Today, we are excited to announce the release of the all new Groups feature for Ning 3.0. Groups are an effective way of creating spaces in your community for more targeted conversations. Members can self-organize around shared geography, languages, passions, activities, professions, and more. Groups also offer an ideal solution for private team collaboration, organizing information, and developing stronger member relationships, as well as premium membership, sponsorships, targeted advertising and other creative monetization strategies.
The Stuff Supergroups Are Made Of
Groups are like mini-communities inside your community and may include multiple instances of all the features you are already familiar with like Forums, Blogs, Photos, and Custom Pages. Group admins can be granted limited, advanced, or complete control over the layout, design, description, and privacy settings for each Group and the Pages within. Members can be automatically assigned to a Group based on their responses to Profile Questions during sign-up, they can be manually added via the Members Management page, or they can find and join Groups at will. And, for the first time ever, content can be moved from one Group to another or from a Group Forum to the main network Forum.
A look Inside Groups on Ning 3.0
Unleashing the Power of Groups on Ning 3.0
Nearly 250 Network Creators participated in our public beta. Over the course of a month these amazing Ning customers reported dozens of bugs, offered many suggestions for improvement, and conceived of a multitude of ways to utilize Groups on their networks. Some of the schemes they devised were beyond my wildest imagination.
- Reignite the Local Church
- Publish a Book
- Engage Constituencies
- Display Seasonal Craft Collections
- Provide Tutoring and Mentee Services
- Create a Classifieds System
- Establish a Help Center
- Promote Special Advertisers
I had the pleasure of talking through these various implementations with the folks who masterminded them. If you're looking for inspiration for how to use the redesigned Groups feature, look no further. (Thanks, Dustin, Suzie, John, Justino, and Randy!)
Reignite the Local Church
Dustin Craig's eureka moment came during a High School field trip. "What if there was a way to make that feeling of [church] community extend beyond Sunday," he pondered. Social networking was a natural fit. An online community would not only strengthen bonds between church-goers, it could be used to share organizational knowledge, minimize programmatic work, and foster cross-denominational networking. "Regardless of location or denomination, ministry leaders are facing many of the same struggles," says Dustin.
Paradigm Shift Ministries (PSM) aims to solve for these problems by bringing church organizations, ministry leaders, adults, and youth together under one virtual roof. Groups are a key component to organizing the network around specific issues to facilitate problem-solving conversations and ignite action. Each membership option is bundled with access to specific Groups, and many will be assigned at sign-up via Profile Questions.
- CLAY Groups for coaches, league commissioners, officials and parents who are involved in PSM's sports ministry programs
- Regional Church Groups where PSM church partners can interact with their members during the week. A major benefit of these groups is that the community can contribute content and they are objectively easier to use and maintain than most church websites, which tend to be built on dated or clunky CMSs
- Community Groups where members can work together on service projects of all shape and scale.
- Ministry Groups where members will be divided into specific areas of ministry (e.g., youth ministry) with the goal of fostering cross-denominational networking across the country.
- Other Groups which will include a prayer group, PSM staff group, and groups specific to the various ministry programs.
The ability to create rich and varied user journeys and fulfill the goals of the community is predicated on Groups, as is the monetization strategy for the network. "I've worked with a number of churches over the years, and I hear the same story everywhere I go. Regardless of location or denomination, ministry leaders are facing many of the same struggles. The overriding goal [of this community] is to remind people that they are not alone." Today, churches that have been involved with PSM programs over the years are invited to join for a one-time, lifetime fee of $99. As Paradigm Shift Ministries is fully developed, pricing tiers and premium content will be added to help drive revenue.
Publish a Book
Justino Mora, founder of the technical recruiting Ning 3.0 Network Mobile.ning.com, plays three active roles in his community: recruiter and headhunter, community manager, and career planning consultant. To fulfill his primary role, Justino launched a Job Board and used Groups. He was able to use Groups to efficiently separate job seekers by region and use Group categories to call out these regional groups as well as job functions and industries. "Launching a Job Board in Groups is like peeling of a mandarin. Piece of cake. Takes only seconds. And a couple more minutes to dress them up."
Since launching a Job Board took less time and creative energy than originally anticipated, Justino delved into architecting a book about issues surrounding expatriation, sponsorship and immigration in the regional and international job search. Each chapter of this book is released as a different blog and added to the top navigation bar (e.g., 1. Situational Analysis, 2. Market Tracking, etc.). In addition to the main book chapters, Justino has included a General Forum Q&A where visitors can get their questions answered by the author and/or the community, and the native commenting feature is turned on to encourage conversation around each chapter. Publishing a book with the Groups feature allows Justino to put the content in a format that his members are used to and an area that is already experiencing heavy visitor traffic. To earn additional revenue, targeted ads are included in the lefthand column.
Susan Nielsen took over The Constitutional Conservatives on a whim after running into the original Network Creator at a local meet-up and hearing his stories of disillusionment with a lack of engagement and activity. Suzie decided right there and then that she had what it takes to lead the community, and would have a great time doing so. Now, three years later, The Constitutional Conservatives enjoys reader and member growth due to its popular conservative editorials, well-received newsletter, wealth of campaign resources, and other patriotic media that inspires political activism across these United States. The next stop on Suzie's agenda? A complete redesign that is centered around a unique implementation of the Groups feature and covers 5 regions, 50 states and 453 congressional districts.
During our conversation, Suzie explained how breaking a state down into its regional and district levels would encourage members to communicate in more meaningful ways. Come election time, these districts will be discussing very different issues and propositions, so it makes sense to create very specific spaces for them to hash out their opinions. Growing a community like The Constitutional Conservatives is a competitive business, she continued, but the ability to drill down into district-level conversations "puts me in a completely different category, having the ability to communicate at that level puts me well beyond a classic forum." Suzie went on to note that the only other sites with features like this boast hundreds of thousands of people, which can really water down the discussion. Next steps will be to populate the State Groups with at least one ambassador each, then prepare for the grand re-opening, facilitate a membership drive, and continue to create great content in advance of the next election season.
In a truly collaborative effort, Suzie brought respected Ning Network Creators John Bizley, Kos, George Compton, and Bernard Lama on board to help with the organization, custom buttons, re-sizing, centering, and custom page template and fulfill a vision that goes far beyond the 5 regional and interest-based Groups on her Ning 2.0 Network.
So, how were these complex 5 region, 50 state, 453 congressional district Groups assembled? Each state was added as its own Group, then each region was added as a category within the Group Hub, finally each state added to its proper region. To create the 453 districts, they thought outside of Groups and expanded into the Forum feature. A Forum instance was created for each state, and forum categories were used to house the districts (e.g., Nevada has three districts so they were added as District 1, District 2, District 3 within the Nevada forum). These districts now show up in the nav bar for that forum and the member can choose which district to visit or post to. The district forums were added to the Unlinked Pages section of Sites & Pages so that they did not show up on the main navigation.
Next step was to link the states to their districts. To accomplish this, each district forum URL was copied along with the URL for each state Group. In each state, an HTML button was added in a sidebar pointing to the district forum or forums for that state. A few lines of custom code were added to remove the categories from the Group navigation bars and a drop-down selection box was inserted to the top of the Groups list to filter states by region. A second drop-down was placed right next to this with a list of all 50 states, so a member could easily choose which State Group to join. Future plans include adding a third filter that will display any non-state Groups added to the network.
Building New Worlds is home to miniature village enthusiasts around the world and Randy Vollet has decided to leverage the updated Groups feature to showcase holiday collections. He anticipates no longer having to change the main page to reflect a current holiday season while keeping seasonal collections organized and being respectful to those who don't celebrate every holiday. Randy also sees the ability to move content from Group to Group, which will allow him to re-categorize duplicate content and archive outdated material, as "another awesome [feature] that allows us to be in full control of our groups."
Now that you're familiar with some of the unique use cases, how do you think your community will use the new supercharged Groups feature?