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Ulitzer vs. Ning

The value of using both sites - an August 2009 update

My original post in late June was based on two weeks of using Ulitzer and Ning.  I've added additional thoughts after two months of use.

The obvious point for me is that the sites have two different objectives for the writers.  For Ning, the writer is trying to be involved in a niche social network from scratch.  For example, I have built my own social network for marketers and salespeople called BuyerSteps.  I created BuyerSteps as a way for other professionals to join in a conversation around the 21st century buyer.  So, Ning represents a way to build a community.

In the case of Ulitzer, as a writer I am focused on getting readers from within an existing audience.  There are already thousands of readers coming to the Ulitzer site, so if they are interested in my topics such as marketing, they will find my articles as well as others.  Ulitzer allows the writer the ability to set up a feed coming from another site, so it can be a write once, publish twice strategy.  You just have to give Ulitzer a few hours to upload a new article you wrote on a different site.  You still have to go back into that article even after it has been posted and assign it to topics and tags.  This is part of the administration of your stories which is under the manage stories menu.

Ning
Ning allows you to very easily construct the framework for a community for free with Lego-like ease of use.  You can easily blog, post presentations, videos, photos, invite friends, contribute to forums and manage your experience.  As the website's administrator, you can restrict certain people who don't fit your profile and set it up so that you must approve all blog posts.  What amazes me the most is how easy it is to add videos and additional boxes for almost any kind of content.  The site is very web-smart from an application standpoint.

What I have also done is added a widget from Twitter and LinkedIn's Question and Answer section.  In a very short period of time, you can have a robust set of capabilities up and running for all of your members.  You do have to be careful though as you can put too much on the front page which may slow down load time and discourage users.

Using premium services that are offered, Ning allows you to turn off Adwords for $24.95 a month as well as rename the site to whatever URL you want for $4.95 a month which I do.  The website administrator can also remove the Ning promotion link for $24.95 a month.  Until you have thousands of users, there is little financial reason to spend another $50 a month to turn off Adwords and the Ning promotion link.

Ning also makes it easy for you to have Google Analytics track your website.  Ning has over 150 applications that the user can add to their experience with the largest group being games.  Ning also makes it easy to get verification code from Google so you can verify your website.  It's under the Manage/Special Options menu.

You can also define your user profile questions and modify the site's appearance.  As a community tool, there's not much to complain about on Ning except that the administrator needs to work at building their own audience.  Just like Twitter, unless the community builder already has a large following and presence from an outside source, it will take patience and discipline to get your thoughts in front of a lot of people.  Ning also allows you to turn interested members away and set it up so that the administrator has to approve every blog and comment.  I personally like this feature since BuyerSteps is focused on professionals, not raw traffic.  Since we're not focused on high traffic, but quality, it's better that I can turn them away.

According to Quantcast, 7.3 million U.S. users a month go to Ning which certainly speaks to the needs of the long tail of community.  Any small business or affinity group that wants to build a community site without spending a large amount of time or money can be using the Ning platform for free in less than an hour.

Ulitzer
This is a terrific site for tapping into existing readers.  Ulitzer doesn't force me to drive users to the site since the core value of the site is that many authors are contributing.  The core value of the site is not to build a social network, but to provide pithy content to an information-hungry audience which at this point seems pretty technology-based.  In just over ten days, I had thousands of readers of my articles mainly on marketing and sales.  It would be nearly impossible to get that at Ning in ten days for a new community site.  Ulitzer also tweets my stories to Twitter without my participation which has created hundreds of Retweets for me in the last two months.

The site's functionality is solid for a writer in regard to posting an article and then choosing which topics it should go under.  It seems the biggest challenge for Ulitzer will be how they handle editorial control.  If I am the editor of a topic, I can edit stories out of a topic but there are so many stories that are newsfeeds, it tends to clutter this area.  I wish there were a better way to sort through these with more data like readership.

In the management panel of the experience for the writer, I can edit my story and view my story prior to it being posted.  From a pure housekeeping standpoint, I hope they add the ability to delete my story from the management console at some point.  Ulitzer doesn't publish the story unless I submit it, but I would still like to take it off of the console.  Facts change and it would be great to kill a story if the writer could.  For instance, I started one story and decided not to publish it because I changed my mind.  That story is still sitting in the management console because I can't delete it.

What I really like about Ulitzer are the internal analytics.  I can see which of my articles is getting the most views.  Not only does it make me feel good when I see the number, it allows me to do research my own articles in regard to what the readers like.  This helps guide the writer for future articles which is good insight.

I think the author description area is feature-rich.  It makes it easy for the author to describe themselves, add a bio and choose tags for their stories.  You can also pick your favorite topics and submit your stories to those topics to help readers find them.  Finally, you can add your Google Adsense number if you want to make Adsense revenue, but I find this business proposition less than compelling.

If one of your goals is to get found through the search engines, it appears Ulitzer has a better case than Ning based on my limited analysis.  When I searched for a few of my articles using a few words out of the title, it was Ulitzer and its group of publications that presented the same articles I had placed on Ning.  So if exposure and the ability to be found is important to you, Ulitzer seems to be the superior site.

Ulitzer is early in its growing usage and doesn't see anywhere near the overall traffic that Ning does.  But don't let that fool you.  Ning is more fragmented in its audience, while Ulitzer is a site that is promoting your writings to its general audience.  If you have just decided to start writing and are looking to grow as a writer while Ulitzer's audience grows, this is a good place to post your articles.  It should be pointed out that writing on Ulitzer is free once you are approved.  I think Ulitzer is on to something and as a contributing writer, I hope it can continue to grow.  The one thing about Ulitzer which fascinates me is how easy it is to post content.  After wrestling with Word documents in other content management systems, Ulitzer is a breath of fresh air in its ease of posting new content with links and charts.

My bottom line
Use both if you want to build your own community.  However, Ulitzer is a must for a newer writer or analyst.  If you write at all, take advantage of their audience.  I plan on continuing to use both in my social media strategy.  One is for community while the other is for broader audience.  In my world, they happily coexist.

More Stories By John Ryan

John is an experienced leader with a strong background of defining and executing company strategies. He is especially skilled in channel management, market analysis, brand marketing and selling technology products and services. He has successfully served in a number of executive positions and has been in management for 20 years. John is currently writing a book on increasing revenue generation. He has been a co-author of a comprehensive marketing methodology for high tech companies and has helped venture capitalists and private equity firms gauge their technology investments. In 2004, John served as Vice President of Marketing for the NA arm of the $6B IT Services division of Siemens, AG. John served on the board of directors at WebTrends, purchased by NetIQ (NTIQ) for $1 billion in 2001. WebTrends was highly successful dominating the web site analysis and reporting space. Prior to WebTrends, John was the Vice President of Marketing for Tivoli Systems. John has worked as a contracted consultant for established companies, start ups and top analyst firms. John can be reached at john@johnwryan.com or you can follow him on Twitter @buyersteps

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