There are all sorts of ways today to connect with, participate and enjoy a conversation with your customer. There have been numerous posts about starting and maintaining a company blog, which is an excellent tool. Another favorable venue is to create a Ning site. It is a very easy application and can create a pretty cool place to have conversation and engage your customers. It is sort of like having your own My Space site, and very easy to update and foster community with your brand. Ning is an online platform for users to create their own social websites and social networks. Launched in October 2005. Ning was co-founded by Marc Andreessen and Gina Bianchini. Ning is Andreessen's third startup (after Netscape and Opsware), and gets much of its notability from Andreessen's successes with those companies. Ning hopes to compete with large social sites like MySpace and Facebook, by appealing to users who want to create networks around specific interests or have limited technical skills. The unique feature of Ning is that anyone can create their own custom social network for a particular topic or need, catering to specific audiences.

I was fortunate enough to be involved in a Social Web Site project, Trilibes, which is also a great Ning site launched and led by Seth Godin, who is coining a name for Social Networks as Tribes. It was by invitation only, and was an interesting  experience at watching and participating at how easy and how hard it can be to direct and lead a Social Site. It is in conjunction with his book appropriately named Tribes. There is certainly a lot of banter going about surrounding new media, social media, web 2.0 and social sites. There is myspace, facebook, flickr, YouTube and many more that all have a component of social connection. I am glad I was involved with the project and have learned a lot.

The way people purchase things today is changing before our eyes. We recently started a Social Network site on Ning, the Urbane Lobby. Like many other Social Network sites we have run into some snags, stalled membership, and lack of participation. We have regrouped and made directional corrections and believe we have an effective revised plan to give our residents enough reason and enough value to make regular visits, beyond just paying rent on line and placing a service request on line.

Our Goal; To provide our residents with an experience and value with a high enough return to create enough Customer Evangelists within our core resident base that they self rent our apartments. We are working hard to lead our resident Influencers within our core resident base, and have transitioned most of our marketing budget inward, to further focus on our existing residents. Only good things have happened from this move. Resident retention has significantly improved, and we have created a forum and a field for the Influencers to participate. We are learning as we go, but are seeing stellar results.  

You too should try out some of these new paths. Become familiar with them, use them. They work, and they will work for you too. The central theme of all Social Media is creating community and participating in the conversation. This is an excellent advantage for a Small Business. You too can create a virtual On Line Community with ease. Any questions, ask away, lets start a conversation!

November 22, 2008

Eric Brown has (30) years in the Multi-Family Apartment Business having built and developed over 17,000 apartment units, both market rate, luxury and tax credit apartments. Having started Urbane Apartments in 2003 after leaving a lengthy stint as a Senior Vice President at Village Green Companies, a national apartment developer, Eric decided he wanted to create wealth, and set out from Corporate America on his own and created Urbane Apartments in Royal Oak, MI.


"The central theme of all Social Media is creating community and participating in the conversation. This is an excellent advantage for a Small Business."

Great point/post Eric, and the results you are seeing from your social media efforts with Urbane Apartments speak for themselves!

Mack, Thanks for stopping by and commenting. We appreciate your vast experience and knowledge in blogs and Social Media.

Small Business has a distinct advantage over larger business with Social Media from multiple angles from less too no bureaucracy too convince others and the low cost of entry. We built our entire Ning site in one weekend and for no cost, other than time. And while this application would not work for all business types, there are several that would flourish with this platform.

Eric, great point regarding Small Business' ability to adapt quickly and adopt these tools. Some small businesses may also have the advantage of clear personality/vision, especially if the owners/founders are very hands-on and public facing. Having a "virtual lobby" can be highly effective in those instances. Thanks for sharing your experience with Urbane Lobby!

You are right on, Small Business can really leverage this stuff. And, for us many, many of the Social Media tasks and projects we have embarked upon we enlisted the help of our tech savvy residents, Now, think about that, our customer/resident are helping us figure this stuff out. That is focus groups at the truest sense, the customer is then hands on building the brand.

This practice of engaging the customer is not unique to us and can be implemented over multiple disciplines. it is like getting paid interest on interest, and multiples exponentially

I just signed up for this and hope to have some success with the creation of a niche community.

Good luck on your trek. We have found that the more WE participate, the more the community gains traction.

Creating a community on our sites will be a tangible approach towards online marketing, in order to gain trust and loyalty of our clients or customers, we need to have a proper communication with them. and Ning seems to be one of the best solutions to do it.. thanks for the information, I'll try to use this on our website.

Hi Janice, Thank you for stopping by,

Ning has been a great platform. The real challenge is keeping teh content interesting, and enough value for your community to return to the site

Keep us posted on your progress, I would love to do a Case Study Post on your success if you are inclined, I can be reached at

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