So You Want to Run A Social Media Website?

social media site tips

I run a few social media portals and wanted to share a quick note on what it takes to set one up and run it thereafter. I won’t go into too many details here – but will give an overall outline for those interested in learning what actually goes into making this stuff and may be intersted in setting up “niche clones” of already existing models – like… Youtube, Rapidshare, Flickr, Delicious, Blogspot etc. I won’t be talking about or guiding you on how to setup a “unique new Social media or Web2.0 model” – just a targeted knock-off… which could be for example a You Tube clone only appealing to a specific community or country, or say to a specific niche like Gadgets for Geeks.

OK… so, lets get started …

Choose Your Model and Your Niche

There are many Social Media / Web2.0 models out there, like Vidoe Sharing, Photo SHaring, File Sharing, Blogging etc. Choose your model and your niche. Do some basic homework to see if competitors exists and how well they are doing. See what they lack – that you can fullfil and make an intelligent decision to see if there is room for one more similar niche and model. My guess is – there defintely is, no matter what the model or the niche. Be alert and study existing sites and try and come up with one or more “differentiators” that you can offer over and above them.

Choose Your Domain Name

I wont spend too much time on this, but just search Google for something like “tips for naming a domain”. You’ll get plenty of blogs that will guide you on naming your domain. Just make sure its catchy and easy to remember with high re-call value. Head over to the Bullshit Name and Logo Generator for Web2.0 – to get some easy names and logos designed with just a few clicks.

Server Hosting

I strongly suggest you use PHP and MySQL and Linux server hosting environment (LAMP) to run your website. Its free and doesn’t have any expensive payments to use. You just need to setup a Virtual Private Server (VPS) which will give you root access to the machine and allow you to install any modules on your server. You will also get access to the site via CPanel and server via WHM, incase you need it. It will allow you to easily backup your site on a daily basis within just a few clicks. Should you want to restore your site (in the eventuality of a hacker attack) or choose to move to another hosting company or even upgrade your plan for more bandwidth, data storage or just a faster server – it can be done very easily by simply restoring a full server backup. I suggest the hosting company you start with be JaguarPC. Their service, prices and support – absolutely rocks!

Choosing the Right PHP Script

You are basically looking for a “script” – which is written in PHP and uses the MySQL database to store data. Once you know what Web2.0 model you want to create – you need to find the right script for your needs. No matter what the model is – you will probably find tons of scripts and solutions out there. As a word of caution – be careful as there are many substandard scripts out there, that eventually cannot scale up (in the event that your site grows and becomes popular) – or are simply buggy. Just make sure you check out the demo of the script in detail before you spend any time or money. Go in and study the demo and all the features in detail. There are plenty of free open source solutions out there too – that work as well as a paid solution and there is no hard and fast rule that says “what is free is not up to mark”. Visit webmaster forums like ProgrammingTalk and Warrior Forum and search for reviews of these script and ask people in the forums if the script is good and stable or if there are any other scripts they recommend for your Web2.0 clone. You will find plenty of people willingly helping you. You can also, just post a comment in this blog post and ask me for any advice! Just remember that most of these scripts do not allow you to get a refund – becuase they are in essence giving you the source code – and so even if you purchase via PayPal the Terms of Service of the script seller would most probably be “non-returnable”. However, some sellers may allow you to take it on a test-drive and provide you with a server license key that expires after the test period.

If the script is beyond your budget – ask for a discount! Most sellers co-operate. Also, make sure to check if the seller has a live forum setup where his buyers can talk to one another and help each other out – or even where you can get support from them. If a good bubbly forum exists – then the script is probably good and stable… specially if the forum has a lot of people taking part. That is always a good sign. You will also notice that in the forum, some developers build and sell “mods” of the script… which are basically new “modules” or add-ons – which basically add on a specific functionality to the script – that enhances its value and usability to the site visitors. These mods may be free or paid. Also, look out for people who create alternate graphical and layout “templates”. This give your site a unique and enhanced look and feel. You can install these templates in under 5 minutes and thus create a niche theme for your audience. If you have a specific template theme that you want or an idea for a new mod – you should be able to find many developers and designers on these forums who will help you out professionally. On the forums, you may also want to ask others how stable the script is in terms of handling large amounts of traffic and what their experience was. Basically, you need to ask – “If I have a VPS server with such and such configuration / processor / bandwidth etc…. then how many users can I expect to serve every day without the script giving any server load issues”. Also, try and see if there are any number s on maximium concurrent users the script can handle with your server configuration. If need be – you may need to get a Dedicated Server or a Semi-Dedicated server. Again, this doesn’t cost much at JaguarPC. If things really take off for you – then you will be able to setup server clusters, do some cloud computing and lease out Web Services from Amazon’s AWS offering. If you get to that point – then you will need to spend some money inhiring a server guy / network admin type guy who does this all for you.

Script Upgrades – Make sure you know what you get from the script seller in terms of “upgrades”. Many give 1 year upgrades / bug fixes at no additional cost, but some ask you to pay. Check up their policy and terms for lifetime upgrades too.

Setting up your Website / Installing your Script

If you’ve setup scripts before – then you know how to do this stuff (configure modules, mysql etc). But, if you are new to this then visit some of the IT freelance job boards and post your needs. You should easily be able to find a professional software guy for around $5 to $8 to help you setup the script. Make sure you define your needs clearly and don’t go in for any script customization or functionality changes just yet. First get it up and running in its current form and play around with the site once its up.

Advertising Banners

Almost 100% of all Web2.0 busienss models are based on earning revenues via advertising banners. Sign up with Google Adsense, if you haven’t already. They’re the best. However, they do not support torrent Sites, Adult sites and content that is not-safe for work (non SFW). If you fall in this niche, worry not. There are plenty of alternative ad netowrks out there – check out this list of 130 Ad Networks. Also, keep in mind that you can monetize your visits in other manners too … like Affilaite Advertising.. but all that is another topic!

Initial Content

Now that your Social Media site is up and running and you have all your ads in place – you need to start populating it with information and data. Start gathering some content from different places. You need to find content that you have rights for or that you can purchase the rights for, or even get the rights for free in exchange to a link back to the owners site. There will be plenty of sites out there that allow you to take content that is part of public domain and has no copyright attached to it. One very good system of immediately getting content on your site is via “embed tags”. For example, if you are setting up a video sharing portal and you need video content – and your video sharing script allows the use of embed tags – then all you need to do is to head over to one of the top video sharing sites like Youtube, Metacafe, DailyMotion etc. Then go to the video page of the video you want. It will have a “embed” code in it. Simply cut and paste that code and insert it into your own video site or vlog. This is perfectly 100% legal and encouraged by these large social media sites as it allows them to find presence on sites outside their own site pages.

An important point – you need to make a decision on whether the content of your site will be top class content only of high quality and of high demand (lot of views) or whether you would like to have any and all types of content on your site – that caters to the “Long Tail” too. Good / top quality content draws in 50% of your market while the long tail content is also very important and draws in the other 50%. The difference is, that the Long Tail consists of very very huge collection and has very miniscule number of “views” or “page accesses” each (and so makes up by quantity) … while premium content has much fewer number of choices, but each content unit is seen a large number of times. you can read my post on The Long Tail here.

Install Viral Features

Your script will defintely have features in it that will help your site visitors to spread the word and share the content that they see with their friends or even put it up into their social media bookmarking space – thus spreading the word for you. you will see stuff like “Share this”, “Submit to digg”, “submit to delicious” etc on the page next to the media being displayed. In addition, Make sure you have or install mini-scripts that allow visitors to your site to invite their friends. Use this great script called GetMyContacts – to enable your users to invite all their friends in their webmail address book (gmail, yahoo, msn mail etc) by just filling out data into a couple of text boxes – and the script will do the rest. Its an absolute must have for every Social media site.

Marketing your Website

This is a huge topic and there are many resources only – so I wont attempt to get into it at all. Just a few pointers to you are …

  • Get Your site indexed by Technorati
  • Have your RSS feeds in place
  • Install feedburner subscription for your visitors or sign up at aweber.com to create an email system where you can offer email sign ups to visitors and keep in touch with them regularly. This is very important.
  • Target the power sneezers i nthe blogosphere
  • Piggy back on the top social media sites by finding users in your niche categories on them
  • Find other social media sites in your niche – and target people on them
  • Read, learn and execute a strond Search Engine Optimization (SEO) plan
  • Purchase paid ads – PayPerClick ads (PPC) only later on in the cycle – via Adwords, Yahoo Publisher NEtowrk or MSN Ads.
  • Send out “relevant” press releases
  • Invite your friends on various Social Networking sites
  • Make niche groups on these top Social Network sites. Dont hardsell on them. Garner interest slowly
  • Have a solid Social Media Marketing plan that you build and evolve
  • Build a site widget (www.widgetbox.com) – it takes about 15 to 20 minutes.
  • Run a contest
  • Get on Entrecard and start “dropping cards” to your community
  • Buy paid reviews on the blogosphere, via – PayPerPost or ReviewMe and ff you can afford it – target the leaders with influence in the blogosphere.

Site Maintainance Tips

Once yoru site is up and runnning and visitors start trickling in – you need to carry out a few routine things…

  • Do daily backups of your database and full site (via the CPanel interface of your account)
  • Keep adding new mods and features to your site
  • Keep populating your site with fresh content that appeals to your specific niche. This is called “data aggregation”.
  • To track visitor stats – you should get Statistics Counter from StatCounter.com AND also the one offered by Google Analytics. Statcounter is free, unless you want detailed stats – which I suggest you get only once the traffic starts building and it will help you get a lot of visitor specifics … paid modules start at less than $10 per month. Google Analytics is fully free but does not give you “live” stats like Statcounter – but give you a 2 day buffered / delayed stats. However, their interface is very neat and advanced.
  • Keep working on various monetization startegies for your site – be they Affilaite Ads, Direct Ads, Sponsorships, Contests, Email Campaign etc. If your site picks up in traffic – you can consider installing the OpenAds (free) ad server. This will allow you to sell direct ads to clients and also rotate your ads from different advertising networks – and switch back-and-forth from those that are giving you a maximum revenue.

Finally, your key is to get repeat visitors. This is the main success ingredient for any virally growing site. You have to get visitors coming BACK FOR MORE!

About the Author

Leave a Reply 8 comments

shkauni - July 9, 2008 Reply

Hello Sir,
Please suggest some good Social Networking scripts written in PHP. What do you think about phpfox ?
Can you please tell me which script is used by ibibo.
Thanks.

shkauni - July 9, 2008 Reply

Sorry for double comment, but can you please tell me some good reverse auction script. According to my research Ilance is probably the best. However I want to know your opinion.
Thanks

Vishal - July 9, 2008 Reply

@shkauni – i was going to make a post next on various Social Networking scripts 🙂 . PHPFox is good – but I thought it was expensive and too bland. If you are looking for free solutions – try Boonex Dolphin. Its free and absolutely solid. Also, look at phpizabi.net . I believe iBibo has developed their own solution or purchase and customized a high end third party white label solution (plenty of them out there). If you want a paid solution – then there are quite a few decent ones within around the $300 range (like socialengine.net). Also, look at the free solution at elgg.org – its new, with limited features – but its neat and clean and will do if you dont want a whole lot of power features. Look out for my next post where I review various Social Networking scripts.

Vishal - July 9, 2008 Reply

About a reverse auction script – yes, ilance is very good… although i have not installed or used it personally.

shakuni - July 9, 2008 Reply

Thanks a lot. When is your nest post on Social Net. sites is coming? And can you please provide me names of some good reverse auction scripts that you are familiar with.
Thanks

shakuni - July 10, 2008 Reply

Which among dolphin and phpfox is better acc. to you?
Please reply soon! Your opinion matters.
Thanks.

Vishal - July 10, 2008 Reply

Dolphin free version is very good. Only thing is that it may not have fancy front end skins / themes available. Plus if you want to remove all the powered by boonex messages – its a steep $1000. if you are ok with the powered by message Dolphin is way better than phpfox… which is not good for its price. try socialengine.net if you have $300

Vishal - September 25, 2008 Reply

Try elgg.org script. Its free, open source and pretty good so far.

Leave a Reply: