It’s no secret that the way we engage with businesses has changed dramatically over recent years.

Today, it’s not just about products and pricing. It’s also about the social experiences that form around purchase decisions. We’re always on the hunt for recommendations and referrals, and online communities play an increasingly important role. In some ways, a private community is like the modern equivalent to a fan club, but it can also be much more.

It shouldn’t be hard to recognise the opportunities here. By building their own communities, creators can develop closer relationships with their followers. And that’s just the start!

What are private community platforms?

With mainstream social media constantly facing a wave of protest, the last few years have seen a massive growth in private community spaces. Far away from the noise and controversies of platforms like Facebook, smaller niche platforms are tailored to a unique set of needs and preferences.

A private community platform is a safe space for its members. It’s not about vanity metrics such as likes or follower counts, but about nurturing real relationships. Businesses and creators build communities for all sorts of reasons. Some are platforms for sharing ideas and feedback. Others are membership clubs where people can share their experiences with other customers. Non-profits can also use private communities to further their missions by giving people a space to talk about sensitive matters. Others are all about connecting family and friends in a safe and private environment.

All successful private communities have one thing in common – they satisfy a niche and connect people under a common goal. And, they’re not at the mercy of third-party advertising networks like Facebook.

What are the benefits of having a private community?

To say the mood around the familiar social networks isn’t good would be an understatement. Constant privacy concerns are just the start. Then there’s the rise of hate speech, spam, and trolls to contend with. Now, we’re probably right in assuming that’s not something you want to be a part of!

Private social networks and community builders are changing the game by letting businesses and creators build dedicated spaces for those who matter most – their customers. On the surface, these platforms look a lot like regular social media in that they provide a familiar experience complete with instant messaging and friending. But they also offer many unique benefits, like these:

  • Guarantee privacy: You can hardly guarantee your community’s privacy on a public platform like Facebook. With your own platform, your community data belongs to you, rather than being sold on to third-party advertisers or misappropriated by scandalous organisations like Cambridge Analytica.

  • Make it your own: You can’t really call a community your own if it’s nothing more than a group on one of the main social networks. But with your own platform, you can apply your own branding and own the experience.

  • Build engagement: Engagement is far more important than likes and follower counts. With a private community space, you can engage your audience on a more personal level, without it being sabotaged by spam bots and trolls.

  • Support customers: What better way to support your customers than by giving them a space where they can help one another? With a private community, it’s much easier to keep things constructive and on-topic.

Key features and functions to look out for

When figuring out which features and functions you need, the best place to start is the use cases for your community. Ask yourself what sort of behaviours you want to promote among your members. Would you like them to participate in virtual events, enjoy social shopping experiences, or simply have a safe space where they can voice their needs and concerns?

Here are some ideas to help you get started:

  • Moderation tools: Even niche communities need moderating. Fortunately, it’s much easier to moderate your own community, especially if it can moderate itself. In that case, you might choose a platform that lets members upvote content they like or report that which breaks the rules.

  • Price and scalability: Firstly, cheaper doesn’t always mean better, but that doesn’t mean you need to build a platform from scratch either. Instead, choose something that fits your needs and can scale with future demand. Look at the needs of your community, and consider what you want it to look like over the next few years.

  • Monetisation potential: Launching your own community platform can open up new revenue streams with things like premium subscriptions, paid virtual events, and even social shopping experiences. If you want to sell to your community, be sure to choose the features you need to make it happen, such as online payments and shopping carts.

  • Mobile functionality: With most people now engaging with social media and other online content on the small screen, this one’s practically a must-have. Always choose a platform that provides an excellent mobile experience, though it doesn’t hurt if you can support the big screen too!

Examples of private community platforms

There are countless ways you can build a private community, and no two look the same. You can build your own from the ground up or go for the far easier and more affordable option of choosing an existing platform that you can make your own. A private online community might be something as simple as a gated website forum or as advanced as a social networking app.

Here are some examples for inspiration:

  • Disciple: We’re all about the passion economy, and niche communities are where it’s all happening. Our platform provides a mobile-centric experience, and you can make it your own by applying your branding without writing a single line of code.

  • Slack: Slack is one of the most popular business communication tools. You can create groups around specific topics and send direct private messages. However, while Slack is good for internal communication, it’s not customisable, and isn’t meant for building customer-facing communities.

  • Forum: If you want to take the old-school approach, you can launch a website forum and have it gated by a sign-in page. Forum software is highly customisable, but it rarely provides an optimal mobile experience, and it lacks many interactive functions.

How to prepare for launch day

So, you’ve chosen the tools you need to build your private community. Now for the fun part – preparing for the big day! Launching your community is an exciting time, a turning point for businesses looking to boost customer engagement and even open up new lines of revenue. 

Here’s how to ensure your new community gets off to a great start:

  • Plan your launch day: By now, you should already know what you want to achieve with your new community. Whether it’s increasing brand awareness, boosting customer satisfaction, or making your products and services more accessible, you’ll need to develop a launch-day plan that matches your priorities. When announcing the launch of your private community, be sure to clearly communicate the benefits of signing up to your customers.

  • Create a community structure: Many communities serve multiple purposes, so you’ll need a structure which can accommodate everything. It’s best to get this organised beforehand, so your new members can find what they’re looking for as soon as they sign up. For example, you might want a group for people seeking customer support, another for providing feedback and recommendations, and another where members can socialise with off-topic conversation. At this point, you’ll also decide who will moderate your community. Many creators manage just fine with the help of a virtual assistant (VA).

  • Prepare your content: No one wants to see a virtual ghost town once they sign up, so it’s important there’s something there when your first members arrive. Prepare some useful and insightful content, such as blog posts, videos, and pictures, for members to engage with, and make sure you and your team are present from the start. Once you’ve got your content and your people in order, it’s time to let people know about it and get those conversations flowing!

  • Promote your community: There are many ways to promote your community, such as social media, email newsletters and, of course, an announcement on your website. Offline methods, such as trade fairs, real-world events, and printed media can also help, especially if you run a local business. You should promote your community often and consistently. Eventually, it should grow to a point where your members do much of the promotion for you. Make it a core part of your business, and it will ultimately grow by itself.

Final words

Launching a private community is an exciting first step towards building a better experience for your customers. It’s a great opportunity to forge meaningful relationships with your members and grow your customer base. There’s simply no better way to bring people together under a shared interest and firmly establish your niche in the new passion economy.

Here’s a quick recap:

  • Decide how you want your members to engage with your community
  • Choose the features and functions that matter most to your members
  • Promote your community, and watch it grow!

Disciple’s easy-to-use private community platform gives you everything you need to create your own social network.