Social networks allow consumers to obtain information about a company or product straight from other consumers. These conversations are powerful drivers in marketing since consumers are more likely to listen to what another consumer (especially a friend or colleague) says than what a company says. Ecommerce merchants can encourage and utilize word-of-mouth marketing by providing a platform where these conversations can take place.
Ning is a platform that allows you to easily create your own social network for free. Ning allows ecommerce merchants to add social aspects to a site without spending thousands of dollars for a custom solution. While Ning’s basic service is free, I recommend a few paid upgrades that will allow you to remove ads and add customization.
Here are some examples of other ecommerce businesses that use Ning.
CurrySimple offers ready-to-heat, restaurant-quality Thai sauces on its ecommerce site and through a wholesaler network of retail stores. Founder Michael Moran, who was profiled in a previous Practical eCommerce article, came up with the idea while working in a Thai restaurant. There, he observed that customers frequently complained about the difficulty of preparing Thai food at home.
CurrySimple leverages customer enthusiasm using its Ning social network Ilovecurrysimple.com. Customers are encouraged to post recipes, photos and cooking videos using CurrySimple’s sauces. Involvement in the community is rewarded through a points system (which includes things like commenting and joining groups as well as posting content) that can then be redeemed for prizes such as store credit. Sales to the ecommerce site are driven by these customer testimonials via a retail link at the top of all the pages.
Customer enthusiasm for the brand drives sales and helps keep CurrySimple’s online presence fresh and vibrant with user generated content.
Posh Designs Scrapbook Store
Scrapbooking has a strong community and Posh Designs Scrapbook Store (http://www.poshscrapbookstore.com/) does a great job of encouraging its own Ning community through weekly layout contests, challenges, and shared tips and tricks. Each member is encouraged to keep his or her own blog page with details about their projects. Posh Designs also offers its community-members special discounts and offers on its products. A link to the ecommerce store is provided at the top of every page.
Another scrapbooking store, ScrapBOXX, also has a Ning community – TheBOXX. Contests, personal blogs and discussions are encouraged within the community with a monthly, featured member and contests for the best layouts. Unlike Posh Designs and CurrySimple, ScrapBOXX offers products directly on its Ning page with a scrolling product bar at the top, a link in the top navigation, and special offers down the sides of the home page.
Ning provides a cost-effective way to embrace your customers and create a vibrant community where sales are driven with powerful word-of-mouth marketing. By making your customers your best salespeople, you give them the tools to help you increase sales.