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If you’re one of the hundreds of thousands or even millions of people running an online community on Ning, it’s time to pull out your credit card or look for new digs.

The company announced earlier this week that the free model is going away. TechCrunch published the memo issued by Ning CEO Jason Rosenthal and I encourage you to read it. You may recall that I interviewed Mr. Rosenthal back in November when he was Chief Operating Officer of Ning and he had nothing but great things to say about the company’s growth.

At any rate, here is an excerpt from the memo announcing the changes:

…We will phase out our free service. Existing free networks will have the opportunity to either convert to paying for premium services, or transition off of Ning. We will judge ourselves by our ability to enable and power Premium Ning Networks at huge scale. And all of our product development capability will be devoted to making paying Network Creators extremely happy.

So there you have it. I’m sure it wasn’t an easy decision but I can assure  you that many, many online communities are soon to bite the dust. The free model and low barrier to entry is what brought so many people to Ning.

The technologically challenged network owners probably have no idea where to look to even begin a transition. Their transition will likely be extinction, and as a community advocate I find that extremely sad.

Do you run a network on Ning? If so, what’s your plan? I’m sure that others will be happy to listen and learn.

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I am happy to announce the release of my very first Special Report.

The Community Manager Survey provides unique insights from 50 practicing community managers. It’s a in-depth look at the common struggles and intricate details of what it takes to succeed in a role that is growing in importance but commonly misunderstood.

The participants were open and honest, and their answers are quite revealing. I simply cannot thank them enough.

The report is geared toward managers looking to hire for this key organizational role and  those interested in gaining a better understanding of the major issues  associated with community management.

I’d like to send special thanks to the sponsors of the report: Social Strata, emoderation, comBlu, Sociia Internet Communications and Linqia Marketplace’s The Moderator Community.

There is a fee for this report. The information is valuable for businesses and took time to compile and create. Survey sponsors and  participants will receive a free copy.

If you know someone who would benefit from this report, please spread the word. And let me know if you’re interested in a review copy.

Anyone who purchases will receive an additional report on the art of crafting community guidelines.

We’ve been talking about the importance and value of this role for two years now. It’s a conversation that must continue.

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I was asked recently to share my thoughts on what exactly I do as a Social Media Manager at Capstrat, for a blog post over on 10000 Words. What’s funny is before I even started talking about that, I mentioned the work I did as a Community Manager and before I knew it I was comparing the two.

Since many of you don’t have the insane interest in journalism that I do, I thought I’d share my comments here and also  introduce you to a blog that I read regularly, that may not be on your radar.

So, here is my two cents: Be sure to read the full post to hear from others as well. And let me know what you think.

I believe there is a distinct difference in the role of community manager and that of social media manager, though each means different things to different companies. I was a community manager for three years. During that time I launched, nurtured, managed and ultimately grew a brand new community from zero to 15,000 members. It was often rewarding yet grueling work. A lot of blood sweat and tears goes into managing a community particularly when you are responsible for its maintenance and growth. I have strong opinions about the differences in managing a branded community vs. one on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn but we can save that for a different day.

That said, I have been in the role of social media manager at Capstrat exactly two months today. My role is very different now. I am a change agent. It’s my job to show clients how they can use social media to meet their goals and objectives. It requires an understanding of the client, knowledge of how social media is being used across a wide array of industries and the ability to shift gears at warp speed. I am working to build an area of the agency that is still perceived in some cases as a fad. The focus isn’t in a single area at an agency, A community manager has the luxury of focusing on a core group whereas a social media manager does not. For me, that’s a good thing because it makes me push myself to absorb all that I can and immerse myself in different industries.

So much of this will evolve and I doubt that my job will be the same in a month. We have a great opportunity to bring value to organizations through social media. One of my goals is to create a fully integrated strategy for PR and social media because social media is the ultimate PR opportunity. So while I wish I could give you a distinct definition for this work, I don’t think I can. Some say social media is the Wild, Wild West. Well, if that’s the case then any of us can strike it rich at any given moment.

I think I’ll be exploring this angle a bit more. It’s always nice to realize you have a strong opinion on a topic when you didn’t really know it. I think I owe it to myself to make it even stronger.  Thanks to Mark Luckie, for seeking my opinion.

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This is a personal blog. The opinions expressed here represent my own and not those of my employer. Feel free to challenge me, disagree with me, or tell me I’m completely nuts in the comments section of each blog entry.

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