The popularity of social media and social networking sites continues to grow. Pew Research reports that 90 percent of online users, ages 18-29, use one or more of the social media outlets. With such a large user base, many businesses and individuals are seeing a benefit in creating their own social network site.
Before You Start a Social Network
Two compelling reasons why a business may want to set up its own social networking site - as opposed to simply being a member on one of the existing sites like Facebook - is the amount of control a business has over the content and the ability to grow a niche site.
1. Define Your Focus
Before creating a social networking site, write a concise paragraph of what your social networking site will accomplish. By creating a strategy of what your site is designed to do, you will simplify the second step, deciding what social networking features to include.
To accomplish your site's goal, what tools do you need? Is video chatting important? Or is it more important to allow users to post blog entries. Don't presume that launching a site with all available features simplifies the process. If you follow that approach, the site may become a chaotic mess that frustrates users. Instead, focus on a handful of features and give users a positive experience.
If you have a website, your current hosting service may be able to handle your social networking site. However, before purchasing a package or downloading free open source social networking software; make sure your hosting provider can handle the technical requirements - especially bandwidth and storage - of your selected platform.
Once user-specific features are listed, to grow your site, it must have these three items. Although these items apply for website building in general, they are more important with a social networking site since you are trying to engage users in social activities to keep them on your site longer.
- Scalability: The site must be able to expand easily and quickly so it can accommodate a growing audience.
- Security: Possibly nothing else will drive users away faster than a site that is hacked or has ongoing security issues.
- Customer Service: Unless you have an IT department that can handle any and all technical issues, you will want to partner with a hosting company that can handle any potential issue associated with your site.
Options for Setting Up Your Site
Plenty of options exists for creating a self-contained social network. The three options provided here were chosen to show the basic types of platforms that exist. Each one is a quality system inside its respective category.
SocialGo is a popular and effective web-based social network system. This cloud-hosted platform is a perfect fit for individuals or companies not wanting to dabble in the behind-the-scenes coding required for self-hosted solutions. Since the platform is designed to get clients up and running in a short amount of time, setting up your own social network site is simple. It is a matter of clicking a few buttons and adding components through an intuitive and straightforward drag and drop system. Packages for starter sites start at around $10 a month.
Tips for setting up a SocialGo site include:
- Purchase a domain name. Using a custom domain creates a more professional feel for the site. It can also make marketing, maintenance and upkeep easier, since your site will be a standalone product.
- Generate an income from content. If you have the potential for premium content, SocialGo offers a features that lets you charge a user for content. As the site owner, you can select content of value and generate an income stream from articles and other content.
- Take advantage of the site's tutorials. SocialGo has an extensive library of how-to articles that will help you become an expert. If your business is large enough, select an individual to become the SocialGo expert for your organization.
To create a more WordPress-like social networking site, BuddyPress is a solid option. This free platform seems to be very popular with WordPress users and, since it incorporates the social network functionality through plug-ins, most WordPress users should feel comfortable with the platform. BuddyPress is powerful and offers plenty of customization possibilities through its plug-ins and modules. It can be a relatively easy launch especially if you already have a WordPress site.
Just like with the other two sites, read the site's documentation, especially its Getting Started guide. Also:
- Installation instructions. One of the best places to start is with their detailed, step-by-step approach to installing the program and setting up your site. They also have a nice beginner's page with bulleted points for easy skimming.
- Quick list of plug-ins. Save yourself some time by looking over these ten popular plug-ins and see if any of them should be included on your site. These popular modules include everything from letting users embed videos to easy ways for visitors to share links and articles.
After choosing, installing and customizing your social network site, the next step is attracting users. This can be accomplished by using one of more of the following options.
- Email newsletters. If you already have a user base, create an email to promote the most interesting features of your site - or to offer how-to tips for your social network.
- Useful information. Whether it is a website, a social media account or your own social network, one of the keys to growing an audience is useful, usable information. People need a reason to interact, so give them one when they are on your site. This can be done through an article, a tip, a meme or even a contest.
- Publicize elsewhere. As a business you most likely have multiple checkpoints where people engage with your brand. Use those same areas to build awareness of your new social networking site.
- Honest engagement. One common tactic for building website or blog traffic is to join the conversation on another site that is related to your site. When you engage in meaningful conversations on sites in your industry by posting legitimately useful comments or information, users are more likely to develop a connection with you or your business.
Learn From Others
While using a self-hosted or cloud-hosted social network does give you some control over what happens on your site, it is not foolproof. Just like with public social media sites you can expect to deal with negative issues such as customer or employee complaints and comments. When you set up your site, make sure you are ready to put in the time commitment to monitor comments, answer questions and do whatever it takes to create a positive user experience. This will keep users engaged and coming back.