Closed communities increasingly become a way of brands interacting with customers away from the noise and complexity of social media
The rise of social media has given the world an unprecedented degree of connectedness, but that openness has come at the price of an all-out war against our privacy. But at its core, social media marketing depends heavily on this openness by allowing brands to extend their reach across platforms with billions of users. Instead of being restricted to one-many mediums like email and small private message boards on company websites, brands now have countless opportunities to connect with customers. Perhaps surprisingly, a closed community is one of them. These communities are gated from the public, and members can join by invitation only.
Here are the pros and cons of building a closed community for your brand:
Reach and accessibility
Before we start exploring the benefits of closed brand communities, it’s important to explore the drawbacks and how they may hinder your community-building goals. Naturally, a closed community places a barrier to participation, which restricts your reach only to your members and the people they refer. To join your community, would-be members either need to receive an invitation or request one, depending on how you operate your platform. This makes it much harder to grow your community. Another option is to tie your online community into your loyalty programme so that all new customers, or those in specific tiers, automatically have access.
Since closed communities limit visibility to the public, they’re rarely suitable for expanding your marketing efforts. Nonetheless, they can have an indirect and highly positive impact on your brand’s reach and reputation, particularly if they exist alongside an open community, such as those on mainstream social media. Having a gated brand community lets you cherry-pick your members, which makes it much easier to keep out trolls, spammers, and other undesirables. Instead, you can build a private community consisting of your most loyal customers and brand advocates which you can then nurture to help increase your reach through referrals.
Exclusivity and privacy
Almost every criticism about social media pertains to the way it’s eroding people’s privacy and forcing us to surrender control over our data. While many people happily overshare on social media, often in the name of attention-seeking, this also has its drawbacks for all concerned. If people are filling your brand community with inane and irrelevant comments, it will rapidly lose its value. Closed communities are far less likely to have this problem, not just because they’re smaller, but also because they tend to be more goal driven. Niche communities are often kept closed to non-members for this very reason.
A community that’s visible and open to participation to everyone certainly isn’t an inherently bad thing, but it does make it much harder to foster a sense of belonging. That’s why fan clubs and owner’s clubs have been popular for decades – they provide a more exclusive and private space for people with shared interests to come together. Having a closed community is even more important for many business-to-business organisations due to the often-sensitive nature of the discussions. On the other hand, for a brand that caters to a very diverse target audience, exclusivity might be the exact opposite of what you want to achieve.
Research and listening
Closed communities are far better positioned at keeping the discussion on topic, which makes them far more effective for things like product ideation. For example, many software and video game developers launch private, member-only betas, which gives enthusiasts the chance to explore and test pre-release products. One of the best-known is Microsoft’s Windows Insider programme, which provides a software testing environment for people who wish to register. Formerly, this was only accessible to software developers. How ‘closed’ you want your community to be is entirely up to you.
Looking at closed communities from a different perspective, your competitors will have no idea what many of your customers are saying about you since their interactions with your brand will be hidden from them. That’s probably exactly what you want to achieve but, on the flipside, if your competitors are operating closed communities, your competitive research efforts will be severely hindered. Social listening tools can provide valuable insights for competitive analysis, so there’s certainly a case for transparency when it comes to research and collaboration.
Disciple community apps help brands enjoy all the benefits of community with an independent, valuable, and trusted platform in a safe space that they own and control. Your branded app can be a closed, subscription, open or mixed community.