boxes are as versatile as a text box and up to three times as wide. To open up space above and below the header on your network, head to Dashboard > Settings > Features Layout. The, check the box(es) next to Instant Ad Boxes (at the bottom of the page) and click “Save.”

Next, you’ll need to find your holly jolly imagery. Creative Commons has a great search tool that will help you find images licensed for commercial reuse and modification. Christmas Stock Images is another helpful resource this time of year. If you want these graphics to stretch across the width of the page, resize them to 960px.

You can thread season’s greetings throughout your community by adding similarly themed images to text boxes elsewhere on the main page. Or, maybe try this: Update the default member profile image to a snowman.

Holiday-themed discussions

Invite your members to share tidbits of their own. Most embarrassing holiday moments? Most magnificent holiday moments? Favorite holiday cookie recipes? Point visitors to these timely discussions by linking directly to them from a text box on the main page. If you’ve already got a tight-knit group, you can use the Forum or a Message Broadcast to start a gift exchange or mobilize a charitable event.

When you’re taking down the decorations this year, leave a little something behind. The new year is a great opportunity to thank all your members for making the community what it is today. You can hang a ‘Best Wishes’ note to express your gratitude and issue one more gesture of good will before it’s back to business as usual.

Custom NingBot holiday cards

Head to to assemble your own NingBot holiday card. Choose a backdrop and dress up your NingBot with a rosy nose, elf shoes, a corncob pipe, nerdy glasses, angel wings, bunny slippers…the list goes on. Include a personal note and send season’s greetings to friends and loved ones who make your spirit bright.

Happy holidays!

Images courtesy of sammydavisdog and Christmas Stock Images

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!

Ning Creators are no exception. While Ning offers a built-in version of every Ning Network that’s optimized for mobile devices, some communities can really benefit from having their own dedicated iPhone or Android app. If you have special branding needs or want to use the Ning API to do something unique, a dedicated app from our partner ShoutEm may be the way to go. Their platform allows just about anyone to make a beautiful iPhone or Android app without being a coding wizard.

Thinking of going the extra step and creating a dedicated iPhone or Android app for your own community? Want to see some examples of these apps in action? We’ve heard a number of requests from customers for examples of ShoutEm-created apps, so I’ve put together a few that will give people an idea of how Ning Creators are using ShoutEm to occupy the all-important real estate on mobile phones that is the dedicated app. Feel free to download these apps and try them out yourself. You should be able to access any public-facing pages as a visitor.

This Is 50: Exclusive Content + In-App Ads = Added Revenue

If you’re not just running a community but also building a brand, you probably want your mobile experience to match the look and feel of your site, your logo, etc. If you’re the type of person who knows the exact color of your logo down to the hex code color #, a custom app might be what you need to make sure your presentation is perfectly realized.

ThisIs50 is this type of brand. His team just built a brand-new app with ShoutEm that does a few neat things that builds on the brand while enriching the pocketbook:

  • The app offered early access to stream an exclusive snippet of the lead single from his upcoming album.
  • They include all kinds of rich video content to supplement the already attractive music content.
  • They’re running advertising directly in the app. Not just Google Ads, but visually rich Glam ads.
  • They’ve included deeper event integration. This is surely a good complement to a phone app’s ability to buzz out app notifications when members need to hear about something important.

Want to check out ThisIs50’s new app first-hand? Download it from the Apple App Store or get the Android version from Google Play.

GovLoop: Streaming Community News & Views

Ning Creators who have created their own iPhone apps with ShoutEm usually want an app that simply does more. Maybe you have a community that uses one or two features extensively and you need those features to have some extra options. Maybe you want to pull in some data about your members that exists on the desktop version of your site but not on the default mobile interface. Or, maybe you have something even more unique in mind. When you create an app with ShoutEm, you’re accessing the Ning API directly, which gives you many more options than you’ll see on your default mobile version.

Case in point: GovLoop. They have a wonderful iPhone app that offers something very unique: not just relevant news but streaming podcasting for on-the-go listening. What’s really neat about this ShoutEm integration is that they’ve combined more than one service on their iPhone app to create these podcasts. They’re streaming Soundcloud files and pulling in Ning data into the same iPhone app, and it works seamlessly. It’s a great-looking app that has some of the best content from their Ning site. Not just podcasting, but the news and discussions and blog posts that drive their particular community.

Browse around their public community with their dedicated iPhone app.

Trucker Social: Now, *That’s* Mobile

We’re hard pressed to think of a Ning community more mobile than Trucker Social. It makes total sense for them to have a dedicated iPhone app. Their members probably rely on accessing the Internet from their smartphones way more than they do on a laptop over Wi-Fi or a dedicated desktop computer.

They’ve really created a unique app with their ShoutEm/Ning integration. They offer what you might expect: member interaction and a feed of activity from their desktop site. But, they’ve gone a lot further and are offering content that really is tailor-made for their community: the latest trucker-related news, trucker job listings, and geolocation features to help their members spot nearby food options, shopping opportunities, entertainment choices — you name it. Dial up the nearest truck stop, get directions, and even see who’s tweeting nearby. Want to check in when you get there? This dedicated app offers full-featured geolocation-friendly social networking.

Download their iPhone app and see for yourself.

Those are just a few of the ShoutEm apps we’ve seen being created by Ning customers. Let us know if you’ve created one for your community.

Want your own? ShoutEm doesn’t require you to deal with any of the technical aspects of compiling and submitting apps, and you don’t even have to enter a credit card to get started. Just enter your Ning Pro API Key and start choosing which features you want to include in your app. When you’re ready to publish, pick a monthly plan that suits your needs.

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.

Tweet, Like and +1 refresher! Driving traffic to your Ning Network

In a new report by SEO firm, BrightEdge, they reveal that having the Twitter share button on a website can help drive up to 7x more exposure via social media channels.

By their very nature, communities on the Ning Platform are social. And to drive social growth and interactions, we’ve long advocated for using social sharing tools baked right into your Ning Network. Most notably, you and your members have the option to use Twitter’s Tweet, Facebook’s Like, and now Google+ buttons to any piece of content appearing on your Plus or Pro Ning Network. With these features, you and your members can post content directly from your Ning Network to their Twitter, Facebook and Google+ streams – sharing with their friends, connections and the world.

To review and update which sharing tools you’re taking advantage of, head to your My Network tab. Under “Settings” select “Features.” Within the “Share Links” sections you’ll see a list of available share buttons and links.

While we’ve made it easy for you and your members to share this content, it’s just as important to have content that’s worth sharing. Do you have any examples of stellar content? We’d love to see your most Tweet-worthy and Likeable content posted by you and your members.

Tweet & Like buttons on My Modern Met:
My Modern Met

Content Liked from My Modern Met appearing in a Facebook stream: