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Community Tip: Public vs. Private, Pros and Cons

By David Kyle | 6 months ago | Strategy | No Comments

Setting up social media channels is a great start to building a community. But it’s just that, a start. Once you’ve set up your channels, you’ll find there are a number of things you’ll have to do to ensure you get the most value out of them for your goals.

Turning social media channels into a community is a good way to show results for your social media efforts. There are a number of decisions you’ll have to make when setting up an online community. One of the biggest is whether your community should be public or private. There are benefits to both, and questions you need to think about before you make a decision. In this Community Tip we detail the pros and cons to Public and Private communities and share best practices on how to set them both up.

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Who Can See What’s Shared?

First, let’s define what we’re talking about when we say Public and Private Community.

A public community is where you can connect with customers who have interacted with your brand at any point in time, increase brand awareness and find out what the careabouts of your customers are.

A private community is an exclusive space, typically invite-only, where peers discuss ideas, content, and resources related to the community topic.

Here’s a good way to think about the difference: public communities are outward facing. Everyone from your competitors, to your boss, to your peers can see what you’re talking about. Private communities are accessible to a select group of avid fans or loyal customers. You can delve into a topic at depth in a private community, which often results in valuable feedback for your business.

Who can Participate?

Transparency is at the heart of public communities. They are a fantastic way to engage with anyone who is talking about your brand or product. You are more likely to discover fans for your community when you set it up publicly, and by setting up a public community you are giving them an easy way to find you.

Private communities are valuable because they are accessible only to a select group of avid fans or loyal customers. People often invest more effort into private communities, where they know they can connect with like-minded people. You can reward and encourage that investment by bringing in experts for the audience to engage with or sharing exclusive content. Members of a private community will give more—their time, their ideas—but they also expect more. If you set up a private community, be sure you’re willing to commit to it.

How Connected is the Group?

The level of engagement of a community will heavily depend on its brand or topic. If your community is set up around something that lots of people are passionate about, there’s a greater chance of the community being highly engaged. But not every business can easily inspire passion among customers and advocates. Popular consumer brands like Apple and Nike have an easier time organizing groups of people who care about their products than B2B brands and niche businesses.

In a private community, strong connections are built between those who are passionate about the community. If you are setting up a community around a topic that a small number of people are interested in, but care about deeply, a private community is for you. For instance a conference on how to sell mason jars may only draw a few hundred people, but those few hundred are deeply engaged in the topic and passionate. Invite mason jar salespeople to a place where they can discuss their techniques in a private forum and you’ll enjoy a haven of activity.

How Much Work Does it Take to Manage the Group?

Setting up either type of community takes time. Private communities take a significant amount of effort to gain momentum, which means you need to invest more in the beginning. You’ll find yourself posting the majority of content, asking most of the questions and generally instigating conversations. This should improve over time, but be prepared to invest some time at the get go. Public communities, on the other hand, are easier to get going as there is typically a group of people already discussing the topic or brand. You can leave a public community alone for a weekend with more confidence than you could a private community.

Start with the type of community that fits your business needs. If that’s public, when you start to notice your community is growing at a consistent rate and there are members that are far more active than others, it’s a good time to start thinking about offering them an area for private, targeted discussions. If you start with a private community and you’re finding that it’s starting to run itself, perhaps you want to expand your reach to the public. You’ll then be able to reach the public to build broader awareness to larger audiences while fostering deeper customer relationships in the private community.

Want to learn more? Download the Community Tip and let us know what you think by tweeting @HootClub using #CMTYTips.