In this article we will take a look at what social network software is and how you can use it. Social media sites and networks are not just new concepts anymore that individuals and companies evaluate curiously. They are now part of many peoples daily routines and preferred way to interact with new “pure online” acquaintance, colleague, family and even old friends from a long-gone era. In particular new possibilities for being “remotely-social” on the move with smarphones and tablets (the “touch” mega trend) have taken social media into a viral state recently and while many companies where following this movement from the sideline in the beginning this is not the case any more.
What about yourself – are you giving social gestures like sharing in near real time what you are doing with friends or colleagues online? Are you sharing your favorite articles, news, photos etc. on twitter or facebook? If not then you are probably just a slow starter and will pick it up once social media and devices we use integrate more seamlessly.
The success sites like Facebook experience is epic and the way we all change behavior online as a response require business owners and webmasters to consider strategies for the future. Will integrating some social capabilities into a website give it just a fraction of the growth potential the large players have realized? Would it be possible to get a lot of people to join forces related to a specific cause or niche. I would say YES! Question is if the off the shelf software products are ready to help you make this move without running a huge risk and investing a lot of money. I believe the technology is maturing fast and that it is ready – not just for adding simple social features but even for firing up fully equipped social media sites. While there are several social network platforms available I have decided to take a close look at one of the really serious players on this new and emerging market- SocialEngine.
SocialEngine is social network software that helps you build your own customized community websites and because you get access to the source code you will own the site and the content you build up 100%. This is more important than you may realize up front, but think about…what if your social media network site turns viral and becomes seriously popular… would you risk loosing it? Hosted solutions are quicker to start up, but you have zero control if the vendor shut down it’s service or even just your site. You also don’t need “powerd by” links making it possible to brand the site as something you created. Of-course this power isn’t free and SocialEngine is a premium software product you need to make an initial investment in.
Before we look at the features let check out some sites using SocialEngine as it gives you an idea of what it can be used for. These examples are all driven be getting people with a specific interest together. See more the showcases here.
Flexibility to create different social network types
With SocialEngine you can choose from various friendship models giving you the option to adapt the models that you know are already popular e.g. two-way friendships (like Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn), one-way followers (like Twitter), verified/unverified friendships, and more. It is also possible to add sub-networks to group members by e.g. interests, university, workplace, location, age, gender, or anything else.
Membership levels and moderators
As your site grows you may want to create multiple levels of membership in your community to give some members access to special content or extra privileges. This is a very interesting business model as selling premium membership access as low cost subscriptions is obvious once the site is gaining authority in its niche. SocialEngine membership levels allow this to be set up and it also have the features needed allowing you to assign moderators to help you maintain your community and remove unwanted content / users for you. This is well know from traditional forums but trust me also needed in a popular social media community.
Social CMS with Layout / Theme Editors
SocialEngine is basically a CMS with social features build in. This means you can rearrange most areas of the site without having to write any code.
By using the layout editor you can control what content appears on specific pages or in your site-wide header and footer.
The theme editor on the other hand can be used to change the theme used to generate the site look and feel. There are themes available as we know it from popular systems like WordPress, Joomla and Drupal. However the availability is not the same as for e.g. WordPress. Still I believe most people will be able to find what they need and then customize to fit specific requirements. In SocialEngine I found a list of currentlty 103 themes. I have not tried customizing any of these myself and do not have experience to tell you if it is as easy as working with WordPress themes however I recommend you check out freelancer.com where two million outsourcing workers are waiting to help you at a very low cost. I use this service a lot myself and there are projects on SocialEngine being executed already.
Extend the Social Network Software
As expected you can customize your social network or online community with third-party add-ons, mods, themes, templates, language packs, and more. The community looks to be really active and third-party SocialEngine developers are releasing new products on a regular basis. This is a good sign and really important when choosing a platform for your site. Make sure you check out the options yourself. At the moment there are 528 available add-ons.
If you find SocialEngine interesting you can give it a test run using the 30-day free trail.