Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Social Media 101 Part 3: Create your own social network

So you know how to podcast and how to videoblog? Well, it's time to put it all together. Did you know over 80% of the UK population is on Facebook? For young people it's even closer to 90%. I find this rather amazing. Bebo is particularly popular as a social media site amongst young people in Scotland, and the trend is upwards. As is the use of mobiles, videoblogging and twitter of course.

To put it simply, we're all on Facebook. Of course this is simplifying things and there are people who don't access Facebook for a number of reasons, but it's still breathtaking to look at the statistics. Facebook, Bebo and MySpace are open social networks, the idea being that anyone can join, and it facilitates to accumulate lots of friends, or to be a part of lots of groups.

Now, for some situations, that's a bit to wide and not suitable. You may be looking for a topical network, one where all the members share an interest. Which is not about linking the world, but linking people around an issue, an interest, a theme. Enter: Ning. Ning is a platform that offers bespoke social networks. Effectively, it offers you to set up your very own social network and you have full control over who can join and who can't. You can determine privacy settings, layout, you can even moderate every single contribution to it.

Why would you want to do it? Well, for example if you work with young people and want to make sure that they use social media in a safe environment. Then look at British Mummy Bloggers: One idea, almost 800 members, and what a vibrant network! Of course, in the case of BMB, everyone can join who considers themselves a parent blogger, it's not closed in that sense. It does focus on one theme though and allows people to connect around that theme. Another favourite example of mine in Ooooby (out of our own back yards), an international ning site that connects people who grow their own veg in the small or big spaces available to them. You can find out about local farmers markets where you are, ask food growing questions, share seeds and saplings, and set up your own groups (I set up a Scotland group). Again, everyone can sign up and there's no moderation of activities. Towards Transition Glasgow is another network I'm part of, it's a Transition initiative - and Transition initiatives are always very local. A closed social network is ideal for a local initiative because it offers that focus.

Savvy Chavvy is an example of a successful closed Ning site. It's by and for young Gypsy/Travellers in the UK. Amazingly, it must have filled a void because thousands of young Travellers are on it - I didn't even realise there were that many young Gypsy/Travellers in the UK! Only young Gypsy/Travellers are allowed in, and there are some mechanisms to make sure that this is upheld. It works because it has created a save space which is exclusive, and because the Gypsy/Traveller identity is something that binds people across the UK together.

Ning offers all the features you would expect from a social network site. You can blog, you can share photos, videos, podcasts. There is a forum and you can set up groups. Each user has their own profile page which they can customise. You can make friends within your network. There is a poll tool, you can broadcast (or email) all the members, you can moderate every contribution or decide not to. It comes with an ever growing number of widgets. Above all, it's entirely free! Well, the free version has rather annoying google ads in it, but if that bothers you, you can get rid of ads for a reasonable monthly fee. The best thing is that you can set it up in a matter of minutes. And then play around with the layout for months. The options are endless, but you don't HAVE to use all the options. Simply does it too. Ning rocks, no question about it.

I set up a Ning site which is linked to the work I'm doing. It's fully moderated and membership is by invitation only. We've set the highest level of security because the users on it are young people and we want to keep them 100% safe. The big question is whether the restrictions will put them off, because it's counter intuitive in a social media context where everything is open and instant, where you don't wait for your blog post or photo to be approved by someone who works 9-5 Monday to Thursdays. Time will tell. I'm having fun with it, that's for sure!

2 comments:

ALMOST MRS AVERAGE said...

This is fabulous advice. I'm speaking at a conference next week about Zero Waste and one of my recommendations is to suggest that such projects engage social media. It does revolutionalise sharing of information and advice among people of similar interests. The only trouble I have with my social networks is fitting it all in....any suggestions beyond telepathy? :-)

cartside said...

A. Mrs A.: I'm totally excited about the opportunities available. Bespoke social networks can really link people around issues, and the voluntary sector as well as interest groups can use them to connect and share information. I can even see them working very locally, say community councils could have a social network for anyone in one very small area to get involved to make the community they live in work better. And like you, with lots of ideas in my head and only limited time, it's a bit frustrating. If you need any resources for your presentation, email me, Ive got a couple of powerpoints and documents about social media/ning blog at cartside dot co dot uk.

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