According to comScore, social networking sites reach
82 percent of the world’s online population, which represents
1.2 billion users across the globe. And Nielsen
claims that nearly 23 percent of time spent online
involves social sites — making it obvious why today’s
small businesses must maintain a presence through
social media channels.
But instead of — or in addition to — relying on the usual suspects
such as Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, YouTube,
Tumblr and Pinterest, to name a few, why not start your own
online community so that your niche audience can communicate
directly with each other and with your brand?
There are numerous ways that a small business can create
and launch its own customizable social network, including
the following five options:
Ning: Well-established platform Ning enables users to engage and
grow an online community. Business owners can start designing
their sites by choosing a theme and utilizing one of more
than 80 design settings, and design professionals also have the
ability to customize the design via CSS.
The platform integrates with Facebook, Twitter and
YouTube so that users can maximize their audience reach. Additional
extensions provide users with extra social functionality
such as live video streaming, photo editing and email
marketing, and businesses can collect revenue through memberships,
donations, premium groups and content, advertising
or selling branded merchandise. Ning offers a 30-day free trial,
as well as a limited Mini plan for $2.95 per month, an advanced
Plus plan for $24.95 per month, or a scalable Pro plan
for $59.95 a month.
Wall.fm: Wall.fm enables its users to create a niche social network such
as a photo- or video-sharing site, a fan club or hobby community.
The easy-to-use platform utilizes drag and drop functionality
to provide users with the ability to add features such
as groups, events, video-conferencing, blogs, forums, comments
or ratings. The open-source platform also offers a variety of free
themes and allows users more control over and the ability
to move their social networks at any time. Pricing starts
out free for an ad-supported option and ranges from $10 to
$150 per month for additional features such as more disk
space and bandwidth.
SocialGO: This platform features customizable design options while enabling
businesses to use their own domains, create an unlimited
number of pages, publish blogs and incorporate activity
streams and real-time chat functionalities.
SocialGO also helps its users create a stronger connection
with their audiences by collecting information from new members,
including email addresses and social profiles. Users can try
SocialGO free for 14 days, and then choose between the Premium
plan for $29.99 per month or the Concierge plan for
$99.99 a month — which comes with additional features such
as custom design, premium support and best-practice advice.
BuddyPress: BuddyPress provides its users with everything they need to
start their own self-hosted WordPress-powered social network.
Features include the ability to add activity streams, user
groups, multisite blogging, extended profiles, discussion forums,
private messaging, as well as providing a user’s audience
to make friend connections and customize their settings.
Because it is a WordPress plugin, users can build or use
other plugins to extend or run alongside BuddyPress. Another
great aspect of the platform is that users have the option to
turn off features.
JomSocial: This Joomla-based platform enables users to build social networks
and community websites with collaboration tools and
Facebook-like features. The solution provides more than 300
JomSocial add-ons and access to 7,000 Joomla extensions.
JomSocial also enables users to share photos and videos from
popular providers such as YouTube and Vimeo.
JomSocial is used by more than 150,000 users including
gamers, health-enthusiasts, rock bands, Web entrepreneurs,
students and more. Solutions start at $99 for the Standard
level, rise to $149 for Professional level, and go up to $499 for
the Unlimited package that provides support for unlimited domains