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Ning Proves That There’s Life Outside of Facebook and Twitter

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I was recently asked in a 2010 planning meeting about my views on Ning and whether or not it was worthy of consideration or attention. It seems that the question is increasingly raised as Social Media becomes pervasive within the halls of marketing, advertising, customer service, and public relations.

My answer is this. If your only focus is Facebook, blogs, and Twitter, the grapevine to which you’re connected is only telling you part of the story. Listening to keywords in certain networks and not others isolates the true story and the overall opportunity.

Indeed there’s life outside of Facebook and Twitter and the conversation is only reverberating at a deafening roar.

Founded by Marc Andreessen and Gina Bianchini, Ning connected people online around causes, themes, interests, and passions. Based on the prevalent and proven foundation of discussion groups and forums, Ning modernized one of the Web’s most mature platforms for the social era. If you’ve participated in Yahoo or Google Groups over the years, Ning will appear refreshingly similar and friendly. Essentially, it combines the elements of a social network, individual identity, and focus woven together by common threads using a do-it-yourself (DIY) toolkit.

Consumers looking to join discussions can simply use the search box to unearth thriving or emerging groups dedicated to relevant topics. If the community doesn’t yet exist, Ning makes it easy for anyone to establish an elegant, customizable community dedicate to a movement, project, of theme important to them. The genre of nicheworks and the furtherance of vertical connections and conversations continues to evolve and earn prominence.

It’s a place where you can join or start a group dedicated to mountain biking or hiking in your area. Ning is a blossoming community for artists and their fans. Local groups or causes can leverage Ning to organize interaction, progress and events.

According to newly appointed COO Jason Rosenthal, these nicheworks have over 37 million registered users – arguably creating a social network comprised of social networks that’s of greater size than Twitter.

One of the challenges in Facebook and other social networks is that participation is limited to one personality. Who you are on Facebook, for example, is already reaching a crossroads for individuals who use it for personal engagement as well as for those brands and their representatives who are flocking to the 350 million strong network of interlacing social graphs.

For example, as a brand representative, do you interact as “the brand” or as the “brand you” or both? As time passes and interaction only increases, has this rise in participation affected either your personal or your professional relationships measured by the change in voice and pattern of behavior and interaction? By the time your mom and boss and/or client friend you, it’s safe to assume that the social graph has reached a legitimate crossroads. Where do you draw the line? Which personality will you cultivate?

One of the more valuable aspects of Ning is that of identify and focus. Whereas Facebook is currently experiencing a dilemma of singular personality disorder, Ning evokes and encourages a healthy affliction of multiple personality “in” order.

While some call Ning home, many others organize and participate in dedicated nicheworks as participants without concern for the other 1.6 million networks that live in the greater populace. Individuals create dedicated or universal profiles so that their engagement is distinct to their network of precedence.

The network only continues to develop.

At a recent event in Palo Alto, Ning invited developers to explore the newly launched developer platform and application directory – a strategy that propelled the likes of Facebook, Twitter, as well as the iPhone. Even though it is essentially in its infancy, the new developer program is designed to increase the innovation, functionality, and opportunity for Ning and its users. Ning is betting that developers will embrace the platform to eventually create and monetize solutions that provide entertainment, productivity, communications, and commerce for everyone involved.

The race to the world’s largest social network is well underway and honestly, it’s not a story worth covering. The real race is transpiring in the long tail and across the vertical landscapes where nicheworks unite people across the world around themes and as such, creating a flourishing global society of conversational networks bound by psychographics.

Ning will only continue to earn prominence and as you continue to monitor the proverbial conversation online, consider searching Ning for the keywords that important to you, your personal interests and the brand you represent. And while you’re at it, consider researching the entire social Web at least once quarter to assess where else relevant conversations are flourishing without your guidance or direction today. It just might also help answer “why” or “why not” your presence is necessary in any given network now and in the future.

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95 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “Ning Proves That There’s Life Outside of Facebook and Twitter”

  1. Akash Sharma says:

    Great Points Brian, I think ning has a big point to prove because the definition of the social web means that anybody can find people of similar thinking and interact with them and Ning does it quite well in comparison to Facebook because I have seen this thing on Facebook groups or fan pages, that people to people interactions do not happen easily at all.
    Sites like ning are the future of social networking as it gets more and more targeted towards specific tribes.

  2. stephenbryer says:

    Brian, you are a prophet in this vast wasteland of Social Networking – not a desert because of lack of worthiness, but because it truly is misunderstood and misused. Just yesterday I was commenting to a friend of my frustration and disillusion with Facebook as a means of intelligent discourse of ideas and connections on common grounds – it seems like it has only done the opposite in many cases – isolate and inhibit meaningful alliances. The art and design worlds are incredibly disconnected and in my efforts to grow a potent network of valued friends and associates I seem to be spending a considerable amount of time suspending a lot of initial connections and less time building good relationships. Thank you for bringing the Ning option to light in this still very murky world of SN.

    • briansolis says:

      Stephen, this comment is incredibly poignant. It's fascinating to think that the most popular social (or information) networks are actually inhibiting meaningful connections instead of fostering them. This is why I believe in “multiple personality order” as we may now need to maintain a social network for our persona and one for our personal life.

    • stephenbryer says:

      Brian, it appears you struck a harmonious chord amongst your readers based upon all the responses. One thing I would like to explore is the anthropological/physiological component to all of this. Whether it is social or business connections and their developments, what makes people tick…respond to one comment and not to another, pursue one opportunity and not another. I think one just has to throw as many things to the wall and see what sticks, not expect too much and just be tenacious in furthering a potentially meaningful sustained relationship be business or social.

  3. SocialSteve says:


    Thanks for continuing to provide most relevant information for the new age of marketing!

    As social media and social networks see growth in 2010 (expect significant), ning will become even more important. It is a place where anyone can set up their own niche social network. I see ning being to brands, what wordpress and blogger are to, well bloggers … A place where you do not require a technical staff to do your thing.

    Social Steve

  4. Clay Hebert says:

    Great post, Brian. When I explain to clients the difference between Ning & Facebook, I use this analogy. Often, using Facebook is like having a conversation at a U2 concert. Lots of people. Lots of noise. Using Ning is like having a conversation at a cocktail party (that you're hosting). Less noise. More intimacy. Both have their place but Ning can be extremely powerful & useful when used appropriately.

  5. I too love Ning. I'd have it built into our TV station's Website – but they don't allow it to be framed. And at present, you can't (if logged in) search across networks, because of some abuse, but they promise to bring that back. I hope very Web platform creates built-in features much like Ning – in other words, much like Facebook – but until they do, it's almost the only game in town – surely at the price;-)

  6. alejandrorecio says:

    Ning covers a great market, which is the search of communities. The best sources of information come from the people that live it, breathe it and are passionate for a subject. If you can find these people in a network and interact and share the information with them it becomes a great source. A source that will just keep on growing.

  7. sporter63 says:

    It's great to hear this support for Ning. We have a Phillips Academy Facebook fan page, but we also use Ning for our alumni community. There's definitely a role for both.

  8. Brain, Very interesting Article! I just got done signing up for a Ning Account after reading your article. It sounds like a much easier way to connect with people that matter to you and I like the easier customization too, unlike what Twitter and Facebook have. Ning seems like a great way to interact with your group members and to establish your brand. It will be interesting to see how some of the big fortune 500 companies integrate Ning into their marketing plans. They will probably use it as another customer service feature like most do on twitter.

    • briansolis says:

      Hi Jason, I'm not sure if the Fortune 500 will embrace Ning…maybe for ideation. I could see smaller businesses creating communities as well as those in the Inc. 500. I'm paying close attention.

  9. nicolejordan says:

    Great post Brian! What I especially love about Clay's analogy is that it clearly illustrates the massive shift in marketing from “cast a wide net and whittle down” to connecting by “Audience”- which will be the IT word in 2010. Advertising, PR, marketing- all disciplines- are in search of ways to efficiently connect with their evangelists and fostering that relationship. Companies like Ning and Mobile Roadie are providing communication platforms for individual brands to be able to do just that.

    • briansolis says:

      Nicole, exactly. 2010 is the year we realize that not only is there more than one audience for us to reach, we will learn how to identify and connect with them, where they are or need to be, in a way that's economical, scalable, and valuable. Miss you by the way…

  10. kylafairchild says: launched as an online music community on the Ning platform in February after publishing a critically acclaimed music magazine for 13 years. We were fortunate to stumble upon Ning as a solution after realizing there wasn't a business model to sustain paying writers for content online and moving to a community format with crowd sourced content. The community loves the features of the site and the cost to operate is minimal. (No development costs, etc.) I just participated in a Ning network creators summit and the possibilities for the platform are endless. Ning is one to watch in 2010 for sure.

  11. Chris Lynn says:

    Great post, Brian. I experimented with Ning a LONG time ago. They've recently added tons of new features, and your post reminded me that I need to check it out again.

    On a side note, I'm really looking forward to WordPress integrating WordPress MU (multi-user) with the WordPress core. Supposed to happen in 2010. I think we should watch out for WordPress Buddypress (kinda like out-og-the-box social networking built on WordPress MU) as a social networking competitor. People who think the SN space has solidified need to expand their horizons. Facebook is the new Walmart, and there is always space for boutiques.

  12. Tatyana Gann says:

    Ning is an amazing community. I belong to few niche groups within NING and people love the idea of getting to know each other and being a part of niche groups sharing same interests, passions. I agree that we do not have to be technical gurus to manage it. It is very simple and easy to use because it cuts out all the necessary ingredients. As you said Brian it is about focus and I look forward to learning more about their new platform!

    Tatyana Gann

  13. Matt Weeks says:

    I agree with you that the race to see who can build the biggest personal network is not worth watching.

    I don't think the key here is whether there is life “outside” of FB and Twitter. I think it's all about making it less painful to be “in addition to.” So many people are feeling overwhelmed.

    The magic will be integration and simplicity of management.

    Ning holds great promise as it matures into both a source of connection and engagement, as well as an integration point for one's broader graph. Belonging and creating value for others in a community is an instinct and an activity that dominates the experience of the Millennials. They do it online because they live immersed in online experiences. There is no dividing line…just another modality. On the other hand, we young boomers (and everyone in between) are just now figuring out how to engage and manipulate the many online social nets so that we don't get buried.

    I am often asked to defend the “various” communities in conversations and have a hard time arguing with the *perception* that this is too much like an overblown buffet table… too much there, and no time to really enjoy any one thing.

    So the big opportunity I see still out there for 2010 and beyond, is to see if Ning and others can figure out how to enable community members to aggregate their online experience into a single page or portal (remember those?) that filter and sort (by tabs or columns or something pretty and graphical) one's life into the logical parts, in a drop-dead simple manner. Loic is trying w/Seesmic, and may succeed.

    I think that Ning most closely resembles the way my generation sees themselves… “community members” of big basket of communities… and the challenge to us is how to keep up with, and stay connected with the scattered and diverse groups of people we really do care about. Right now keeping up is tedious, and a time sink and unmanageable. So nobody's got it right yet. I'll keep my eye on Ning and see what happens. Looking pretty good.

  14. outside of facebook, twitter etc.

  15. Ning is GREAT!!! has been growing on its own for quite a while now and its full of intelligent marketers.

    Brian, how many Ning networks are you a member of?

  16. Erik Qualman says:


    This is a great article. The old currency used to be information (it was scarce), now that information is cheap (free in most cases) the new currency is our time (users). It will be interesting to see how this all plays out. It could be that Facebook, or whatever the winning social media platform is, serves as the overarching platform that Ning feeds into (similar construct to Blog RSS feeds) or it could be that we have hundreds of nicheworks (love that term and hadn't heard it yet), or a little of both. It will be fun to watch!

    Keep up the great work & Happy Holidays!

    Author of Socialnomics

    • briansolis says:

      Erik, thank you…perhaps, it's not so much time that is the new currency as much as it is attention. Indeed, it is the journey and not the destination that will reveal the most interesting experiences.

      Happy Holidays!

  17. WhoLowMedia says:

    I am sorry NO!!! you good folks are discussing this thing as if it is the next answer to Social Networking when this program is completely Flawed!

    you write “Consumers looking to join discussions can simply use the search box ” THERE IS NO SEARCH BOX, that website is NOT intuitive, the only thing you can do is create another group. it doesnt even look good. Besides it is not really doing anything better than Facebook is doing now and who really needs another social networking website? all of those people that are in my Ning networks are also on my facebook the hype.

    • briansolis says:

      After speaking to Ning, the search box is coming back. And for the record, it's not about hype, it's about the opposite of it. In my work in Ning, the communities have mirrored that of Yahoo Groups over Facebook…two distinct behavior patterns that rarely overlap. Is it the next Facebook, not likely..and that's the point. However, I did call their attention to many challenges existing and new users face. Gina Bianchini replied yesterday that they're listening and working on it…

  18. luissandovaljr says:

    Brian, Ning has been a huge network that I've worked with clients on using. I too feel that limiting your experience to only Facebook and Twitter is limiting your reach. I specifically work with hospitals, doctors, and specialty restaurants, and while the big two are always useful, there are niche markets where very specific conversations are being held.

    Ning is overlooked quite a bit, if not forgotten or unknown, but it has a very strong presence when looking to target specific topics with engagement from a very specific group. I've used it as a test market for various products, and closed conversations with patient groups and their doctors. Nothing too personal was shared if they didn't want to share it, but it's like a virtual support group for what we use it for.

    I see many networks out there being ignored simply because they don't get the press or have the “WOW” factor that perhaps others do, but the key to all this is knowing where the conversation is and sometimes it's in the places where you least expect.

  19. Sandy says:

    I look at Facebook as way to connect and share with people you already know.
    Adding people you don't know has been likened with 'stalking'.
    On our Ning network, The Social Woman, (, women can connect and make friends with other women they don't know yet based on interest. The experience doesn't end online, we use Ning to organize events where members can connect in real life and participate in various activities. Ning has enabled us to serve a community of women who are new to their city make firends,(right now only Canadian cities), looking to expand their social network or simply find out about events that happen in their city-something that we could not do with platforms like Facebook.

  20. I can't imagine a social network comprised of social networks that’s of greater size than Twitter. That's pretty big.

  21. bournesocial says:

    What I love about NING is what I love about gated communities. In California, where I used to live, you find communities behind gates with houses all the same and homogeneous groups of like-minded people. In Facebook, you have everyone under one roof, and it's difficult to cultivate dialogue with everyone (raise your hand if you are fans of more than 10 brands, now ask yourself how frequently you write on the walls of those fan pages?).

    NING communities work because people want to be there, and NING understands that you want to keep your presence customizable (like in MySpace). Just as people have moved to the suburbs to escape the cities and be among those with shared interests, so with NING usher in a gated community of member's only niche social networks. Good fences make good neighbors.

  22. frankkenny says:

    Ning has been invaluable to our Chamber of Commerce. It creates a “velvet rope” – you want what you can't have, situation in our community. Tens of thousands of views but only members of the chamber can post. It is one of the reasons we have doubled our membership in the past 18 months. Wouldn't have happened without social media.

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