How to Start a Social Networking Website Part 1: Background, Manuals and Lists

by Peg Corwin

So you want to start a social networking website for your niche? You need more than an online forum — you want to build a brand and revenue stream you can sell. You’ve done an informal survey of your friends and they can’t wait to join.

It sounds so simple, but what’s involved? How do you fund it? What software do you use? How do you get the website designed and launched? What do you do about content? How do you build your brand? What’s the best way to expand your membership? When are advertisers interested, and how much will they pay? And where’s the exit?

My fellow SCORE counselors and I often advise entrepreneurs with a burning desire to launch networking sites in their niches. So I went surfing on behalf of these entrepreneurs, past and future.

This is Part 1 in a series of posts on the background of social networking communities, how-to manuals, and lists of these communities. The idea here is to provide links and references with some annotation, to help entrepreneurs explore the issues.

Later posts will cover business models and financing; networking software design and vendors; and blogs and advertising.


The Wikipedia has excellent summary articles on these related topics:

Social Network

Online or Virtual Communities

Social Networking Service-Website


Why not use the experience and advice of others as you plan your website? Here are online publications and books on what’s involved.

The Online Community Cookbook Rich Gordon of the Medill School, Northwestern University and of the Media Management Center, Available to download, chapter by chapter.

“The Cookbook provides a structured approach to understanding online communities and a step-by-step guide to building and sustaining them successfully in local markets.”

Owyang, Jeremiah. “Online Community Best Practices.” Forrester Research, 2008 February 13. $379 Slideshow Link

“An online community is an interactive group of people joined together by a common interest. It’s also one of the most powerful tools a marketer can deploy for customer retention, word of mouth, and customer insight. To host a successful community, think of it as you would product development: Start by focusing on objectives, chart a road map, assemble the right team, and plan to be flexible. Then build your success by launching the community with the backing of your most enthusiastic customers and staying engaged as the community grows. Above all, remember that control is in the hands of the members, so put their needs first, build trust, and become an active part of the community.”

Online Community Toolkit Full Circle Associates: Connections for a Changing World, Online and Offline. (A consulting firm.)

“Thinking about building or hosting an online community? Looking for specific tips, tools and ideas? Start here. The following is a collection of articles that may help inform your work. They are all covered by our Creative Commons license which makes the material available with limited restrictions.”

Smart Start-Ups: How Entrepreneurs and Corporations Can Profit by Starting Online Communities (Hardcover) by David Silver

From the inside flap: “Using case studies of companies you might not have heard of yet-but will-Silver explains business plans and models for start-up online communities, showing how to produce value for members, attract more paying customers, and make it all work at a profit. You’ll learn what’s happening in social networking, who the major players are, and what makes them successful. Plus, you’ll have all the tools you need to research, facilitate ideas, and develop a business model for your own profitable and unique social networking start-up. Plus, launching an online or mobile community is relatively inexpensive-as little as $300,000!”

And a couple brief blog posts.

10 Rules for Designing Social Networks Connie Benson: My Conversations (ACD Systems Community Manager)

Things to Think About Before You Start Your Online Community Ezine article by Jon Hecky

List of Social Networking Websites

I found a number of lists (check date of last update) where you can look for competitors in your space. Joining, examining and participating in other sites can give you ideas about both features and problems.

USA Social Networking Rankings Social Networking Watch Blog: Social Networking News and Commentary

Popular Social Networks Social Networking Watch Blog: Social Networking News and Commentary

Home of the Social Networking Services Metalist Social Software Weblog: It’s all About Who You Know

Wikipedia list

SN Site Guide Directory SN Guide Website (student project, but in depth analysis of nine sites)


Did I miss a great reference above? Please let me know by posting a suggestion.

See all 18 Posts in This Series

How to Create a Social Networking Website Series from scratch has 18 posts on various aspects of this topic.