The Pros and Cons of Private Social Media Networks for Non-profits

Private social networks have been around for a while, but have recently become more popular with both brands and individuals. This growing trend in private communities has meant an uptick in the diversity of platforms and the features they offer.

This growth is definitely worth paying attention to if you’re in the non-profit and association world. These private platforms have untapped potential for organizations looking for any advantage they can in providing value to their communities. But with great reward comes great risk and there are many things to consider before jumping onto a private network.

So before your organization leaves its Twitter account or Facebook page for a newer, hotter platform, check out the pros and cons for starting a private social media network.

Pro: Private social networks protect the benefits of membership. The old saying, why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free, is a main reason people might not be joining your association. If a non-member is able to get the same value as a member from your social media efforts, it only adds to this rationale. Having a members-only social network gives more incentive for non-members to join to get access. It also provides more value to existing members and makes them feel like part of an exclusive group.

Con: You can’t connect with people who aren’t members. The whole purpose of a private network is to restrict your audience to just those investing in your organization. This makes it pretty much impossible to use your private network to highlight or promote member benefits or your organization’s events to non-members. Having a loyal membership is amazing, but your organization may stagnate if you aren’t trying to bring new members into the fold.

Pro: Only people who are passionate about relevant topics will join, which will probably lead to great content quality. If your non-profit only allows those who are passionate about a cause or industry onto your private platform, the content you share, and is being shared by others, is going to be high-calibre. Everyone in the group benefits when the content is better and your organization gains a reputation of providing accessible, informative material for members.

Con: Your content may be better, but at what cost? Operating private networks, along with any other social media accounts your organization might operate, takes a greater commitment of time and money. Some of these networks also cost money to set up, especially if you build a custom platform. While the return may justify the investment for some non-profits and associations, not all organizations have the resources to find out.

Pro: The content you share on a private network can be more targeted. Your organization already has a group of people who are interested in your industry or cause by their very participation in your non-profit and in your private network. Reaching out to these people can be more targeted as you know their interests, passions and career arc. You may even receive more engagement, as there is a more personal feeling on private networks than other types of social media.

Con: It takes extra effort for your audience and yourself. Chances are, your audience is already on the “open” social networks, like Twitter and Facebook. Signing up for a private network, accessing it and checking it daily can turn into an unnecessary hassle. The same can be said for yourself. Not only do you need to take the time to create a great account, but you also have to promote the fact that this private community exists, which means more time and money without any guarantee of success.

Kinds of Private Online Communities

1. Private-Public Platforms

These are the platforms that most people know and love, such as Twitter, LinkedIn and blogs. These social networks are most often public, but also provide the option to make your account private. You have an invite only LinkedIn group, a locked Twitter account that filters followers and a blog that is only available through a members-only portion of your website.

2. Stand-alone Private Platforms

These are the social media networks that are built to house private communities. There are many of them, most geared toward specific uses, such as professional associations or even teachers and their classrooms. A few of the more popular ones include Path, 23Snaps and Everyme.

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