Larry BraunerNing seems to be gaining popularity since restructuring in 2010, and since smoothing some of its rough edges.

Many Ning social networking sites are easier to navigate and operate than those of Facebook or LinkedIn. However, while mastering Ning’s features isn’t difficult, using Ning to network effectively can be.

I’ve been developing my network on Ning, writing about Ning and watching Ning go through changes for several years. Small Business Network is the Ning site I created and run.

Ning Social NetworksHere are 16 tips to help you better understand Ning social networking sites and to use Ning sites to help build your network:

  1. There are Ning social and business networks that cater to nearly every niche. Search the Ning home page and Google to find Ning networks that match your interests.
  2. Join all relevant Ning networks and create a profile on each. Be careful to bookmark the Ning sites you join, so that you can easily find your way back to them.
  3. Don’t worry about joining too many Ning sites. You won’t be active on all of them. All these sites will, however, contribute to your web presence.
  4. In 10 Tips for LinkedIn Social Networking, I stated that “your LinkedIn profile is your resume. Put at least as much effort into creating and perfecting your profile as you would your resume.” I also suggest that you also invest substantial effort to create and perfect your Ning profile.
  5. Save your Ning profile is a text file on your computer desktop, so that you don’t have to recreate it from scratch each time you join a Ning site. You’ll just have to customize it a bit.
  6. Unlike Facebook and LinkedIn, Ning is an open networking platform. You’re free to reach out to any member with whom you wish to connect, even if you don’t know him or her. However, make sure that your approach is transparent and congenial.
  7. Ning groups tend to have a narrower focus than the overall site, and browsing group membership is a good way to locate the people you most want to meet. Creating your own Ning group is a great idea for networking and branding yourself, but follow-through is essential.
  8. Before inviting a member to connect, greet them and ask a friendly question in a comment on their profile wall to determine if they’re active. Most members of Ning sites are inactive, so don’t waste one of you limited invitations on them. Asking questions also helps establish relationships, and profile commenting also helps create internal links back to your profile, improving your profile’s standing with search engines.
  9. If you run out of invitations, delete pending invitations. Start with the oldest first, and only delete as many as needed at that moment.
  10. Accept invitations from others. Don’t be too fussy. You can’t have too many friends on Ning. I don’t know of any upper limit. Correct me if you know otherwise.
  11. The friends you make on one Ning site will be friends on all the Ning sites you have in common. You often join a Ning site and discover that you already have friends there.
  12. You can broadcast messages to up to 200 Ning friends at one time, but I myself very rarely use this feature. I like to write a blog post or start a discussion and then  share it with all my friends on a site. I personalize the notification with a few additional words using the optional message area. Blog posts and discussions also link internally back to your profile and help with search engines.
  13. Before sharing content with your Ning friends, ask yourself whether the content is truly valuable or whether it just another form of spam. Avoid spamming or face undesirable consequences. Spamming — or even pasting the exact same comment on many members’ profiles — can get you banned from all Ning sites.
  14. Invite your friends to connect with you on other social networking sites, such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. Your friendship will survive even if the Ning site disappears or one of you become inactive on the site.
  15. One you’ve formed a relationship with another Ning member, use private messages rather than profile comments to communicate with each other, unless of course, you want your conversation to be displayed to the public.
  16. Invite outside contacts to join your favorite Ning sites, but don’t use Ning invites. Most Ning invites are ignored or end up in your friends’ spam folders. Instead, share good content from Ning on Facebook and other social sites. When people come to view the content, they’ll be presented with the option of joining.

Please join me on my Ning site, Small Business Network.

What Ning networks have you created or do you belong to? What Ning social networking tips can you share with us?

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Larry Brauner
Connecting on social networking sites with family and friends requires little forethought or planning. The most popular social networks are easy enough to figure out, even without instruction manuals.

Most of us would agree that social networking sites are easy to use for casual networking.

On the other hand, reaching out to your target audience on social networking sites requires both planning and an appreciation of the fine points of each site. Social networking sites are not easy to use when it comes to marketing.

Facebook in particular is one social networking site that even experienced marketers struggle with, especially using profiles, pages, groups and apps in an appropriate and effective manner.

She Purged All of Her Friends on Facebook

Recently, I was contacted by a Facebook connection who happens to be some kind of celebrity. She was migrating her thousands of friends from her profile to her fan page, so that she could remove them from her profile.

At first glance, this is the Facebook equivalent of unfollowing all your friends on Twitter. However, you realize that it’s even more extreme once you think about it.

Removing her friends on Facebook, she gave up her access to their profile information and status updates. Either she was desperate for privacy :-P or hadn’t adequately considered the consequences or didn’t care much about connecting with the fans who were following her.

Separating Business from Personal on Facebook

Yesterday, a marketing friend informed me that he was trying to separate “business from personal” on Facebook. He had set up a fan page and asked me to send people there rather than to his profile.

He also informed me that he was “trying to get to 100 members, so I could get a vanity URL” and asked if I had any suggestions.

This same friend is working on attracting his target audience to his Ning social networking site which may partially justify his separating business from personal on Facebook. Nevertheless, connecting as Facebook friends offers so many excellent networking opportunities that one can’t fully justify passing it up.

Furthermore, his difficulty reaching 100 fans for his page is a sign to me that perhaps he’d be better off starting by building a base of Facebook friends from which he could later draw members for his page.

In Conclusion

A feature on one of the social networking sites may attract you, such as the ability to have an unlimited number of fan page members on Facebook, but it’s critical to carefully weigh the pros and cons of each strategy and tactic.

With Facebook groups for example, you can only have 5,000 members, but you can send group messages directly to the inboxes of all those members. That capability may be more useful to you that having unlimited members.

A modest investment of time speaking with an online social networking or social  marketing expert could dramatically increase the value of the subsequent time you spend marketing on social networking sites. ;-)

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In List Building Using Twitter, I discussed the importance of list building and the ease of building a list on Twitter.

In this article I focus on building your Twitter community — people who relate to your niche and who share some of your interests — people with whom you can network and who also extend your list in a more targeted way than previously outlined.

Is Twitter Past Its Prime?

Twitter will not last forever. However, I’m hoping that Twitter will have a strong future. Many new applications are currently being developed and launched “on top of” Twitter using the Twitter API.

If Twitter was on its way out, it’s highly unlikely that such substantial resources would be invested to build upon the Twitter platform. If my theory is right, then what we’ve seen so far is only the tip of the Twitter iceberg.

Building Your Twitter Community

Twitter has a tool for searching tweets. It can help find people in your niche or who share you interests. You can also use Twollow which bases its searches on the contents of tweets.

I prefer searches based on profile, because they’re more robust. Twitter Grader Search searches profiles. It also identifies the best people to connect with, ones who are active and successful using Twitter. I plug in search terms and back comes a list of Twitter users along with their Twitter Grader ratings and their complete profile information.

Another resource to look at is Twitter Groups. This new tool brings people together based both on common interests and geographic location and is worth exploring.

I’ve already built a following using the procedure I outlined in List Building Using Twitter, and my profile highlights interests relevant to my niche, so the people I follow tend to follow me back.

Keep your eyes open for news about other useful tools. Using the tools available to you, you can build a community of friends just as you would at social networking sites such as Facebook, MySpace or any of the Ning social networks.

Networking with Your Twitter Community

Every social networking site has features that permit members to communicate with each other, and in this respect Twitter is no different. Here are your basic options on Twitter:

  • Updates are best used to reach all your followers who are monitoring Twitter at that moment — consistent with a list building strategy rather than an online social networking strategy. However, you can view any Twitter member’s past posts by visiting their page, as long as they don’t have their updates protected. If they are protected, you will need to request permission in order to browse their updates.
  • Replies are updates that begin with @username, public messages addressed to a particular member. Members don’t need to be following you to receive a reply, but if they’re not following you, they can safely choose to ignore you without appearing rude. If you’re having a long conversation which others might find annoying, avoid using replies — use direct messages instead. Annoy people, and they will stop following you. Use replies specifically when you want everybody or a group of people included in your discussion.
  • Direct messages referred to as DMs are private, and they’re the closest you can get to e-mail communication using Twitter. Use direct messages when it’s inappropriate to reach the community-at-large. Direct messages are very rarely ignored, and they’re essential to cultivating one-on-one relationships using Twitter.

Here are a few more things to keep in mind as you begin to network on Twitter:

  • You don’t need a large number of followers to network on Twitter. You only need one follower to start.
  • You aren’t the only networker with an agenda. To be very successful help your networking partners advance their agendas while you advance your own. If you want people to be interested in you, be interested in them. See the site map for a listing of articles I’ve written about online social networking and other topics.
  • You should never ever spam. If you’re thinking of using Twitter (or any other social networking site) to spam (or to advertise) rather than to network with other members, please check out How Do You Like Your SPAM? and Social Networking vs. Advertising.

I’d love for you to follow me.

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List building is an essential part of online social networking, and Ning, if used properly, is a powerful list building tool.

Here are some strategies that I believe will help you with list building on Ning.

Creating Your Own Ning Network

You can create your own Ning social networking sites. Ning was designed with that end in mind. My new Ning site is Critical Thinking Outside the Box.

Your Ning site will help you to grow your online list virally, and you’ll be able to use the many channels that Ning social networks provide such as broadcasts, forum discussions, blog posts, private messages and profile comments to communicate with your list.

As tempting as it might be to start your own Ning social networking site as quickly as possible, I advise you to wait until you develop a substantial online following before taking that step.

I have seen many Ning sites die off from a lack of momentum. However, once you can personally enlist 100 to 200 people to become members of your site, you might very well be able to get it off the ground.

Joining Other People’s Ning Networks

You can start building a list by joining other people’s Ning sites. The best sites to join are those that attract the kinds of people you’re looking to meet online.

Don’t be afraid to join a new network that might not be right for you. You can always leave the network if you wish or you can create a profile, abandon it and move on. On the other hand you might really like what you find once you join, so if it looks interesting, give it a try.

When you join a site, you’ll be connected as friends with anybody there whom you befriended at another Ning site. This makes perfect sense, but it can work against you.

Messaging Restrictions on Ning Networks

You can only send messages to your friends, so of course you’ll want to add friends when you join a new site. You will be able to mail to them individually or as a group, but the latter is usually more effective.

Unfortunately, if you have more than a hundred friends at a site, Ning will not let you mail to them as a group. To avoid hitting the 100 limit, you should try to add about eighty friends max on each site.

Pre-existing friends will count against you. If you join a site, and you already have forty friends there, you’ll only be able to add forty new ones on that site before reaching your eighty target.

In addition, the overlap between this site and others will cause your friends to receive duplicate messages across networks each time you send an announcement.

Yet despite Ning’s messaging restrictions, you should eventually be able to directly mail to hundreds across all the networks to which you belong.

Exceeding the Messaging Limit

If you join a large Ning social networking site and end up with more than 100 friends there, you won’t be able to mail them as a group.

Don’t despair — add even more friends!

Later, when you find a site you really like or start your own Ning site, you’ll be able to invite friends from this site and others to which you belong all at one time using Ning’s “invite friends” feature.

You’ll even be able to invite them more than one time, as long as you don’t make a pest out of yourself.

Using Messaging to Build Your Brand

Don’t spam your friends. They’ll quickly tune you out.

Send useful information that positions you as a leader or as an authority. If you have a blog, you can send blog announcements to attract new readers and subscribers.

Eventually you’ll have the influence and following you need to start your own thriving Ning social networking site.

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Coping with Recent Ning Site Changes

The Online Social Networking world will never stand still. You can count on that. Social networking sites and the culture surrounding them will always be in a state of flux.

When I wrote Ning Social Networking Sites, I anticipated that before long Ning would add features enabling business networking sites to protect members’ privacy and reduce spam.

Now that these changes are a reality, you as a Ning user may need to adjust.

New Privacy Feature

A new optional Ning feature permits individual sites to hide their members’ affiliations with other Ning sites.

You can still manage your friends on each site. In fact, it is now much simpler to do so than before. However you can no longer manage your friends across Ning sites, nor can you view the other Ning sites to which your friends belong.

Unfortunately I do not have a work around for this. It looks like Ning has plugged the holes, but if I find something, I’ll let you know.

If you want to see all the Ning sites to which you belong, that you can do. Log on to Ning and click on “My Social Networks”.

New Anti-Spam Feature

Another new Ning feature permits individual sites to limit bulk mailing to friends. You can mail to 100 of your friends at a time. If you have many more than 100 friends, this mailing restriction will be somewhat of a nuisance.

You have several options:

  • Live with the restriction, as annoying as that might be.
  • Participate at sites that have not implemented this restriction — if you can find any. Ning may have plugged this hole too. You can invite friends from one Ning site to join you at another Ning site using the “Invite Your Ning Friends” option.
  • Start your own Ning social network. As the site administrator will be able to mail all of your members.

A strategy worth considering is joining many Ning sites and limiting yourself to 100 friends on each. When you exceed the 100 limit, prune away inactive friends and refine your targeting too as you go.

Is Ning Shooting Itself in the Foot?

You must have the ability to mail all your friends if your online social networking strategy is similar to My Online Social Networking Strategy.

I hope Ning isn’t shooting itself in the foot by eliminating group mailing and other features that are useful for serious business networking.

Like MySpace, Ning may learn the hard way that business networkers are a very fickle crowd.

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Many readers will recall that late in August I discussed money making opportunities in the online social networking industry.

I said that the industry was hot, was growing, and was worth some attention and speculation.

I suggested promoting Yuwie, a free MySpace-like site that paid a share of its ad revenue to users. I rejected paid membership sites, since the trend indicated that sites were giving more and more to members without any charge.

I was right about two things. One, the industry is hot. And two, you can certainly keep your credit card in your wallet.

The industry is so hot that new sites with the most exotic names are cropping up daily, each looking for a piece of the pie, and many willing to pay members to use and promote them.

The market is expanding with new users, but I don’t believe that it is expanding rapidly enough to support the proliferation of sites.

My prediction is that the lion’s share of new industry players will fail to reach the critical mass required to sustain themselves long term.

Whether any particular one will make it or not, your guess is probably as good as mine. However, let me offer you a plan of action.

  1. Use social networking sites to network, to make new friends, to make new business contacts, and to make deals. Do not use them only to get paid by them. If you want to make money, doing business through these sites has much more potential than creating income streams from the sites themselves.
  2. Join, use and refer people to sites that you enjoy, that offer the services you want, and that attract the types of people you wish to network with. Do not join sites because you are impressed by their hyped-up revenue sharing plan.
  3. Avoid paid membership sites unless they are the only ones that provide the services you require and attract the clientele you seek.
  4. It’s tempting to join loads of cool sites and spread yourself thin. Do not do it. Limit yourself to just a few. If you spread yourself too thin, you’ll miss the opportunity to get to know people on any of the sites, and you’ll be no more than a virtual social butterfly.
  5. Invite people you meet on one site to join you on another site, especially a well established site such as MySpace. This way your friendship can survive a site’s demise. And not only that, when people connect on more than one site they tend to establish a stronger bond than when they connect on only one.
  6. Take stock often of the situation to determine whether you need to change your strategy. When you drive a car, you need to be looking beyond the car ahead of you. Here too you must try to anticipate trouble ahead.
  7. Don’t hold it against me if I recommend a site to you that doesn’t work out. After all I can’t see into the future, and I’m making educated guesses based on what I know presently and my strong sense of intuition. (This is my disclaimer.)
  8. Have fun! Yes, I said that. Social networking online or offline ought to be fun.

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