I remember the good old days long before social networks such as Facebook or Twitter were created; we used to collaborate in communities through online forums. Forums existed in all topics and they provided platforms for people with common interests to communicate freely outside the inflexible frame of the corporate website. You might see forums integrated with company websites to cover specific areas such as customer support or member discussion to allow free feedback from community members or product users for that matter.
This has changed a bit with the introduction of open social networks such as Facebook. People discovered more freedom with more features available in such platforms, and companies started to follow them there as well.
Online forums haven’t disappeared either, but private social networks (PSNs) deliver a good alternative for organizations looking to provide a semi-structured way for their community members to communicate with each other and with the organization itself, while at the same time modernizing the platform by adding social and mobile features.
Defining private social networks
A PSN is sometimes called a community software or a social community platform. It is a niche online network that connects people around a specific topic, interest, or identity. Unlike “generic” social networks such as Facebook, a PSN is owned by the organization/community leader, and it provides means to exchange content as well as social connections.
There are available tools to build community software and provide necessary social behavior, or you may choose to start your online community on a ready-made platform. There are several ready platforms to host your community including Nimble, Higher Logic, Socious, Hoop.La, and Mightbell among others.
Why would you build a PSN?
For many, there is no sense in having your own community platform since you can have the same on Facebook or Instagram where your users are already. This might be true in many cases. However though, there are several concerns when using a non-owned network such as Facebook especially regarding your corporate identity (promoting Facebook instead of your own), privacy, reach (with more changes in Facebook, you need to spend ad money to reach your own followers), continuous change in algorithm, and advertising tendency.
As mentioned earlier, online forums aren’t dead either, and you might decide that a forum is the best solution for your current requirements. But forums lack social features such as chatting, liking, sharing, connecting with geo-located members, events calendar, voting, etc.
A PSN is the next step in forums in a controlled manner where you, rather than Facebook, own the community.
Reasons for successful PSNs
- Allow different types of content, with classification and powerful search
- Vivid community. Encourage engagement between members, use of alerts, chatting, and geo-location to connect users
- On the web and mobile
- Powerful reporting
- Scalability and integration
Inspiration for us
- You decide which platform serves your social strategy better by deciding what you are trying to achieve. Be specific
- If you find yourself stuck with your old forum and do not know how to move forward but not convinced with a public platform such as Facebook, then a private social network is for you
- Moderating a PSN probably requires more effort than a page or group on Facebook, so make sure you are ready for that commitment
- A PSN does not necessarily replace your other social networks, but rather complement them and help you achieve what you couldn’t achieve with other networks