Creating a community for your customers

Whether you’re selling beaded jewellery or your time as an expert in finance, it’s good for business to develop a community around you. Bonding customers to each other, will bond them ever closer to you. In this feature, Emma Jones reviews two free community building tools.

Ning may be just the thing

Create your own social or business network using Ning.com The platform was launched in 2005 by stellar tech veterans. One of the founders is Marc Andreessen who also started Netscape. You’d like to think he knows a good thing online when he sees it!

Sign up to Ning and create a network in less than a minute. Choose from one of the 50 or so template designs or, if you’re feeling adventurous, design your own. Your network can be public or private (open or closed) and Ning allows you to moderate content before it goes live. Other features include allowing community members to chat, blog and upload their photos and videos. You can also use Ning to organise events.

It’s free to create a social network using Ning but they also offer premium services that are chargeable.  www.ning.com

Get out of a jam with webjam

Webjam also offers a free start-your-own-social-network service. As with Ning, you can choose the basic and free product or upgrade to have more features and control. Whereas Ning is very much geared towards social networks, Webjam appears to be more focused on the business audience with an Etsy network being profiled as a star site on their home page. We’re also aware that Webjam is partnering up with online e-commerce people, Venda.com so business owners can make sales through Venda and create a sense of community with Webjam – it’s a joint venture that makes perfect sense.  www.webjam.com

These are two tools for you to review and consider for community building. Once in place, you’ll want the community to follow! Here’s a few tips on how to start and grow your community:

Start the conversation – get the virtual ball rolling by starting discussion threads. Maybe drop in something controversial that will encourage people to post a return comment.

Make introductions – keep the conversation going in the same way you would at an offline event or party. Introduce guests who you think will benefit from chatting together.

Set guidelines – otherwise referred to as ‘netiquette’ you might want to set out a few words of structure from the start eg no fighting or swearing in the forums!

Reward Ambassadors – find a way to recognise the people who are active posters and participants in and of the network. Maybe this is through recognition on the site or sending a gift voucher to say thanks.

Celebrate milestones – host a virtual party when you achieve a network goal or make a fuss when a member conveys good news. It all helps create a network where there is a sense of purpose, but also a sense of fun!

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About the Author: Emma Jones is Founder of Enterprise Nation and author of ‘Spare Room Start Up – how to start a business from home’

Enterprise Nation is racing to follow every home business on Twitter by Home Enterprise Day on Friday 20th November at www.twitter.com/e_nation

Photo credit:  This great image was created by Will Lion

Emma Jones

Emma Jones is Founder and Editor of Enterprise Nation, the home business website. She has successfully started two businesses from home offices in London, Manchester and rural Shropshire. Following a career with an international accountancy firm, Emma started her first home based business at the age of 27 and successfully sold it just 15 months after launch. Redbrick Enterprises Ltd was founded in 2002 to advise the public sector on effective homeworking. Spotting a gap in the market to provide information and inspiration to homeworkers, Emma launched Enterprise Nation [www.enterprisenation.com], the home business website, in January 2006. The website is a free resource for people starting and growing a business at home and has a readership of more than 390,000 people. As well as site content, there is also a free fortnightly e-newsletter and podcast. Emma’s first book on how to start a business from home Spare Room Start Up: How to Start a Business from Home will be published by Harriman House in May 2008.

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