I learn SO much from my clients. If it weren’t for them, I’d probably be the last person on earth to dive into social networking. That’s why I’m glad to be working with Scott Sandland, a genius hypnotherapist who also happens to be an expert in creating community online.
When it comes to social networks, you have two options. In real estate, we call these renting or owning. When you rent space (on, say, Facebook) you have to put up with your landlord’s tastes, maintenance schedule, and personality quirks. You may have some leeway in decorating, but you’d be an idiot to invest much money in the place, because it will never belong to you.
Then there’s owning. When you own property, you can invest in improvements that increase its value. You can choose your own paint scheme. You can control who hangs out on your lawn.
When he set out to build an online destination for hypnosis professionals, Scott wasn’t satisfied with the big-name social networks (Facebook, MySpace, etc.) He wanted more control of the look, feel and functionality of the site. He wanted to invest in something he would own. So he started HypnoThoughts.com.
In its first two years, he has spent thousands of dollars on customization of the proprietary platform that HypnoThoughts runs on. But even more importantly, he invested hundreds of hours in creating an ecosystem, and defining how people in his community would interact with each other.
He has been relentlessly non-commercial (save for a few small banner ads) and tolerates no salesmanship on the site. The interactions between members feel more like a seminar, and almost never like one of those glad-handing networking events. The community, for the most part, is self-policing. Scott tells everyone that he almost never deletes posts, because he expects members to conduct themselves as professional adults. And for the most part, they do.
This ecosystem has been hugely successful for Scott, helping him to position himself as a trusted authority in his field–and just as importantly, as someone who is dedicated to advancing his profession. Members are incredibly loyal to HypnoThoughts as a community and to Scott personally. And the proof is in the membership roster: with nearly 4,200 members in just 2 years, and over 800 unique visitors a day, HypnoThoughts.com is by far the largest social network in the hypnosis niche.
When you create a social networking strategy, of course it makes sense to take advantage of the brand name networks. (In addition to HypnoThoughts, I’ve also helped Scott with his presence on LinkedIn, Digg, Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, and YouTube.)
But if you’re operating in a niche market, and you have the chops to become a true leader in your field, it may make sense for you to invest the time and money in creating your own social network. Why?
- You control the branding.
- You control the content (and ownership of it).
- You control marketing and promotion
- You drive traffic to your own destination
- You can build up equity in your own property vs one that belongs to someone else
Of course, owning a home is more work than renting. You have to fix the plumbing (er, servers). You have to cut the grass. But in the end, the payoff may be worth it.