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How to form and grow your own Twitter group, for free

Want to build a Twitter group that brings like-minded individuals together? We provide all the steps to make it work using free Web tools.

The Twitter site doesn't allow you to create groups on it, a significant missing feature. But just because the site is lacking group support, it doesn't mean that you don't have any options available to you to create your own group with free Web tools. Believe it or not, if you really want to create groups and watch them grow, it's not all that difficult.

The group formation phase

Step 1: Use Tweetworks If you're tired of waiting for Twitter to add group support, use a site called Tweetworks. It allows you to create or join groups. It only took about 10 seconds for me to set one up. Just put in the name and description of the group and you're all set. It's the simplest way to create a group and get it off the ground.

Tweetworks is a great way to start your group. Don Reisinger/CNET Networks

Step 2: Promote your group on Twitter It seems counter-intuitive to create a group on another service and promote it on Twitter, but that's precisely what you need to do, since you're trying to get all your like-minded friends together. Tweetworks offers an automatic tweet that allows you to input a few characters followed by a link inviting friends to join the group. But unfortunately, it's not very informative. Do it yourself.

Step 3: Get informative And that brings us to the next point. Because Tweetworks doesn't make its tweets informative, you'll need to do the legwork yourself. Put your group and its topic area into your own tweets on Twitter and place it in your e-mail. I've found that simply putting "Join my tech-focused Tweetworks group" followed by a link in an e-mail is a good way to get people to join. And since you're appealing to the Twittersphere, make sure all your tweets make it clear what your vision for your group is. For example, if you're forming a New York Yankees group, updating your stream with a message like, "Join my NY Yankees Twitter group on Tweetworks" followed by a link to the page should do the trick.

Step 4: Make sure the group is active What good is a group if it's not active? If people come back to your group every day to find out what's being said and see what kind of links are being shared, they're more likely to tell their own followers about it.

Step 5: Join other groups If you really want to grow your own Twitter group, you'll need to join others. See, most of the people who actually want to join groups are doing it already. So the best way to promote your own group and add members is to engage those people on Tweetworks. I joined four or five groups over the weekend. After talking with other members and coming to the realization that we had similar interests, I asked them to join my own group that I created earlier in the day. By Sunday night, my small Tweetworks private group of 3 had ballooned to 25 members.

The maturation phase

Step 6: Move your group to Ning If you've grown a large Twitter group, it's time you break out of Tweetworks and create a full-featured group that appeals more to your members. If you've never used it, Ning is a service that allows you to create a hosted social network, complete with blogs, videos, photos, events, and other features that you simply won't have available to you in Tweetworks--for free. Even better, it's just as simple to set up as Tweetworks and in a matter of minutes you can modify its design, add modules, and secure a unique URL. It's the best tool available to shoulder the desires of a large Twitter group, thanks to its customizability.

Step 7: Get back to marketing and tweeting Now that you've relaunched your Twitter group on Ning, you'll need to start marketing it and tweeting about it again. Since Ning offers so many more opportunities for your group to communicate and connect, you'll need to market the new features. Once again, get in touch with your Twitter followers and tell them about your new and improved group and be sure to make it clear in any outgoing e-mail that your Twitter group has become a full-featured social network. Knowing video and photos have been added to a niche group makes it even more compelling for potential group members.

Step 8: Capitalize on Ning's power Now that you have a more powerful group and more users are signing up each day, make sure you and your group members use the site's new features. What good is a blog, video, or photos section if you're not using them? I've found that Ning social networks are best when users are actively using all the features. And since much of the content will probably be tailored towards the group's interests, users should find the photos and videos compelling.

Step 9: Don't stop tweeting Although it might be tempting, you can't spend all your time in your group. Twitter is designed to be a community for everyone to share ideas and if you're not an active part of that community, your group won't grow nearly as quickly as you might like. You can't lose sight of the fact that without Twitter, you wouldn't have a group. Staying active on Twitter can keep any online group growing.

Step 10: Have fun Until groups make their way to Twitter, you'll need to find a way to connect with followers and discuss topics that you really care about. There's no better way to do that than with the help of Ning and Tweetworks. And once you get some users into your group and start messaging back and forth about common interests, you'll see why harnessing those tools' power to form your own group was worth it.