Private Social Networks and the Value of True Connection

The head of the Catholic church might seem an unlikely candidate when it comes to people making poignant, interesting comments about social media, but in section 47 of his treatise Laudato Si, Pope Francis has done just that. He writes:

“Real relationships with others, with all the challenges they entail, now tend to be replaced by a type of internet communication which enables us to choose or eliminate relationships at whim, thus giving rise to a new type of contrived emotion which has more to do with devices and displays than with other people and with nature.”

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Not only is it possible to make money with a community, it’s also possible to do it in a number of different ways.

Can you monetize your private social network?

Not only is it possible to make money with a community, it’s also possible to do it in a number of different ways.

Not only is it possible to make money with a community, it’s also possible to do it in a number of different ways.

Building a private social network is fun. It’s exciting, it’s rewarding but when you’re building it as part of a business, it should also be profitable. Not only is it possible to make money with a community, it’s also possible to do it in a number of different ways.

Advertising

Advertising is the most obvious way to make money out of a community and the simplest—it works for Facebook! But it’s also the most intrusive. By all means, use advertising to fund your community but don’t depend on it.

Sell Products

A less intrusive form of advertising is to use your community to promote your own products or those of partners. Mumsnet (www.mumsnet.com) has an Offers section that promotes products from its partners. Members get exclusive offers; partners get sales; and the community gets a cut.

Sell Information

Interest-based communities will attract members with different degrees of knowledge. Offer courses and ebooks to bring newbies up to speed and you’ll both deepen the quality of your private social network and earn some valuable cash.

Organize Events

An online community is great but if you can bring your members together offline, then you’ll really cement the sense of communal identity. Organizing an event will take a bit of work but share it out among other members and charge a fee to participate, and you’ll have an enjoyable way to pay for the community.

Create Merchandise

Members who feel a close affinity to the community will want to show off their membership. Use sites like Zazzle and Cafepress to offer print-on-demand hats, tees and tote bags and you’ll make sales while advertising your site.

There are plenty of other ways to monetize a community, from building a marketplace to charging for premium services. If you’re not making money out of an active community, you need to take action.

That’s all for now! Next time, I’ll talk about the other benefits a community can bring.

Interview: Samantha van Vleet of Cassava Shop

Samantha van Vleet owns Cassava Shop, an organic non-GMO herbal supplement company based out of the United States. She also owns TTCTwins, a semi-private forum/network for people trying to conceive twins. Her company is a great example of how niche social networks can benefit small business owners, and even create business opportunities; we interviewed her about her experience running a niche network, and how it gave rise to a very successful online business.

samantha van vleet

Tell me a little bit about TTCTwins; why you started it, where it came from.

I have been fascinated with twins from the time I was little. I had a set of Cabbage Patch twin dolls and I always had them. I dragged them everywhere. Once I got older, I still thought the idea of twins was amazing. I looked online for places that discussed it, but there really weren’t many and the places that were available, weren’t so friendly. Women would be attacked and vilified for wanting twins because of the potential health risks involved and “no one should want that for themselves or their babies.” Yes, there are risks involved in having twins, but the decision to try for twins isn’t anyone but the couple who is trying’s. So in 2009 I decided to set up a simple forum and I posted the link two or three places. It grew insanely fast and quickly became the authority on the subject, simply because there was no other site dedicated to the subject. It became a safe haven for these women who wanted twins to find information, support and assistance without being judged for that desire.

Why did you decide to start your own membership site, rather than using existing social networks (eg, Facebook groups)?

For the same reason I was avoiding the other sites; the judgement and condemnation of choosing to try for twins. By creating a membership based site, you give members the ability to protect their privacy and conceal their identity much more so than they would be able to on Facebook. And with such a delicate subject, this is important. I wouldn’t want to post on Facebook under my full name, about my attempts to conceive twins where my family or friends could easily stumble upon it and identify me.

How did TTCTwins become, or give rise to, Cassava Shop?

Many of the women on TTCTwins were talking about yams increasing fertility. This sounded odd to me and a few members and I decided to research more on it. Turns out it was a very specific type of wild yam that had this twinning effect. A village in Africa had a twinning rate of 1 in 11 and it was believed to be due to the estrogen-like substances in the skins and peelings of sweet cassava, consumed daily by members of the tribe. Obviously, we all wanted some, however, at the time there was only one source for it. I had ordered a bottle, but it just seemed fishy to me. I started looking into it more and I just had an off feeling about it. I decided to make my own to see if it was even possible to replicate the powder in the capsules I had bought and still include the skins and peelings as advertised. There wasn’t. I later determined that those capsules were filled with gari, a cereal like product made from cassava that didn’t contain the beneficial skins and peelings. At first, I intended just to make them for myself, but when other members of the site learned about the gari in the other capsules, they were outraged. After all, who wants to take a supplement that doesn’t even contain the stuff it needs to work effectively? Members started asking me if I would make them a bottle as well. I agreed, and next thing I knew, I had emails nearly daily requesting bottles of sweet cassava supplements. My husband looked at me one day and asked “So, when are you turning this into a business?

Do you think niche social networks are better for small business owners, or prospective small business owners, than the larger social networks?

Absolutely. We use coupon codes to track where our sales are coming from (along with other tools) and I would say that 80% of our sales stem from TTCTwins. The reason is simple. We are the trusted authority. We have had competitors pop up since we started Cassava Shop, but they don’t have the advantage we do. We’re trusted. We’re the authority on the subject. We are the place everyone turns to for information on trying to conceive twins and one of the first results on Google.

What advice would you give to someone looking to start up their own niche interest group or private social network online?

Find something that isn’t out there yet and make it work. Focus in on a specific niche. Don’t be afraid of it being taboo or eccentric. Odds are, if you’re interested in it, there are surely other people who are too.

Social Networking Digest: What’s Making News This Week

It’s been a busy week in the world of social networking, with more and more independent, smaller networks emerging, and all the major players taking a hit on the stock exchange. If you’re thinking about starting up your own social network or work in online advertising, here’s three news items you should be aware of.

Social Networking Digest

Image via Associated Press

1. Things haven’t been looking so great for major social networks on the stock market; even Facebook, which isn’t suffering from the same drop-off in sign-ups and activity as Twitter, Yelp and Linkedin wasn’t safe, dropping 2.6 percent. Facebook’s stockholders may simply have decided to cash in after the company’s stock reached record highs a few weeks ago, but it’s also been suggested that people have been spooked by their 82% rise in expenditure (hiring new staff, and investing in technologies that will bring the internet to remote parts of the world). By contrast, smaller social networks like Migme are having a fantastic run, with their shares showing continuous growth.

2. 18 percent of social networking site users have blocked, hidden, or unfriended someone for posting political articles and opinions they disagree with or find offensive. If you want to argue about politics and religion but don’t want to stir up trouble with colleagues or family, there’s two social networks just for you. Roust is an invitation-only social network for people who want a space to talk about important, hot-button issues in a space where lively, controversial debate is welcomed (encouraged!). They’ve introduced a dislike button, and the creator thinks it works well because people go in expecting strong, potentially unpopular opinions. Sean Parker, founder of Napster, has been working hard on an app called Brigade; this social network was designed to encourage Americans to engage with current events and political news.

This is interesting because it shows that niche social networks can be as much about *how* we communicate (eg, providing a space for people who want to be able to share strong opinions or do everything via video), as they are about creating spaces for people with similar interests to come together.

3. They’re calling it “the right to wipe” – that social media users should be able to completely remove any trace of posts they made before they were 18. Social media vetting of prospective college students and employees is becoming increasingly common, and increasingly easy; some employers have even fired current employees based on what they posted on social media as a teen, years after the posts were made. It’s something that’s worth thinking about – should we be looking at encouraging teens to join smaller, less public social networks while they’re going through their formative years? It’s also important to consider, before admonishing young people for not thinking about how their posts could affect them later, that large social networks are collecting huge amounts of data about users, regardless of how careful they are about their privacy settings – and they aren’t particularly transparent about how they share that data, and who they’re sharing it with.

Getting On the Same Page…Literally

The saying goes, “are we on the same page?” Meaning: do we understand each other, is everything clear, has everyone learned what they need to know so progress can be made.

It’s an ideal metaphor for good communication, particularly when applied to web pages; if all your colleagues and customers are scattered across different platforms and channels, it’s going to be much more difficult to ensure people are getting the information you need them to get, when you need them to get it.

PeepSo's admin interface.

PeepSo’s admin interface.

Creating your own social network saves you from having to post the same message, over and over. You can have a real conversation in a quiet, dedicated space, rather than participating in the online equivalent of shouting in a crowded room. It works better from the customer’s end, too: rather than being unsure whether they should inbox you, text you, tweet you, send you a carrier pigeon, etc to get in touch with you, they’ll have a central communication hub where they know they’ll be able to get the support and advice they need. Further, it’s all on your website; the same place they’d go to purchase your product(s). 

PeepSo is the ideal plugin if you’re looking to start your own social network; it’s clean, streamlined, and easy to use (no coding knowledge necessary). The admin interface will be of particular interest to business owners, as it allows you a huge amount of control and insight (similar information to Facebook’s Insights tool, but easier to read and interpret); you can track post engagements, check reported content (you decide what’s acceptable, not Facebook), check your member demographics, and much more.

All of your information and communication in one place. Simple, smart, and effective.

Market Networks: The New Way to Do Business Online

In an article he wrote for TechCrunch last month, James Currier looked at the rise of market networking software; software that provides an intersection between online marketplaces (sites like Etsy, eBay and AirBnB which allow multiple buyers to connect with multiple sellers), and social networking sites (sites like Facebook, MySpace and Twitter, which emulate our offline social networks and are based around identity); he provides HoneyBook as an example, a market network for the events industry which allows professionals to connect around projects and keep all of that project’s transactions and paperwork in one place.

Image by NFX LLC.

Image by NFX LLC.

Currier suggests that these market networks have an edge over simple online marketplaces – and I would add, websites with selling capabilities – as they encourage a connection more meaningful and long-term than a simple transaction. They emulate how business happens in real life: the networks of professionals and clients which pop up on these sites often begin with people who have been communicating for years inviting each other to the site, and creating an online version of a network that already exists via fax, phone, invoices, etc.

Installing PeepSo on your website is the first step to creating your own market network. It allows you to bring all your professional connections together in one place and introduce them to each other. You can tell people about a new product and send them to the checkout page, with them staying on your site the entire time. You can build meaningful online connections within the parameters you want to set for them, eliminating the blurring between personal and professional that Facebook doesn’t just enable, but enforces (you have to have a personal account, for example, to use their Business Manager tool).

Marketing networks are the next step in successful online business, and PeepSo has everything you need to get started.

 

The Shelf Life of a Social Network Post

Posts on social networking sites can be like feathers in the wind; you never know just how far they’ll spread. A simple share or like by an influential person or page can take a post that’s months old, and turn it viral; but for most posts, according to a study done by Bitly, they have about three hours to get their message across before they disappear (interestingly, YouTube is anomalous here; links shared from YouTube tend to last around seven hours before fading away).

A graph showing the shelf life of a Bitly post.

A graph showing the shelf life of a Bitly post.

If you’re sending out an important message about your business, that leaves you with two options (or three, if you consider posting your message as a YouTube video an option): pay to boost your post, or keep reposting your message again and again to try and reach as many people as possible. As a small business, it can be near impossible to make your voice heard over discriminatory algorithms and the noise of an endlessly refreshing newsfeed.

Having your own social network increases the shelf life of your posts drastically – there’s just not as much to compete with. It helps you to ensure that your messages are getting to the people who care about your business, and what you’re doing – without having to pay extra.