Build a Social Network for Your Business

The Ning social media platform can help you create a community hub for your customers.

UPGRADE FROM THE break-room bulletin board and oneway customer e-mail lists—your business can take advantage of its own Facebook-like social network. You might try Facebook itself, of course, but the clash of business and personal communications could leave your vacation photos mingling with company news, and could lead to goofi ng off on company time. Instead, turn to a social network platform to make your own site. Many services off er functionality similar to that of Facebook; but here I’ll focus on Ning, which has been established for a few years and off ers customization tools that can make your site behave almost any way you want. Within your company, you could rely on a Ning social network to maintain schedules for anything from managing projects to organizing an office soft ball team. Calendar tools, blog-style posts, comments, and other systems could help connect people. You could post photos and videos to recap events. You could also use Ning to collaborate, updating everyone on a project’s status, leaving ideas about new goals, recapping meetings, and otherwise keeping the office in sync. Best of all, nearly anyone can run the setup process, so you won’t have to waste tech or design resources. But Ning is especially powerful for building a space in which to interact with customers. Th ink of it as a companion to your company’s Website. Your Ning social network can live at its own URL, as in mycompany.ning.com, or you can integrate it as a subdomain of your site, as in community.mycompany.com.


Using Ning’s Basic Features
Ning’s core functionality is free; you can create a site with a mycompany.ning.com URL in minutes. Such sites should be fine for most intra-office situations. For customizations, you need to pay a monthly fee. Removing Ning’s ads costs $25 per month (you could replace them with your own, if you want to); using a custom domain name is $5 a month; and removing all Ning branding from your site costs $25 a month. A free account includes 10GB of storage and 100GB of bandwidth per month, but you can pay $10 a month to double both capacities. (And each $10 you pay after that adds another 10GB and 100GB per month.) To get started, visit Ning.com and walk through the prompts to set up your site. Enter a name for the network and a URL prefix (the mycompany in mycompany.ning.com). Click Create, and the screen will prompt you to either sign in to an existing Ning account or create a new one. On the Describe page, enter a succinct tagline, a description, and keywords. Use these fields, especially the keywords, to help people find your network; consider using product names or other popular terms that relate to your site. Use the radio buttons to make the network public or private. Click Next.


Adding Features
On the Features page, click View all features. Each module represents a feature for your network, such as blogging, video posts, and an event calendar. Drag them into your layout, and order them within the columns. To remove items, drag them out, to the left . Click a question-mark icon to get a description of that function. Click Next. On the Customize Appearance screen, pick a template, and then scroll down to make further changes. You can swap in colors and fonts as you go; it’s a good idea to match them to the look of your company’s existing Web site. Click All Options to customize even more and to upload your own images. If you know how to manage CSS, click Advanced to import or change the style sheet, which gives you complete control over your site’s appearance and layout. Click Launch when you’re satisfied. After building your social network site, you can return at any time to make updates. Visit your site page—log in if needed—and click the Manage link. You can adjust the site features, layout, and other aspects. For example, be sure to click Manage¨Network Information to find the prompt to upload a network logo to overwrite the generic Ning one. For more tips, including advice on importing addresses and inviting participants to your network, using a custom domain, taking advantage of Ning Apps, and fighting comment spam, browse to find.pcworld.com/63956.

Source of Information : PC World December 2009

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