You’ve seen MySpace, you’ve heard of Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and all the other ones. What do these websites share? They are very popular social networks. Would you like to give it a shot also? In that case, this article will point you in the correct direction.
What do you want to achieve by building a social networking website?
Think about this thoroughly. It is crucial that you comprehend your ambitions early on so you can avoid getting frustrated later. There are usually a couple of options:
- you are starting a social networking site for a real physical community you are a member of (e.g. your local soccerclub), with no financial ambitions.
- you are starting a niche community website for a group of people that you are perhaps a member of (or maybe not) with financial ambitions (you want to make some cash)
- you want to start a huge site, like Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace, with obvious financial ambitions.
Your ambitions and where you stands towards the community you are building a website for will determine your approach. In the following part, we will go over at the various options and the typical costs you can expect.
Starting a website for a a real physical community you are a member of
This is by far the most simple one, as a big chunk of the marketing will simply be word of mouth in your community. It’s sufficient to have a person with some influence in the community promote the website (perhaps yourself) and the rest of the group will join.
To start from zero, as with any social network website project, you’ll have to think about the needs of the community. Lets take an example. If you are starting a site for a soccerclub, the website will need things like groups, fan profiles, sharing of photos, event management calendar, etc.
Social networking sites are always built with the same basic principle: the goal it to provide online sharing and organisation tools for the members of the community. If you are starting a website for an existing community of which you are a part of, you should have a pretty good idea of what the people need.
Make a list of the functionalities you need, and compare this list to the features of social networking software packages like boonex, phpfox or Dzoic. These are complete out of the box social networking website scripts that you can upload on your website. If this seems complicated to you, you can often get help from the technicians at the customer service. If the service doesn’t include this, take a look at the many freelancers available on elance.com for example. The average cost of such software is around 350$.
That might look like a lot of money, but the advantage is that you fully own the site and that you have complete control. You won’t have any branding issues (your own logo and design will be on the website) either. If you are building a website for a community which really doesn’t require all of this, you can do it a lot cheaper by creating a network at Ning. This is a website that permits people to create social networks on their hosting platform. A basic social network can be started for free.
Remember that when you choose this option, you will be completely dependent on Ning. The name of your website will include Ning, the layout will have Ning all over it, and changing any of this will cost money. You’ll have very limited control over your network: it is hosted by Ning, implying that if Ning goes belly-up – so does your site.
So think about this thoroughly, check out Ning and check out some of the out of the box social networking software scripts if you want something more robust and reliable.
Starting a niche social networking site with financial ambitions
Excellent move! You have recognized that there is a huge stack of money out there waiting to be picked up. Niche social networking websites have been around since the dawn of the inet (remember yahoo groups? mIRC)? The difference is the fantastic technology we all have available now.
Facebook is excellent for superficial networking. LinkedIn is great for professional contacts. These sites however do not permit the users to be anonymous (that would be completely besides the point of these sites), implying that members can rarely express themselves fully. And there comes the need for niche networks where members can meet & share all they want without their real-life social networks ever finding out!
There are quite a few methods you can use to make this profitable. There is the obvious way of using AdSense on the networks, or affiliate links. There is off course is the huge e-mailing list you could acquire from having your own niche site. Put all this together, and a popular social network you own could be your new personal piggybank.
If this sounds exiting to you, you’ll need to thoroughly think about the following:
What does the community require?
Again, this is the basis for any successful social networking project. Go deep! Here is an example. If you are building a social network for people with insomnia problems, you could have the “what are you doing now” feature of most profiles customized to: “how many hours awake”.
Having nifty things like this will greatly enhance member experience. The members will feel like they are part of a community tailored to them, rather than being on a community website with features they don’t need.
You’ll have already understood that Ning is not an option here. You need full control over the website. If your budget is limited (e.g. below 500$), you’ll have to find a social networking script that meets your needs as much as possible to limit the cost of customization afterwards. These software packages are usually open source, implying that you can change whatever you desire. This means that if you do not have developing skills, you are going to need a developer to do it for you. To reduce your costs, get a script that meets your requirements already as much as possible. To find a developer, you can usually refer to the forum of the developers of the site – there are plenty of young programmers out there who are willing to help you out for a very reasonable amount of money. You can also try a freelancing website.
Before starting the site, you’ll have to think about how you will seduce members to join you. If you know people inside the community already, then that is a very good head start. You can speak to them and try to get them on board. You’ll need to hit existing forums, maybe place a Google ad, or write articles (like the one you are reading now), etc.
You want to create the next huge thing like Facebook, MySpace…
Ok, knowing that you have most likely typed something like “how to start a social networking site”, I am going to assume that you are not a developer. This implies that you will not be able to shake a social network out of your sleeve in the next couple of days.
All is not lost however. First of all, get help. Find a group of people who like the idea, and put your minds together. If you can get financing from somewhere, go for it. That’s what you’ll need to start developing a site that does exactly what you want it to do, with security, powerful servers and everything!
If you’ve got a great idea – try applying the same method as for niche networks – but think about getting financing as soon as possible. One you hit a hundred thousand users, your network will grow very quickly and you will pay huge amounts of money for the servers to host all of this!
If you are dreaming about the next big thing, experiment a bit beforehand – create some groups on Facebook and see what it takes to get people to join for example
- small community websites can be created using Ning
– advanced, robust niche networks can be built using social networking scripts that come out of the box
– ideas for huge networks need financing early on to become a hit