What features do online community software have to make it attractive for business usage?

There are many exciting features or functionalities provided by online community software providers:

Members Profiles

• Profile elements

The user or members profile page is probably the most important part of your online community software. Along with the member's profile data, all of the member's content like photos, blog entries, comments, groups, friends, statistics, and other items can be displayed here. This page is often used as a point of contact between members, so various options are available such as "Send Message", "Add Friend", "Block member", and so forth. As the admin, you decide what goes on your members' profiles.

• Customizable profile fields

The information that your members will provide about themselves will define your online community. Therefore, you should create profile fields that make members provide information that is relavant to your social network's unique theme. For example, if you are building an online community for businesspeople, you might create fields like "Position", "Education", etc. Similarly, if you are creating a dating network, you might create fields like "Height", "Weight", "Eye Color", and so forth. Profile fields can be one of several types: Text fields, pull-down boxes, multi-line text areas, radio buttons, dates, etc.

• Multiple choice fields

If you create a pull-down box or radio button profile field, you can give it one or more dependent profile fields. For example, if your pull-down box profile field is named "Marital Status", it might have possible values such as "Single" and "Married". By creating a dependent field named "To" for the "Married" value, members that select "Married" can specify who they are married to.

• Field validation

Each profile field that you create can be given its own regular expression. If the data provided by the member does not match this expression, you can choose to display an error message of your choice. This ensures that members are inputting their profile data in the exact format you want.

• Keyword links (not all online community software providers have this option)

If enabled, some profile fields will be "linked, separated by commas." This means that whatever data the member provides in these fields will be separated by commas and linked to browse pages. For example, if you create a field called "My Favorite Music" and a member enters "classical, pop, jazz", each of those words will be linked on the user's profile page. Then, when a viewer clicks "jazz", they are taken to a page that lists all other members that have listed "jazz" in their "My Favorite Music" field.

• Birthday fields

Date fields on your members' profiles can be set to "birthday mode". You could use this to notify members of upcoming birthdays and send greetings.

• Personal photos (avatars)

If allowed, members can easily upload a photo of themselves, which is automatically sized down and used as their personal photo (also known as an avatar). This is displayed on their profile, in search results, when they send a message, and on many other areas of your social network.

• Profile privacy

If allowed, members can select from several privacy levels when managing their profile. This limits who can view and write comments on their profile. You, the admin, can decide what privacy options are available to your members.

• Comments

If allowed, members can post comments on each other's profiles. This is an excellent way to encourage members interaction. If an inappropriate or unwanted content is posted, the receiving member can delete it from his or her profile. Members also have the ability to choose who can post comments on their profile (if allowed by you, the admin).

• Custom CSS styles

If allowed, members can insert their own custom CSS styles to give their profiles a more personalized appearance.

Network Structure

• Subnetworks

Your online communiy software has the ability to organize members into "subnetworks" or groups based on profile information they have in common with each other. You can use this to limit access and privacy between subnetworks, display subnetwork-specific content in your templates, or to simply organize your members. For example, you might want your social network to be comprised of two subnetworks: "Males" and "Females". Or, perhaps you might want to split these up into "Males In Europe", "Males Outside Europe", "Females In Europe", "Females Outside Europe". This is particularly useful because you can show different content (or advertisements) to members based on what subnetwork they are in. This allows you to serve them information or ads that are specifically relevant to their interests or personal characteristics.

• Several friendship structures

You can select from four distinct friendship structures: 1) Nobody can invite anyone to become friends, 2) Anybody can invite anyone to become friends, 3) Only people within the same subnetwork can become friends, and 4) Members can only invite their friends' friends (second-level friends) to become their friends. With some minor customization, other structures can be implemented quite easily.

• One-way or two-way friendships

As the admin, you can decide if members have one-way or two-way friendships. Example: Member A adds Member B to his friend list. With a one-way friendship framework, Member B is Member A's friend, but Member A is not member B's friend. With a two-way friendship framework, Member B is Member A's friend and Member A is Member B's friend.

• Verified or unverified friendships

As the admin, you can choose whether or not members will have to confirm friendship requests. Example: Member A requests to become friends with Member B. With a verified friendships framework, the two members will not become friends until Member B confirms the friendship. With an unverified friendship framework, the two members will become friends immediately.

• Friendship types (titles) (not all online community software provisers have this option)

As the admin, you can create a list of friendship types for members to pick when describing their relationships with their friends. Example: Your friendship type list may be something like "Co-worker", "Significant Other", "Acquaintance", "Close Friend", "Family", and so forth. Members can pick from these when they add new friends or edit the details of their relationships with their friends. If you wish, you can also allow users to enter in their own friendship type instead of picking from your list.

• Friendship explanations

As the admin, you can allow users to type in a detailed explanation of their relationships with each of their friends.

• Public/private sections

As the admin of the online community software, you can easily make portions of the social network available to the public or registered users only.

• Custom privacy levels

You can decide what privacy levels members of your online community can choose from when they decide who can view (or post comments on) their profiles, blogs, groups, albums, and so forth.

• Signup by admin invitation

You can choose to allow members to signup only if you have invited them. This is an effective way to build a small, exclusive online community.

• Signup by members invitation

You can choose to allow members to signup only if they have been invited by an existing member or an admin. You can even give each member a limited number of invitations to send out. By limiting signups in this way, invitations can become "valuable," which is a known method of achieving viral growth.

• Customizable signup process

You can decide what will take place during the new member signup process. You decide what fields they must fill out (and which are required), whether they are asked to upload a photo, whether they are prompted to invite other people, and so forth.

• Email notifications

Your online community software sends email notifications or messages to your members when they signup, receive friend requests, request their lost password, etc. Some online community software providers give full customisation - you can easily replace the default messages with your own.

Some examples of best online community software providers are Ning, SocialGo and PHPFOX

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