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Build a social network in less than 60 minutes

Adam Shahbaz
Build a social network in less than 60 minutes Adam Shahbaz

If you are in this industry, you must be aware of the social networking craze (the one that has some folks sweating bubbles). More broadly, you understand the intrinsic link between your job and popular culture/social movements. Finally, with that in mind, I hope that you recognize, at least on some peripheral level, the name 50 Cent.

50 Cent is the face of manufactured hip-hop-for-the-masses. Like most successful mass-producers, his brand sports massive awareness. And with so many platinum records and sold-out arena shows across the world, the immense industry team that supports the 50 Cent effort still found it necessary to build him a MySpace page.

At the time of writing this article, the page boasts 1,005,145 friends, an unmanageable number. The wall of his page has devolved into more or less a repository of announcements from so many "upcoming" stars. With this in mind, the 50 Cent team set out to create something every interactive marketer strives for: engagement.

The team decided to build an exclusive social network for 50 Cent. This network, created using Ning, and named "Thisis50," currently boasts nearly 22,000 highly engaged users. From this forum, the 50 Cent team can advertise upcoming shows and supporting acts to the people who are actually going to show up. They also get valuable user information by requiring users to submit a valid email address as a requisite to join. The Ning site is then advertised on the 50 Cent MySpace page, creating a funnel for those users looking to really engage with the brand.

Creating an exclusive network for your brand does not mean you have to be so popular on MySpace that you need to filter out your die-hard fans like 50 Cent. A little snooping around the Ning site brought me to a network called "2 Wheel Atmosphere," a network for motorcycle enthusiasts.

This network shows 141 users at the time of writing this. While it's not 21,000, it is still an example of a smaller idea and a smaller niche creating a highly targeted and relevant audience. If I were selling motorcycles, or a motorcycle magazine, or parts, or whatever, I might want to keep my eye on this site. Conversely, the small size of this site might encourage me to create my own site and encourage these users to join my network. Given the popularity of shows like "West Coast Choppers," it could be a great outreach for regional dealers to get their messages out to their constituents to maintain relationships. The bottom line is to do the work, make the site tasteful and relevant -- not many people appreciate the hard sell nowadays -- and build your network.

At this point, you may be thinking about ROI. Web developers are expensive, and the one you already have is booked solid for the next year trying to keep up with the new happenings in the industry. Well fear not. Here's how to build the network yourself in less than 60 minutes.

Before we get started, I want to be upfront with the fact that while I have been talking a lot about Ning in this article, I am only doing so because Google favored the site, it's free and its interface is about as easy as it gets. I have no connection with the company, other than the network I am about to build.

Techcrunch published an article last summer about the various ways to go about building your own social network. The list involves many options from point-and-click networks (like Ning), to ones that involve a marginal level of developer participation (KickApps), to developer-intensive sites. Please research at will.

The idea for the following network came from my fellow editors at iMedia. After trade shows, they would come back with all sorts of nifty swag to distribute around the office, so I am building a network dedicated to swag, called "SwagMe."

Start the clock.

Next page >>

Min: 0

The first thing I need to do is take pictures, so for 10 minutes I run around the office like a madman snapping pictures of my co-workers enjoying their swag.

Min: 10
I go to http://www.ning.com/, create a profile page, name my network, and fill in the necessary fields: network name, tagline, description and keywords.

Min: 13
Select features

I certainly need photos, a forum, a blog and an activity chart on the site. I don't think I need music, so I leave that off. I will leave the possibility for videos open in the event of swag with moveable parts.

Min: 14
Choose a theme
I imagine this part might take a bit longer if you want to customize a theme for your brand. Given correct planning, and accounting for how busy your graphics person might be, I'd expect maybe another 15 minutes. I am located in Los Angeles, and that's good enough for me, so I'm going with the L.A. theme. This is also the part where you can pick your font and other appearances. I imagine most will be fine choosing from the fonts that Ning offers.

Min: 17
Choose user questions

Ning enables users to create their own multiple choice questions, so I picked, "How much do you love swag?" with the possible answers: A) No swag love, B) I'm swagtastic, C) Love? Is there a stronger word? and D) Can't talk! Too busy basking in swag!

Min: 20
Create graphic and upload pictures

While I'm waiting on our graphics guy to design a logo for me, I upload the pictures to the site.

Min: 30
Invite friends

I'm still waiting on our graphics guy to get the logo to me (he's so busy!), so I begin to invite my colleagues to the site to pass the time.

Min: 45
Still waiting

While I wait, I check the site, add a discussion and encourage my friends to interact. I get very excited when somebody comments on a discussion. Zuckerberg eat your heart out.

Min: 57
Logo arrives!

I quickly upload the logo to the site and update. I click the "manage" tab at the top of my screen to go back into the site options. Only the creator gets a manage tab.

Min: 60
SwagMe.ning.com created!

Come join my site and talk about your swag. Sure it's completely goofy, but we all know how much you love it.

Ning is accessible for all sizes of business and across all verticals. It may be the only thing that goes smoothly today, and it's fun. Snoop around.

Adam Shahbaz is assistant editor at iMediaConnection. Read full bio.


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