The popularity of Social Networking is growing exponentially by the day. More than just a passing fad, social networks are quickly becoming the new paradigm from which enterprises can increase revenue, drive business decisions, and affect change.
Yet launching and growing a social network can be a daunting task. With the amount of noise, and seemingly "too-good-to-be-true" claims, it's a challenge to know where to begin and what to believe.
An online community must meet time-to-market requirements while ensuring business requirements are met now and in the future. Based on more than eight years of experience solely focused on developing and supporting social networks, we have compiled a list of seven essential steps required to launch and grow a social network.
1. Determine What You Want to Accomplish. Be Specific. Every organization would like to quickly sign up millions of members. Attracting users is a good thing, but it shouldn't be your goal. Articulate your goals in business terms-what are you trying to accomplish with the site and how will it better the enterprise. Be as specific as possible. Make sure your goals are realistic, attainable, and measurable. Determine a return on investment (ROI), and measure progress against practical, applicable metrics. Generating trend reports for number of visitors or message board posts won't cut it for an enterprise social network.
Examples of business goals include:
- Television network - Attract a younger viewing audience, improve fan loyalty, increase television ratings by 20%.
- Phone company - Increase sales by 20% by expanding sales pipeline to include customers' family and friends.
- Publishing company - Increase subscriptions and increase advertising revenue
- Consumer Products company - Develop a new way to shape the behavior of trendsetters in target market.
- Production studio - Drive audiences to specific movies and affect social change.
2. Determine Your Value Proposition and Target Your Audience.
Determine the value you are providing for your target audience. Answer the questions, "Why should a user visit my site and, more importantly, why will they stay?" and "What is unique about our online community?"
Establish your niche. The more targeted your audience, the greater your chance of success. By selecting a narrow segment, you have a greater chance of establishing an online community that is compelling and unique. Additionally, the more targeted you are, the more likely you will attract a passionate audience whose needs have not yet been met. The more passionate the audience, the more chance word of mouth will increase community participation.
The value your online community provides must encourage users return again and again. Initially attracting people to your site is extremely important, but the perceived value of the online community is what will keep them coming back. You may also want to include specific tactics and features to retain members. Examples include:
- Offer the ability to interact with knowledge experts in the target niche segment.
- Provide access to original, exclusive content (e.g., a media company provided access to their journal articles when someone joined the community).
- Provide unique opportunities for members (e.g., a television conglomerate offered teenagers the opportunity to appear as high school sports commentators on local affiliates).
- Provide value-add services for members (e.g., an art workshop site enabled members to post artwork and receive constructive feedback).
- Offer the ability to interact with celebrities.
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