When I read the news about the Ning community platform cutting not just staff, but also its free service, I had the same reaction Shel Holtz had -- this is a betrayal of the company core promise and shatters customer trust.
Want to continue using the platform? Pay to play, says Ning. Many have already voiced their concern for nonprofits and educational communities that will not be able to afford using the platform anymore.
These organizations have made a considerable investment in time and attention, as we discussed yesterday, to build the platform for their communities. But the conversation I'm interested in is not about how now they're faced with needing to make a move or pony up cash. There's a great discussion about alternatives to paying for those organizations at Manny Hernandez blog.
One of the first issues I see emerge from those who have built a community using the tool is that of being able to export content easily. This is more evidence that putting a lot of effort into building on a platform that is not yours may come back to haunt you.
That is a problem that is as old as proprietary software is. What I'm thinking about is more something that Ning could have handled better from a communications standpoint. The company betrayed the people who have built networks upon its platform in a couple of ways:
- it didn't consider users of its free service customers, probably because they were not paying
- its communication was counter to its core promise, as Holtz pointed out, "Ning is the only online service where you can create, customize, and share your own Social Network for free in seconds."
- most importantly, it now forces those people who touted the free tool to their community so it would build a network on the platform to explain to their community that they need to come up with funds or move
They were a bit rash in making an announcement that would affect so many -- in fact in the thousands -- well connected communities without providing a roadmap or set of FAQs to those who would need to explain what's next, move the content elsewhere, or decide to pay because it makes sense. A post that updates users on the company's blog doesn't provide any details beyond a date.
As you can see from the comments, there are still many unanswered questions that could have been handled by Ning proactively. Uncertainty is uncomfortable and people will fill it with their own suppositions or paying attention to whoever steps in to fill it.
In this case, the void was filled by at least two other organizations. Which creates a complication for a business strategy that is seeking growth and increased profitability. Upsetting customers is a really poor way to go even when you're doing it for the long term sustainability of your business.Who stepped up to help?
- Posterous announced that it commits to building a Ning blog importer, for free.
- BuddyPress provided a list of helpful resources for Ning users.
Hopefully, these companies will not make the same mistake of starting with a promise they will need to revise later. Thanks to robust and profitable search engines, digital media won't forget those promises.
I belong to a Ning-based community for marketers who want to engage in an ongoing discussion about the social Web: Marketing 2.0, which is sponsored by Beeline Labs. It's a public community and the tool is easy to set up and use -- lest you think I'm an anti-Ning person or something.
Communication is a strategic business tool that fits any kind of technology and makes a tremendous difference -- it can take you from potential failure to success. Emerging technologies present more opportunities for organizations to connect with customers.
What comes across any media is still the culture and attitude of the people who drive the business. Each business needs to take a hard look at not just its profitability model. It needs to also question its executives and their ability to go beyond making and implementing tough decision to how they communicate them.
Great communication skills and empathy are an organization's best assets in a networked age of constant market and knowledge shifts. Look for those skills, or you're going to be a thing of the past.
Are you a member or founder of a free Ning network? How did you take the news? What are you planning to do about it? Weigh in!
© 2010 Valeria Maltoni. All rights reserved.