I’m finishing my Mandarin studies this year as one of my majors. When I started learning Chinese I primarily got formal instruction from University, however after class I would get back and still be interested in the language. I started following blogs and other learners, where up to this point my Google Reader is almost entirely made up of Chinese blogs and China interest websites. Thus the idea came for Social Mandarin.
I felt that there was a disconnect between Mandarin learners on the web. I thus created Social Mandarin as a social bookmarking site where people can share online Mandarin resources with each other, find the resources that I took almost two years to amass. Eventually Social Mandarin should be the first site you visit when you are looking online Mandarin learners and online resources.
I haven’t got much web development knowledge, but I’ve always been a tinkerer: using existing platforms and scripts and reverse engineering and adjusting them to suit my needs. Thus, I used Drupal with the Drigg module, that turns Drupal into a Digg-style site. It took me quite some time get everything up and working. I made some minimal changes to the design as well.
I had some problems with spam early on, but I’ve managed to get two moderators to help me and I’ve also since then installed captcha forms and various other protection systems. I’m however still sitting with a trackback problem, which needs to send a trackback/pingback to blogs if a story is posted. Alas, Drigg support has been dropped and most of the solutions I tried have not been working. Will have to look into it later.
Progress and Lurkers
Social Mandarin has been received quite well since its inception in March 2010. It has grown steadily since then. However, although there seems to be interest in the site, most of them are lurkers, only utilizing the content and not posting their own or other links. This, has lead me to post the majority of the almost 200 stories/links currently on the site. There are some other active users, but they are only a handful. I need to figure out how to provide a better incentive for users to post links, besides self-promotion. Alas, I don’t mind posting most of the content for now.
Marketing and Monetization
I have experimented a lot with social media marketing via Social Mandarin. I currently have a Twitter account for it, posting the latest articles. I got most of the followers via blogs posting my service and me following users who tweet about Chinese and Mandarin. I set up a search stream in my preferred Twitter app, Hootsuite to track people talking about it, and if someone says something relevant as I go through it I follow them. This is not an auto-follow script.
I have also put up two Facebook ad runs for the Facebook page. In the end I got about 130 new fans/likes within two weeks altogether. I opted for social media ads, because this gives me recurring traffic due to the users seeing new articles being posted to the page every time. Also, like the site suggests, this gives me the ability to interact with the users.
I’ve also experimented a lot with ad positions on the site. Currently, Social Mandarin has the highest CTR of all my web projects. It unfortunately is still a small amount of money and still needs to gain a pagerank, but once it does, it will surely pick up a lot more traffic.
Currently, the site is gaining momentum and I’m waiting for it to pick up on some Google juice. I’m also looking into redesigning the site. I think this site, as long as people post links, me included, will grow no matter what happens as it works on sharing. I’ve also got some ideas to enhance the social aspects of the site, to get users to interact with each other. One of these were the blog features, where users can have their own blogs on the site. However, more incentive needs to be provided and that’s where my brainstorming needs to go.