The Future of Online Communities is Private

John Follett

While the global social networks continue to grow exponentially, a revolution is happening with consumers, companies and brands: the private online community is displacing the public network for many groups and activities. Private online communities give marketers and brands much more control over information and social interaction. They offer customers more privacy, a higher level of interaction and stronger trust in both the community and the content provided.

They can be precisely tuned to the needs of a specific group of customers. Private online communities can have levels such as newcomer to VIP, be more easily gamified and are more secure than the public networks. Members love them because they can cut through the clutter and get exactly what they need while sharing their passions and insights with others who will most appreciate them. They get their questions answered by members with more experience and expertise in the subject at hand.

Company-owned online communities are websites that act as engagement engines. They enable companies to create social relationships with customers and prospects and to foster peer-to-peer relationships that drive engagement with the company, brand, product or service. Activities include blogs, forums, Q&A, groups, contests, gamification, SEO, and social media integrations.

Solutions from online community vendors range from basic Web community building platforms like Disqus and Ning designed for forums, chat blogging and commenting to sophisticated social community platforms with Web content management, intranet collaboration and detailed analytics from cutting-edge vendors such as DNN, Jive and Lithium.

Increasingly, companies are using these communities for crowdsourcing and ideation to drive innovation and new product development. Online communities are also useful for identifying potential advocates who can be further engaged using the Advocacy and Loyalty platforms.

Not one to miss a trend, Facebook is rumored to be working on a super-private app itself. Called Moments, it is designed to make microsharing with your closest family and friends much easier. When (or if) it is released, Facebook would be enabling private online communities within its social network super structure.

Analyst Bottomline

In analyzing the private online communities market, Demand Metric has found that among members trust is higher, loyalty is stronger and people are more engaged and willing to participate. Demand Metric believes that companies and brands will increasingly shift marketing and ad spends away from the global social networks and toward private online communities.