It might be a bit of stretch to build a community of 400 million people, but building your own niche social networking site in the style of Facebook is totally achievable. This is something you should seriously consider; social networking has revolutionized the manner in which businesses can market their products and services online.
Why Create a Social Networking Site?
One of the primary purposes of creating your own social networking site is to tailor communication to a more specialized or focused group of members than the mega-sites can offer. Groups can be created that share common interests – such as an alumnae group or a non-profit community – but would like a more private format for sharing information, ideas, comments and news.
Niche social networking sites are also easier to monetize than their mass-appeal counterparts. If Facebook were to suddenly start charging a membership fee, the result would probably be disastrous. A small focused niche site, however, will be seen as more specialized and exclusive and could be an excellent membership fee opportunity. The obvious alternative to membership fees is to use affiliate marketing throughout your social networking site. Revenue will be generated either through clicks, or purchases from your members.
Once you’ve settled on the purpose and objectives of building your social networking platform, you need to choose a platform to support it.
The challenge is not in building your social networking site, but in deciding which service is going to be the most suitable. There are many, many companies offering solutions including Kickapps, CrowdVine, GoingOn, Haystack, OneSite and Ning.
I would recommend Ning as the best option for beginners, however they jsut removed their free version.
They’re easy to get started with, and easy to manage. The point and click process allows you to choose your own theme, appearance and member features. You can create either a private, invite-only platform, or a public platform that allows any users to join.
The Ning platform also offers real-time chat capabilities, a forum, private user blogs, event management, and photo and video sharing. The entire social networking platform once built will be hosted on the Ning servers, which means there are no software upgrades to worry about. At the time of writing, Ning are moving from a free service to a paid service, however the starting price is expected to be low and is still a worthy platform to consider.
Another option for creating your own social networking site is a software platform available to download and host on your own server. There is an obvious appeal to this option in that you are in complete control. BuddyPress is an open source system that runs on the WordPress platform. The customization capability requires a little more expertise, but the end result will be a lot closer to your vision.
Installing BuddyPress on a WordPress blog is simple. Choose Plugins > Add new from the menu in your WordPress admin area, and search for BuddyPress. Once you’ve installed the plugin, ensure that you have permalinks enabled on your WordPress install so that you can activate a BuddyPress compatible theme. You can locate compatible theme options under the Appearance tab. Once you’ve constructed your BuddyPress community, you can add additional custom plugins to add additional functionality and features for your members.
Whether you go with BuddyPress or Ning is going to come down to whether ease of use or customization and control is of primary importance. There’s no reason why you shouldn’t experiment with both and see with which platform you feel the most comfortable.