Ning is a popular service enabling businesses (or individuals) to create private social networks – Think Facebook, but your own members only.
Ning recently announced in its blog that on May 4, Ning will stop offering it’s free service and only offer service to paying customers.
Ning writes As many of you know, we made a decision yesterday to focus 100% of the company on enhancing the features and services we offer to paying Ning Creators. The tens of thousands of you who already use our paid service represent over 75% of our traffic, and we’ve heard repeatedly from you ways that we can deliver a killer service to help make your Ning Network more effective. Some examples of things we are working on that you’ve asked for include new APIs, a new mobile experience and new advertising and revenue opportunities.
Some companies see this as an opportunity to capture new customers.
For example, Grouply, which offers a service to host online groups is welcoming Ning users who might not want to pay but are looking for a free service.
Grouply writes “We’re making it as easy possible for Ning creators to migrate their Ning network to a Grouply group. Ning network owners now can quickly import all of their network members into a new Grouply social group. We will shortly announce a more comprehensive Ning to Grouply migration tool that will enable a Ning network owner to easily import other important content from their networks, said Mark Robins, CEO and co-founder of Grouply. Grouply has no intention of ever discontinuing our free offering, and also offers premium services similar to Ning’s should they make sense for your group.;
Speaking specifically about Facebook, a Mark Robins, CEO and Co-founder of Grouply said that the small business owners they have spoken with don’t find Facebook to be sufficient for maintaining a dialogue with their customers.
He said that It comes down to customizability and branding. On Grouply you can build a user group or customer support site that carries the look-and-feel of your company website. He said that “Grouply could even *be* your company website, if you wanted.” In addition, Grouply lets you add all sorts of applications, images, links, and pages to build out a rich site that lets you and engage with your customers in all sorts of ways.
We, Grouply, are a good example of this. Sure, we have a Facebook fan page http://www.facebook.com/pages/Grouply/169373559827 . But we mainly use it for announcements and to point people back to our blog.
We also have a user group on Grouply at http://admins.grouply.com/ . With Grouply, we were able to create a rich site where we can have deep discussions with our users about what they like and don’t like about Grouply and what new features they’d like to see. The site is completely customizable. We have set up links to tours, listed some tips of the day, and even set up a page that provides guidelines for participating in the group. If we wanted, we could even use our own custom URL, remove all references to the Grouply platform, and completely white label the site. Of course, it doesn’t make sense for us to do this, but for other companies it’s a great option! You can’t do any of this on Facebook.
Here’s a blog post where we outlined more of the shortcomings of Facebook for groups:
Having said this, businesses that want to be serious about leveraging online communication tools, might want to consider PAYING for services to get better support and better features.
For example, I recently started using Google Apps (paid version), it’s got a lot more features and more storage than the free Google Gmail and Docs service.