Social Networking: It's Not Just for Facebook Anymore

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Social networking gets a lot of attention, but the vast majority of that attention is focused on a small handful of very large social networks. Facebook and Twitter are great tools, but what if you could harness the power of social networking and bring it to your own site?

The value of social networking for a business--and the reason that it is important to establish a presence and learn to effectively use Facebook and Twitter--is that it engages customers on a different level. When you give customers a voice, and let them be a part of the dialog, it inspires a degree of loyalty, and gives those customers a reason to come back--to share their opinions, and provide feedback.

Network of connected points
Leverage the power of social networking on a local level with your own community.
More importantly, when you create a forum for customers to communicate with your organization, and with each other, you create a sense of community that takes on a life of its own. Customers will share with each other, and help each other. A social community can build word-of-mouth momentum for your organization, and provide free, self-sustaining customer support.

A survey released today from Ning puts some real world metrics behind the theory of the social Web. Ning provides a platform for creating custom social sites, and the Ning Point of View (POV) Report analyzes information gathered from nearly 100,000 such social communities globally with 67 million unique visitors per month.

According to the Ning POV, a new online community is born every 10 minutes as groups and organizations of all sizes around the world integrate the power of social networking into their own sites. Here are some of the key findings from the Ning POV:

The Magic Number: It only takes 20 people to bring an online community to a significant level of activity and connectivity - when members spend an increasing amount of time on the site, and visit more regularly.

Social Status: The Ning POV ranks the top 20 social categories online with Education making the highest grade. The ranking also shows that the Religion category (#6) has more fans than the Sports category (#16).

Dialog Makes a Difference: The balance is shifting from broadcasting status updates to developing dialog. The most active sections of Ning community sites are those that foster a two-way conversation (the inbox and forum tools attract the highest engagement, outranking broadcast tools such as member profile, photos and video).

Most organizations have a website, and many are establishing a foothold on social networks like Facebook and Twitter. But, it would be preferable to bring customers to the website and give them a reason to engage and keep coming back.

For example, look at Tony Hawk's website, At face value, it just looks like a website about skateboarding, but at the upper right you will see links to log in or set up an account. Users who create an account can sign in to the site and join the community. They can set up a profile, upload photos and videos, write blog posts on the site, and invite friends.

There is still a very valid reason to set up shop on Facebook as well--no matter what your product, service, or cause, the ability to reach half a billion people is awesome. But, your social networking efforts don't need to be confined to Facebook. You can also create your own social Web on your own site, and you can use your efforts on Facebook to gain exposure and attract users to join your private community.

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