As social media networks continue to proliferate further and further down the Long Tail into niche markets, there are some very impressive, albeit highly targeted networks popping up. Thanks to services like Ning, as well as easy to use software platforms like Boonex Dolphin, Elgg and phpIzabi, it is now fairly simple for anyone to create a network – which means the biggest portion of success isn’t “existing” so much as having a very useful and welcoming network.
During my online exploits I’m often sent links for content that exists within social networks, quite often new blogs written by members or a conversation happening in their forums. Much of the time this really is valuable content, but the biggest problem I’ve noticed is that sometimes it’s really difficult to even get to the content due to a misunderstanding of how important it is to open your site and content.
One example is iheartingleparents.com, a social network for single parents, run by my sister-in-law and her business partner. The network that exists there is fairly robust, with over a thousand active members who are creating a lot of valuable content that other single parents can definitely find useful. This includes a variety of blog posts and community forum discussion on topics ranging from sex and single parenting, to general parenting tips.
Quite often I would find myself seeing a tweet (twitter post) from modernsinglemom mentioning a new useful post or discussion, and I’d click through but then be told I have to be a member of the site to see the content. It’s completely free to be a member, but honestly I didn’t want to create an account – especially since I am not a single parent. Still, the content did seem interesting from the teaser lead in her link, but I never created an account to actually see the content.
This is where the whole purpose of this article comes into play: if you are running a social network and are looking for new members, you need to be inviting. This means you need to be as open as possible. Don’t lock the site down for members only (although if your network platform allows people to set their own profiles to private, you may want to allow them to choose to do so).
Your main goal as a network isn’t to get members by forcing them to sign up. Instead, do your best to create a valuable network, full of individuals who offer a reason for others to join, and once visitors come they can make the decision if they want to join or not. Remember: not every person on a community site is going to be an active community member – and that is completely OK. There are going to be a lot of “lurkers” in your community. These people are just as important as your more active members, as they are the ones using your network to increase their knowledge. After time, they may even join in the conversation. But if you’re an advertising-based network, really it’s all about the eyeballs anyway – not the number of members.
And speaking of eyeballs, there is one other extremely important reason to keep your site open. If your site content is private, Google will not index it. On niche social networks, getting indexed in Google is key. Even if you’re ranking high for your main keyword, you need to remember that scattered throughout your site, in user blog posts, forum discussions, etc. there is a bevy of useful knowledge being shared – knowledge that other people are thirsting for. If you don’t have that content available for Google, or if when someone clicks through a link in Google and is told they can’t view it without becoming a member, chances are you just missed an opportunity to make a meaningful connection.
Meaningful connections are what a social network is all about. Don’t exclude, include. Break down walls, open your content and welcome people to your community with open arms.
P.S. iheartsingleparents is now open to everyone. If you’re a single parent or just are looking for some parenting tips, I definitely recommend stopping by. There’s a lot of great information there, along with a magnicifent community.