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How to run a successful social networking site

How to run a successful social networking site

By Michael Chin, Marketing Director, KickApps

From social networking, message boards and user-generated content to blogging and widgets, social media has emerged as a very effective way to grow and increase audience engagement.

However, while it's easier than ever to create and deploy social media, the old cliché, "If you build it, they will come," does not apply.

While the technical and cost barriers to entry have been significantly reduced, there are several other factors for online publishers and brands to think about. These include marketing and promotion, programming, and community management, to name a few.

The key, however, is in the planning and this is where many marketers are falling short of the mark.

New technologies have put robust community-building functionality within everyone's reach. That’s all well and good but don’t go thinking they’re all the same because they are not. 

Remember, planning is the key. Check out your options and decide: What social media features map your specific objectives? How will your goals evolve over time? Is this a solution that will scale with you? What resources will it require to launch and maintain?  What are the management and reporting capabilities? And, of course, how much will it cost?

Matt Haughey, founder of the  online community MetaFilter, said: "There are lots of reasons to start a community, but generally it's good to focus on a specific topic. Having a specific topic means you'll have an easier time explaining your site's purpose and quickly finding like-minded people to contribute their thoughts and content."

Here is what you need to consider when setting up your own site:

1. “Get to know the people for whom you'll be building the community.” If it's for chefs, then spend some time at places where chefs hang out, both online and offline. Talk to people and cultivate relationships. Seed your community with high quality, relevant content. Consider inviting a good core group of people in to help. When you launch, this seed content will spark discussions, give visitors a sense of what your community is all about, and send the message that it's a happening place to be.

2. Every good party needs a great host. If you already run a community site, how active is your community manager? He or she should be your most active, highest profile member. They should set the tone and inspire members. For many large communities this can be a full time job, but as your community flourishes, other hosts will emerge 

3. Almost everyone who joins your community will evaluate it before becoming a member. First impressions count, and your community's look and feel will heavily influence a potential member's decision. So, tailor the aesthetic to match your brand and appeal to your audience. If you're integrating your community into an existing website, keep your design and navigation consistent throughout. This will increase the flow of traffic between your site and community and show visitors that your community is an important part of your website.

4. Just because you've built your community doesn't mean people will come to it. You'll need to market your community as you would any other product. So, raise awareness among your website's existing audience, reaching out to bloggers and traditional media, creating incentives for people to join through contests and promotions, inviting influential people to become members, and even purchasing advertising.

5. So, what of your members? The most active and passionate members are your community's lifeblood. Recruit and reward them immediately; highlight their contributions wherever possible and ask for their help and feedback.  On the flip side  keep the site free of trouble-makers and offensive content. The trick is to strike a balance between order and openness. Stay active and lead by example. 

6. Also, consider posting a plain-language set of community guidelines and invite your members to make suggestions about how to improve them.

7. Finally, if you're building your community around a company website, don't get defensive when members make negative comments about your products or services. You can be sure that this will happen so it might as well be in your community. Allowing them to do it there indicates confidence, which members will respect.

8. Listen to what your community says and keep an eye on the highest rated and most viewed content. Everything reveals something about what your members want. Also, have a place in the community where people can talk about the community - like a message board. This is a great opportunity to see what people are thinking and to test out your ideas. Finally, measure your community's traffic and statistics from the beginning, so you can judge your progress as you go.

Building a social media site can take days, but building a successful community around it requires a lot more effort.


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