Whether you're selling beaded jewellery or your time as an expert in finance, it's good for business to develop a community around you. Here I review two free community building tools.
Ning may be just the thing
Create your own social or business network using Ning.com . The platform was launched in 2005 by stellar tech veterans. One of the founders is Marc Andreessen who also started Netscape. You'd like to think he knows a good thing online when he sees it!
Sign up to Ning and create a network in less than a minute. Choose from one of the 50 or so template designs or, if you're feeling adventurous, design your own. Your network can be public or private (open or closed) and Ning allows you to moderate content before it goes live. Other features include allowing community members to chat, blog and upload their photos and videos. You can also use Ning to organise events.
It's free to create a social network using Ning but they also offer premium services that are chargeable.
Get out of a jam with webjam
Webjam also offers a free start-your-own-social-network service. As with Ning, you can choose the basic and free product or upgrade to have more features and control. Whereas Ning is very much geared towards social networks, Webjam appears to be more focused on the business audience with an Etsy network being profiled as a star site on their home page. We're also aware that Webjam is partnering up with online e-commerce people, Venda.com, so business owners can make sales through Venda and create a sense of community with Webjam - it's a joint venture that makes perfect sense.
These are two tools for you to review and consider for community building. Once in place, you'll want the community to follow! Here's a few tips on how to start and grow your community:
- Start the conversation - get the virtual ball rolling by starting discussion threads. Maybe drop in something controversial that will encourage people to post a return comment.
- Make introductions - keep the conversation going in the same way you would at an offline event or party. Introduce guests who you think will benefit from chatting together.
- Set guidelines - otherwise referred to as 'netiquette' you might want to set out a few words of structure from the start eg no fighting or swearing in the forums!
- Reward Ambassadors - find a way to recognise the people who are active posters and participants in and of the network. Maybe this is through recognition on the site or sending a gift voucher to say thanks.
- Celebrate milestones - host a virtual party when you achieve a network goal or make a fuss when a member conveys good news. It all helps create a network where there is a sense of purpose, but also a sense of fun!
Emma Jones is Founder of Enterprise Nation and author of 'Spare Room Start Up - how to start a business from home'.
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