When building social networks, focus on the community
Gina Bianchini, co-founder and former CEO of Ning, writes that when building social networks and tools, think about the audience first.
She proposes seven principles for building social networks, each focused on the external needs of the community, not the internal demands of your organization. The guidelines include: develop products for an audience with infinite choices and limited time; create something unique and be the best at that one thing; and develop relationships, not tools.
Bianchini's advice is great for developers working on the next Twitter or Foursquare, but also for anyone working in digital media. Too often, journalism websites and other digital projects are built to support internal business priorities, not consumer needs. As a result, news sites are often replete with unfriendly registration systems, unused content sharing tools and unmanageable commenting systems. When combined, these sub-par experiences translate into a lack of community engagement. So, while Facebook sees its users for about seven hours a month, the average newspaper website keeps its readers around for about 40 minutes a month.
Bianchini stresses the focus and intensity it requires to build products that foster audience loyalty:
"To successfully use the fleeting moments you have, you need to orchestrate everything under your control to work together seamlessly under a single brand with a single reason for existence. Make it emotional. If your team can’t tie back every decision they are making to the emotion you want people to feel when they are using your social product, then your reason for existence isn’t strong enough to serve its role, which is to guide your team and the product decisions you are making."