Category Archives: Your Ning Network

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.

Grow Your Ning Network with Competitive Spirit and Creative Juices

If you’ve ever watched Project Runway, The Devil Wears Prada, or have been to a Barneys sample sale, you know that for many people around the world, fashion is king. Couple this passion with the dream of getting your 15 minutes of fame, and you’ve got yourself a competition that’s sure to cause a flurry of activity and drive engagement on your Ning Network.

On Ning Creators, we learned about Milagros Baerga and her Ning Network, Festiva, a Puerto Rican-based online magazine focused on being the go-to source for all things party-related. The magazine covers catering services, equipment rentals, party-planning specialists, industry professionals, and fashion resources.

Festiva is holding a contest, searching for the new Quinceañera cover girl for an upcoming Festiva issue. Since the contest launched, more than 3,000 new members joined in just 10 days to vote and Like their favorite photos from more than 80 girls vying for the cover!

Based on Festiva’s success and growth, and the wisdom from Ning Creators with similar contest success stories, here are 3 tips for creating a contest to increase activity and engagement, and to get new people coming to your Ning Network:

  1. Give incentive to members for spreading the word and encouraging friends to sign up for the contest. Providing exclusive content to or inviting your members to new sections of your Ning Network is a sure-fire way to get people recruiting their friends to join and sharing with them. If you have Twitter and Facebook sharing turned on, members can share the contest across their social graph and publicize your Ning Network for you in just one click!
  2. Highlight your contest everywhere on your Ning Network, making it easy for people to learn about the contest and get involved. Adding a “slider” to your Main page, or adding the call to action in an instant ad or text box takes just a few minutes to set up, and ensures your members will see it when they visit your Ning Network.
  3. Featuring members is a fun way to turn up the competitive dial and lets you easily show your appreciation for your members. A featured member will appear at the top of the Members page, and if you have the Members box appearing on the Main page, you can set it so that only featured members appear. You can use the Language Editor to customize the text relating to featuring members. When a member is featured, they’re notified via email, if they have email notifications turned on. You can also feature various types of content, such as photos, videos and blog posts.

Congratulations to Festiva! Have you seen growth like this on your Ning Network or run any contests? Share your success on Ning Creators – we’d love to hear from you!

Phone Support for Ning Pro and Other Additions to Ning Customer Service

I’m excited to announce several major improvements to how we support you with questions and issues as you launch, grow and manage your communities on the Ning platform. Over the last six months, we’ve made significant investment in customer service. We’ve expanded our advocacy team by 200%, maintaining the same high standards for product knowledge, technical troubleshooting and customer service. As we expanded the team, we rolled out new levels of support for you:

  1. Phone support for all billing questions and issues, including cancellations. When we are dealing with your money and you have an issue, we understand that you need to resolve it immediately. Since we rolled out billing phone support in April, we’ve helped over 2,000 Ning Creators. If you have a billing-related question, call us 9 am – 5 pm Pacific time, Monday through Friday. You can find the billing phone number by signing in to – the same location where all of your account information is located (including downloadable invoices).
  2. Dedicated phone support for Ning Pro customers. We assembled an elite team of our advocates and rolled out this service in May. Since we launched that service, we’ve already heard from several hundred Ning Pro customers, and our team is really enjoying getting to know them and their Ning Networks on a more in-depth level. Pro phone support is available 9 am – 5 pm Pacific time, Monday through Friday. If you are a Ning Pro customer, you can find the phone number by going to your network Dashboard, clicking on the “Support” link at the bottom left, then clicking “Contact Support.” We look forward to hearing from you soon!
  3. Email support for Ning Mini customers. When we launched Ning Mini last summer, we offered Mini Ning Creators community-based support. Since then, we’ve heard loud and clear that this wasn’t enough for many of you – you need more responsive, higher-quality service.  The launch of billing-related phone support in April was a big improvement for your payment and subscription questions, and several weeks ago we launched Mini email support for all other questions and issues. Just go to your network Dashboard, click on the “Support” link at the bottom left, then click “Contact Support” to submit your request.
  4. Welcome calls for new customers. Beginning in January, we started calling customers who recently created a new network to offer tips and help with any questions or issues they might have. We don’t reach every new Ning Creator – we’re not reaching accounts without a valid phone number or those who aren’t home when we call — but we’ve gotten a great reception from new customers to whom we’ve spoken. We plan to continue to ramp-up new trial and new subscription coaching over the next few months. If your phone rings and you see “Ning” as the Caller ID, please pick up!

We will continue to expand and refine how we help each of you with your Ning Network. To help us focus on services that will most help you, please give us feedback. We’ve sent out four surveys over the last eight months to Ning Creators who have contacted our support team. Your feedback is incredibly valuable and helps us deliver even better service. So, if you get a survey, please answer it.

Thank you for building your community on Ning. We look forward to helping you out soon!

Ning Design Studio & Instant Ad Boxes Are Live!

Over the last few weeks, we’ve gotten incredible feedback from 500+ Ning Creators on the Ning Design Studio. Today, we’re thrilled to make the Ning Design Studio available to everyone — you can enable it from the Ning Labs page.

Enabling the Ning Design Studio gives you access to these features:

  • Choose from 50+ hot new themes at launch
  • See a live preview of changes as you make them
  • Set a 2- or 3-column layout and choose navigation and sidebar locations
  • Tweak 80 dials and knobs for your site appearance
  • Re-publish any other theme you’ve used in the past
  • Access Developer Mode, where design gurus can access the Ning CSS and create their own themes

Here are just a few great ways Creators are already using the Ning Design Studio:

Everything about the Ning Design Studio is 100% opt-in. If your Ning Network already looks perfect, don’t worry — your current theme and customizations won’t be affected at all. (Also, congratulations!) In the coming days, we’ll make the Design Studio your default editor, but this still won’t change the appearance of your Ning Network, and you’ll be able to revert back to the old editor if you like.

Instant Ad Boxes

In addition to the Ning Design Studio, we’re introducing the Instant Ad Box feature.  Instant Ad Boxes are similar to Text Boxes but are designed to seamlessly integrate advertisements with your Ning Network. You can place Instant Ad Boxes above the header, above the canvas, or below the footer. This has been a long-requested feature, and we’re pumped to release it with the Ning Design Studio. Whether you enable a new theme or not, you’ll be able to use this feature.

How ya “like” me now?

Today, we’ve rolled out the beta for our Ning Like Button and the Facebook Like Buttons, two features that enhance the Ning Engagement System. “Liking” is a lightweight interaction that has proved to be incredibly powerful. Now, you can bring that power to your Ning Network with either a customized Like Button, a Facebook Like Button, or both. Try them out today by going to your Beta Page.

If you enable the Ning Like button, members can “Like” photos, videos, and blog posts right from the Main Page, in addition to detail pages:

This gives people an incredibly easy way to interact with content on your network. Additionally, anything your members Like gets added to a brand-new My Likes page, which is a handy way to archive interesting stuff:

The Ning Like button comes with a ton of customization options. You can choose the default icon, as well as the default name for the feature, on the Like Button Settings page. This is also where you can re-enable “Rating” and “Favorite” if you want to hang on to those features.

If you enable the Facebook Like button, it will behave just like other Facebook Like buttons you’ve seen elsewhere. Unlike the Ning Like button, you don’t have to be a member to like something on Facebook. So the Facebook Like button is a great option if you want the maximum number of people to Like network content and make it go viral.

One awesome addition is that we hooked Facebook up to your network’s engagement system too. This means that if your content gets a ton of Facebook “Likes,” it will still rise to the top of the Leaderboards and other popularity sortings.

Naturally, you can enable the Ning Like Button, the Facebook Like Button, both, or neither. It’s up to you!

Ning Design Studio, coming February 9

The Ning Design Studio is launching next week. Are you excited? We certainly are.

The Ning Design Studio gives you an incredibly intuitive way to customize and transform your social experience. Previously, we posted a list of what’s in the Ning Design Studio on the Creators Network. To recap, here’s what’s in it:

  • Choose from 56 hot new themes at launch
  • See a live preview of changes as you make them
  • Set a 2- or 3-column layout and choose navigation and sidebar locations
  • Tweak 80 dials and knobs for your site appearance
  • Access Developer Mode, where design gurus can access the Ning CSS and create their own themes

Today we wanted to post some juicy screenshots to give you a sense of what’s in store:

For more screenshots and information about the Ning Design Studio, check out this page.

Themes, Layouts, and more

As you can see, the Ning Design Studio slides down from your network bar and consists of 4 panels: Themes, Layouts, Customize, and Advanced. Right under the Design Studio, you get a live preview of your changes as you make them.

In the Themes panel, you can choose from 70+ themes (at launch). Click the “My Themes” section to enable any theme you’ve published in the past.

The Layouts panel lets you pick a 2-column or 3-column layout, and customize the placement of your site’s sidebar and navigation. The increased layout flexibility also means it is easier than ever to plug in ad units in a variety of sizes. Expect even more layout options down the road.

Once you have a theme and a layout you’re happy with, tweak more than 80 settings in the Customize panel. You’ll see a ton of new options here, including border styling, more fonts and font sizes, and a handy image previewer.

Finally, the Advanced panel gives you the ability to add CSS, but also introduces a brand-new Developer Mode. In Developer Mode, you can dive into the Ning CSS, hack away, and create your own theme from scratch. We’ve put together comprehensive documentation, and we’ll soon be taking submissions for people who want to add their themes to the Ning directory.

Instant Ad Boxes

In addition to the Ning Design Studio, we’re introducing the Instant Ad Box feature.  Instant Ad Boxes are similar to Text Boxes but are designed to seamlessly integrate advertisements with your Ning Network. You can place Instant Ad Boxes above the header, above the canvas, or below the footer. This has been a long-requested feature, and we’re pumped to release it with the Ning Design Studio. Whether you enable a new theme or not, you’ll be able to use this feature.

What if my Ning Network is already perfect?

When the Ning Design Studio rolls out, your current theme and customizations won’t change. In order to take advantage of the new features, including 2-column layouts and Developer Mode, you’ll need to select one of the 70 new themes.

However, you can always revert back to your old theme at any time — you can find it in the “My Themes” section. And if you want to edit your old theme, you can choose to do so in the old appearance editor as well. This ensures a great experience for every Ning Creator. If you have any questions about this, take a look at our FAQ on the Creators Network.

Ready to style up your Ning Network? We will update you again once this becomes available next week.

Empowering You to Stop Bullying

In the past month, the nation has come face-to-face with an alarming epidemic among its youth: bullying, cyber bullying and teen suicide. As a platform that enables any person or organization to create a social website, we intrinsically understand the power of the social Web. It lets people gather around and connect directly with the organizations, artists, politicians, non-profit and brands that matter most to them. Anyone can instantly share, engage in a conversation, and connect with other people who share similar interests—to be social online. But just like in real life, bullying can happen online too.

Ning is the platform that enables people to freely and safely share their ideas and thoughts. As an employee who’s constantly in touch with members of our platform, I want to highlight the handy tools we have to empower Ning Creators to prevent aggressive, hateful behavior within their social communities:

If there’s anything that should be reported to Ning, don’t hesitate to contact us. If someone you know is a victim and in need of help, you can reach out to one of the following national suicide prevention lines:

To anyone out there feeling alone or different, you’re not alone. There are many communities on the Ning Platform where you can also find support:

Putting Your Brand First

With the launch of Ning Mini, Plus and Pro, we’ve reinforced the ability for Network Creators to put their brand first. The ability to have total control over your brand is an out-of-the-box feature of Ning Plus and Ning Pro, and Network Creators who have already selected these plans will notice a few positive changes.

Specifically, the Ning Burst no longer appears in the network bar, and the Created By box has been removed altogether. We’ve introduced a lightweight “Powered by Ning” tag in the footer, which is easy to remove if it’s not right for your Ning Network.

Additionally, we’ve updated the sign-up and maintenance pages to focus more on your network’s brand. Details below:

The Ning ID and sign-up experience

As John wrote on Tuesday, we’ve dropped “Ning ID” from the sign-up experience on your Ning Network. This means that when members join, they won’t see the “We use a Ning ID for authentication” text. This change reinforces our shift to individual Network IDs instead of a cross-network Ning authentication (as mentioned in Diego’s product roadmap post).

Likewise, we’ve removed links to the Ning Help Center from the Problems Signing In pages. To ensure that members still have a way to get support if they’re having issues signing in or up, we’ve also added an optional contact form. This form will be OFF by default for existing Ning Networks and ON by default for new Ning Networks. Evan posted about this in more detail yesterday.

You can enable or disable the contact form by clicking My Network and choosing Controls under the Members section in the left-hand navigation. Here, you can check or uncheck the “Allow members to report login problems” link.

Additionally, you and your Admins can individually opt in or out of receiving these emails by clicking the Settings link, selecting Email, and then checking or un-checking the “Feedback and problem reports” link.

Unbranded maintenance pages

About 99.999% of the time, your Ning Network is online and speedy. For that other .001%, we try to show maintenance pages that are branded to your Ning Network. Occasionally the maintenance we do doesn’t allow us to show a branded maintenance page — in those cases, Network Creators have historically seen a variety of pages, some of which point your members to the Ning Help Center or the Ning Status Blog. In order to reinforce your brand and prevent confusion among your members, we’ve de-branded maintenance pages. Hopefully you won’t have to see these at all!

Our Product Roadmap

One area that we have been focusing on recently has been in increasing visibility for Network Creators on upcoming features. This post is the first of many (from myself and others in the product team) where we will preview what we are working on and what you can expect from us. Before that, however, I wanted to spend a minute covering how we will be approaching product changes in the future.

Going forward, we will aim for:

  • Transparency and clarity. We will strive to provide you with advance information on the features we are working on and roughly when you can expect them to be available. You will notice that in this post I won’t go into specific dates for features — that will change over time, particularly after we launch our three new products in July. Sometimes software development takes longer than anticipated, unexpected roadblocks appear, etc. When that happens, we will let you know as soon as we know.
  • Obtaining feedback from you early and often. We have been improving in this area through the Creators Network, NC Council, as well as in-person meetings and conference calls. Over time, we will be increasing our use of these channels as well as others, like surveys, polls, and online user testing of planned new features and changes. Note: In this vein, we are currently running a product survey, and I’d encourage you to spend a few minutes filling it out; your answers will help us prioritize development of upcoming features, many of which are mentioned in this post.
  • Focus on NC control. We will strive to add member-facing features in a way that lets you choose if and when they are appropriate for your community (in the rare case when, for technical reasons, this isn’t possible, we will give you plenty of advance notice). We will also be increasing level of control and ease of management of existing features.
  • A balance between NC and Member features. As a Network Creator, both areas are critical. You should expect to see easier access to information about your network and network controls, more stats, and more control mechanisms to configure your Ning Network exactly how you want it.
  • A balance between usability and features for engagement and monetization. Again, both areas are critical. While we have some work to do specifically on the latter, we will not stop improving and innovating on features that your members want and need.
  • Improving the extensibility and programmability of networks. Today, it is possible to extensively customize a Ning Network through either theme updates and Ning Apps, but in some cases not as straightforward as it should be. We’re making this easier and giving you more options to enlist third parties to help you in this regard.

These are clearly a lot of (sometimes competing) priorities to juggle for a small team like ours, but we are confident that, with your help, we can succeed in achieving all of them. Before we go into some details of our future product plans, let’s spend a moment looking at recent releases.

A look back…

For the last several weeks we have been furiously at work getting everything ready for the launch of Ning Mini, Plus and Pro in July. In parallel, we have been rolling out new features and better controls that preview the kinds of things we will be doing more of in the future. Here’s a recap of major releases in the last few weeks:

In addition to these, we have also been fixing bugs and improving performance both in our backend and frontend systems, and continue to work on simplifying the platform to further enhance stability and be able to release new features faster.

The pace of user-facing releases will slow down a bit over the next few weeks as we gear up for the Mini/Plus/Pro launch, but as we get closer to that we have already begun to plan the projects that we will be tackling next.

…and a look ahead

So, what can you expect after the new products are launched? We have a lot of good stuff planned, and it’s divided into four major areas: Network Creator Features, Member Features, Monetization, and 3rd Party Development/APIs. What follows is an overview of the major projects we have planned for development and release over the next few months. As I mentioned above, we will be providing more details, including target dates, as we make progress on them.

Network Creator Features

These are features that you as a network creator interact with everyday and help you manage and grow your Ning Network. In this area, we have planned:

  • “My Network” dashboard. This feature will replace the current “Manage” page/tab on your Network. It will provide a quick view of vital network stats as well as a completely revamped user interface to make it easy for you to access your network’s information and controls.
  • Network statistics, including storage and bandwidth use. This feature will complement other stats systems (like Google Analytics) with social stats and other information that is exclusive to your Ning Network.
  • NC leaderboards. Tied closely with network stats, the NC leaderboards will use a new system to track and analyze engagement that will let you quickly discover cool content, identify top users, and much more.
  • More member controls. While we have made some progress in this area in recent releases, there are more elements of the experience that you have told us you want to customize, including fine-grained controls over member contributions (e.g., how many photos a member can post), the ability to edit the content that your members create, and more.
  • More payment mechanisms, receipts, annual billing and more. We are currently completely revamping our billing system to support the needs that you have communicated to us over the last several months.
  • Language filter. For networks that run advertising, this will give you the ability to filter out words that would affect your advertising rates.
  • Individual Network ID & sign in. With the launch of the new products in July, members will only create a profile on your network, and will no longer have a cross-network profile.
  • A Network Creator iPhone app. To view and manage your network through your iPhone.

Member Features

These are features that increase member engagement and improve their experience, make it easier to sign up and stay on your network, and provide integration with external services critical in today’s online social experience. The features in this area are:

  • Login via Facebook/Twitter/Yahoo/others. This feature needs no introduction. It will allow members to sign up and sign in to your networks using their credentials from other systems.
  • Support for ‘Like’. We will roll out a feature to support ‘Like’ actions on your network, which can lead to greater user engagement and faster surfacing of great content. This will be only for your network, not related to Facebook’s ‘Like’. That said, we are also considering how to support Facebook’s recently rolled out ‘Like’ feature.
  • Member leaderboards. This will be a member-facing view of the leaderboards that we will initially release for NCs only — a long-requested feature that can increase the quality and quantity of member engagement and member-contributed content. (Note: as in other cases, it will be an option for you as a Network Creator to enable this feature).
  • Ning Apps on member profiles. Just like we are enabling Ning Apps on Network Homepages, we will also give you the option to enable them for member profiles, giving you the ability to allow members to install third-party Ning Apps on their profile pages.


This is an area that we plan to do a lot of work on. In addition to mechanisms you will have at launch (e.g., running advertising, soliciting donations) we plan to integrate new ways to monetize your network and content that you have long asked for, including:

  • Paid membership. This feature will give you the ability to request payment for joining your network, including support for membership tiers.
  • Paid content access. With this feature, you will be able to create areas of the site, or specific content (such as one video, one group, etc.) that requires members to pay before they can access it.
  • More and better ad units. These will be new areas in your site that will now be available for placing ads more easily than today, including header and footer, as well as within other content sections (e.g. in the main content pages of your network)

3rd Party Development/APIs These features will allow you to further customize both the functionality and look and feel of your network. These include three main areas that we’re working on at the moment:

  • Ning Apps V1.1 including Full Opensocial 0.8 support. OpenSocial, the standard behind Ning Apps, supports both client-side and server side APIs. We will enable server-side support, long-requested by developers, in the near future.
  • External APIs. These APIs will be available as REST endpoints to your network and will allow you to designate specific apps (from Ning or third party providers) that you want to enable to support third-party integrations that further enhance your network experience. These APIs can be used to create anything from desktop and mobile apps to integration with other systems, such as blogs, other authentication systems, and more.
  • A New Theme System. We will be completely revamping the way themes are created and edited on Ning Networks, providing both deeper and easier controls for non-technical NCs as well as a much more powerful and modern theme system for designers.

Note: While this is a long list of features, we are aware that this doesn’t cover every request we’ve heard. This roadmap only cover the next few months, so you can expect further updates as we make progress on these priorities. Once more, completing our NC Survey will help us prioritize this and the next round of features.

In closing…

Phew! That’s quite a lot for one post. As I said before, we will be talking about these features, including their release dates, in more detail in the future. In the meantime, as always, comments and feedback are welcome.