LazyWeb Request: Why and How Should Companies Use Ning?

We’re just putting the finishing touches on this ebook about social media marketing. I was reviewing it today and detected a possible gap in our content around white label social networks.

Unless you’ve got lots of resources to point at it, we generally think starting your own social network is a bad idea. They’re often gleaming examples of corporate hubris (“Our customers love us so much, they’ll bring all their friends to our toilet paper-themed social network”). And even with lots of cash it can be risky. See, for example, the miserable, $20 (or $30, the jury’s still out) million failure that was Bud.TV.

Our advice is to just go where your users are–blogs, Facebook, MySpace, the extant niche networks like Cork’d or Library Thing and so forth.

Let’s assume you agree with that advice. I’m wondering if and how companies can use the quick-and-dirty ad hoc networks that Ning offers? Or should the same principle apply? I’m thinking it probably does, but I’d love to hear some divergent opinions. Understand that I’m not writing Ning off–it has plenty to offer all sorts of individuals and groups, but I’m not sure it’s a good route for companies.

The book has not, as it were, gone to the presses just yet. Of course, it’s an electronic book, but you get the idea.

1 comment

  1. Ning, specifically, is a great place to start a social network if you’re looking to try things out or test an idea. Building your site is seductively simple and feature rich. Sign up, add components to your site, cook up a design and poof! The upgrade to the paid version is light and cheap. You’ve got a simple social networking site in no time, with very little cost.

    Now go and tell people about it. Use your company email newsletter. Get your internal folks using it. Make it a place to go for fun, useful information. Give it a jolt of energy so that, like Frankenstein, it lives.

    But. (You just knew there had to be a but with anything that seductive.)

    For a business, looking to build a social network that they can make part of their business flows long term, Ning is a dead-end relationship. As far as I can tell, you never own your users. You can’t export them. You can’t see their activity on the site. You can’t extend their profiles. You basically don’t have access to them. Ning does. Ning owns them. They have a Ning account, not a (your company) account or other account (OpenID) that your company can work with.

    And in a social network it’s the people that are the value.

    So we always try to help clients evaluate their plans carefully before they decide on a ‘solution.’ Ning social networks have to be considered disposable social networks — good for a short-term purpose or small function but not ready for anyone to build a business on (or part of their business).

    Any other folks out there with experience building Ning sites? I’d love to be proven wrong on this because I think Ning could be killer if they weren’t a dead end.

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