In real estate there is an old saying that there are three things to consider: location, location, location. In the world of today’s business it could also be said that there are three things to consider when creating an online community: connections, connections, connections. In other words, getting people to find your online presence is just part of the process of doing business today, and getting people connected is what will help your business grow.
Business social networking services such as LinkedIn are a good start, but this is really just a step above the popular public social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Not that there is anything wrong with these networks — in fact you should use them. Facebook has established itself as a reliable solution for businesses and even offers apps specifically to help extend brand reach.
However, if you want to extend the reach of your community and don’t want to rely on the apps of Twitter or Facebook, there are a few alternatives to help create and grow your own online network.
- Ning.com: If you want to build an online platform and create your own business social network, consider Ning. Named after the Chinese word for “peace,” this company was cofounded by Netscape founder Marc Andreessen. Although Ning has recently announced that it will no longer feature free networks, this social site is a good alternative to MySpace and Facebook, because it offers the ability to create and host your very own social network around a specific interest of your choice. It includes message boards, groups, events, pictures and videos, and many other features you’d expect from a high-quality social network.
- PartnerUp: This online networking community is all about connections for small businesses. It helps entrepreneurs find the resources required to start and grow their business. From PartnerUp, members can post opportunities, ask for and offer advice on business-related topics, and even create word-of-mouth campaigns to acquire new customers. PartnerUp also offers a startup blog with content that includes news and tips as well as advice on building a brand and business.
- YourMembership.com: This site bills itself as a complete online member community and includes member communities along with web-based membership management software. It has users from across the globe with both small and large businesses, as well as nonprofits, chambers of commerce, alumni programs, and even connections for government agencies. It can help you build a website that includes social networking and will also help manage membership. It’s a web-based solution so there’s no hardware or software to install. Service includes custom design, hosting, future upgrades, customer service, and training.
- Networking for Professionals: One thing to remember is that not all networking can be done through the computer, and this networking site combines online business with real-life events. Users can interact through the online network with members at any time, post articles and videos, and manage contact lists, as well as connect with these colleagues at real world events in cities across the country.
All of these tools are affordable, and for the most part, you don’t need to hire anyone to use them. But as with any networking, how much you get out of it all depends on how much you’re willing to put in.