A Talk About Local guide written by Nicky Getgood and Pete Ashton of http://ash10.com
Creating a Ning account
- Ning is a service that lets you run your own social network, similar to Facebook. Before signing up for Ning you should think about whether you need it. Do you have an audience ready and waiting to use it? Can you make do with a simple blog or forum? Would it be easier to simply use a Facebook group if your audience is already there? A good example of a Ning being used by a local community is http://www.harringayonline.com/ a site in East London with over 1,000 members.
If you’ve decided to go with Ning, here’s how to set up a social network there.
To set up a Ning social network you first need to create a Ning account.
- Go to http://ning.com
- Click on Join Now in the top right hand corner of the screen.
- Complete your details to sign up for a new Ning account and then press the Sign Up button at the bottom of the form.
You will be sent a confirmation email with a link. Click on this and fill out a few details about yourself. If you want to skip this step you can, but make sure you fill out your profile properly before launching your site.
Now you have created a new Ning account, you will now be able to create your own social network.
Creating your own Ning social network
You should now see a page with a big Create a Social Network link:
Click on this and give your network a name. You will also need to decide on the address for the network. Chose carefully as this cannot be changed – pick one that is short and memorable (your preferred name may be taken so keep trying). Once you’ve got this move on to filling out more information about your network.
Add a description and in ‘keywords’ add the search words you think people might use to try and fine you or your subject matter such as your place name or your area of interest.
Now you have created your new social network we can customize it by adding some features.
You now have a social network. It’s time to decide what sort of features you want your social network to have.
You’ll be greeted with a somewhat overwhelming selection of features. Don’t panic. Just think about what you want people to do with your site and chose appropriately.
Remember, people can only use the features you include. You can add and remove features at a later date but if, say you don’t want people adding video, simply don’t include the Video feature.
Here’s what they do:
- Activity: This displays the most recently activity on the network and is a useful
one-stop way for members to keep up to date.
- Badges: Your members can use these to promote the network on other sites, for example on the site of their blogs.
- Birthdays: Shows when it’s a member’s birthday. Not that useful.
- Blog: Members can run a blog within the network. This can get a little confusing as it’s very similar to starting a forum thread. However, if you want to have a separate area for longer, more in-depth articles this can be useful so is worth considering adding in future.
- Chat: Participate in a live network-wide chatroom or private one-on-one chat with other members on your social network. This is Instant Messaging within the network and can be useful for members to have a conversation without giving out private details.
- Description: This takes the description you wrote in the settings and puts it on the sidebar.
- Events: If your group is running a number of events this can be a useful way of storing the information in one places. (Other events services do exist…). For a community site, this can serve as a local events calendar that anyone in the network can add to.
- Forum: Probaby the most useful feature on the Ning. This is where the members discuss whatever is on their minds. It’s also the feature most people will be familiar with.
- Groups: If you have a very large Ning community then letting people form groups within that can be useful. This is good for clubs and societies within a community that may want a space of their own within the site.
- Members: A list of all the members in your network.
- Music: Members can upload songs and audio files up to 20mb in size. While the file size is small this could be a good way to share recordings of meetings and events, or for people who are more comfortable talking to share their thoughts. It is geared more towards music though.
- Notes: This duplicates the blog and forum a bit so best not used as it confuses things.
- Pages: Add new pages of content. If you have a lot of static content which needs to be referred to often, such as community guidelines or local links, this is a good place to put it.
- Photos: Members can upload photos to the network, either directly through the site or via email. Other members can comment and mark photos as favourites. You can also import photos from Flickr and share photos on other sites outside the network. If you’re not already using Flickr this is a useful feature to have.
- RSS: If you have content on another site, such as a WordPress blog, you can automatically have the most recent entries linked here by adding the RSS feed.
- Text Boxes: These are boxes on the sidebar that contain anything you like. The most common use is “adverts” for events and services in your area or a widget from another service like Twitter.
- Videos: Allow members to upload their own videos and share videos from video services like YouTube. Like the Photos feature this is useful one to include.
Remember the most important rule: keep it simple. Start with a small number of features and listen to your members. If they want to do something they’ll let you know.
Here’s how I’ve decided to start my network:
In the left sidebar is the Description of the network followed by recent Activity, the list of Members and Events. This tells visitors what the site is about and what’s going on.
On the right is an area reserved by Ning for administrative purposes and adverts (Ning is free so you do have to suffer ads unless you opt to progress to a paid). Under that I’ve put the Badges for people to promote the network on their own sites.
In the middle is the main activity. For now I want to encourage the sharing of Photos followed by discussion in the Forum. Under that is the option for Chat.
Now I’ve added the features I want and decided upon the layout, I can choose a suitable appearance for the site.
Ning has a very flexible system for chosing the appearance of your site. You can spend a long time selecting colours and so on but remember you can always go back and do this later. For now chose a basic theme. I’ve chosen “Social Blue” and my new network looks like this:
Which is nice, but rather empty. It needs people, but people need a reason to come so let’s start adding some content.
Go to the Photos page by clicking on the Photos tab at the top.
Click on the Add Photos button in the top right hand corner.
Click on the large camera button the next screen. This will bring up a browser for you to search for your image file on your computer. Double click on the relevant file.
Your file will be added to the box. Once it is listed click on the Upload button in the bottom right hand corner.
Once your photo has been uploaded, it will appear in an Edit Uploaded Photos page, where you can add a Title, Description and mark it with Tags so it appears in people’s searches for relevant keywords.
You will also have the option to add the photo to an album if you wish (which is always a good idea if the photo is part of an event or group activity). You can either add it to existing abum using the drop-down menu or create a new album by giving it a Title, Description and Tags.
Once you have added all the necessary information to your uploaded photo click the Save button in the bottom right-hand corner.
Your Photo is now added to the Photos page of your Ning site.
Starting forum discussions
Go to the Forum page by clicking the Forum tab along the top.
Click on the Add A Discussion button in the top right-hand corner.
Give your discussion a Title – this will appear as the title on the Forum page so make this relevant.
In the Post box write about your issue or query. You can use the toolbar along the top to customize your text. You can make highlighted text bold, italic, underlined or strikethrough.
You can also hyperlink highlighted text to a relevant website by clicking on the chain link icon, inserting the website address (URL) in the box that appears and clicking OK.
This will insert the HTML code into your post to hyperlink that section of text. It does look a little strange but is not something you need to worry about.
If you want to add an image to your post, place the cursor where you would like the image to appear in the post. Click on the camera icon on the toolbar and use the browser box that appears to search for and select the image in your computer. Then click the Add button.
Again, this will add the HTML code for the image into your post.
Once you have finished writing the body of your Discussion post, add relevant tags into the Tags section so it appears in other people’s searches for those keywords.
Press the Add Discussion button in the bottom right-hand corner.
Your discussion will now appear on the Forum page of your Ning site for others to respond to.
Now you’ve got a little content on you site for visitors to respond to, it’s time to start inviting people to become member of your social network.
The best way is to email your contacts inviting them to join. To do this go to the Invite tab along the top.
Click on the Enter Email Addresses option, and insert the email addresses of the people you’d like to invite with a brief message.
Click the Send Invitations button and the contacts will be emailed an invite.
Alternatively, you can just direct people to your website address, they can sign-up themselves.
New users can then invite new members themselves. This is good as it means you will get new members to your site more quickly. However, you may understandably want to approve new members.
To do this click the manage tab along the top.
Click on Network Privacy in Your Members section.
In the Network Privacy page, select the Approve New Members before They Can Join box. Now every time someone requests to join the network, you will receive an email containing the person’s name, email address and a link to thir Ning profile page, from where you can accept or decline their membership request.
Should you feel a Member’s behaviour on the site is becoming unreasonable to the point that you no longer want them to be within the Network, it is possible to ban members.
Banning Members should always be a last resort – try to settle the matter by sending them a private message explaining why their behavior is unacceptable first. However, if they persist with unreasonable comments you may need to ban them.
Go to the Manage tab along the top.
Click on the Members option in the Your members section.
You will see a list of Member. Select the Member you wish to ban by ticking the box next to their icon and selecting the Ban From Network option in the drop-down Actions menu.
A confirmation window will appear. To proceed, click the Ban button.
The next time the Member tries to sign in, they will be taken to a page explaining they’ve been banned from the network and given the opportunity to contact you, so you may receive an email asking ‘Why was I banned?’
If you want to remove the ban on a Member, go to the Banned tab above the list of Members in the Members page.
Select the Member by ticking the box next to their icon, and press the Remove Ban button above the list. The Member will now be restored to the Members page.
Well done! You have learnt how to create a Ning account, created a new social network, customised its appearance for your needs, uploaded a photo, written a forum discussion and set suitable settings in order to moderate network membership.
Of course, there are a few more things to learn if you want to keep going with your network and develop it into something more, but none of it is much more difficult than the basic essentials you’ve learnt here to get yourself started.