Social media has been booming for over a decade but with networks like Facebook constantly facing waves of protest over things like privacy and hate speech, creators and solopreneurs are looking to create something they can manage and control.

Have you ever thought of creating your own private social network? If so, this article will cover everything you need to know.

What is a private social network, and why do you need one?

A private social network is an online social space that allows users to choose exactly who they connect with and who has access to the things they share. That’s very different to how public networks like Facebook and Twitter work.

One of the most important benefits of having a private social network is that it returns control to those who own and use it. There aren’t any third parties involved, so members can connect with likeminded people discreetly and in confidence. These networks might not have the huge numbers of the familiar platforms, but that’s exactly why they’re so popular. They foster a more intimate environment focussed on a common goal, interest, or sensitive topic of discussion.

Private social networks are among the fastest-growing areas of online communication. Small businesses, entrepreneurs, and non-profits are getting on board with this exciting new trend as well. Thanks to private, branded social networks, they now have new ways to connect with their customers, publish and share fresh content, and even monetise their platforms to open up entirely new streams of revenue.

How to set up your own private social network

When we talk about private social networks, we don’t mean closed groups on Facebook and other platforms. We’re talking about something you can truly call your own, albeit with all the familiar functions and abilities of other platforms. On top of that, you get to apply your branding, instead of having to be hostage to a third party.

Here are the key steps you need to take to launch your own network:

  • Identify your community: Before you start building a private social network, you need to know what makes your target audience tick. You need to understand their desires and needs, so you can deliver value that the other networks can’t.

The best way to learn about your target audience is to look at what others in your niche are doing. Be sure to read some of our success stories for some inspiration!

  • Develop a growth strategy: When it comes to using social media in business, one of the most common pitfalls is focusing too much on vanity metrics like follower counts. Growth might mean having more followers, but there’s a bit more to it than that.

To grow your community and maintain its sense of purpose and belonging, you should first nurture your core customer base. These are your most valuable customers; those who love doing business with you and would happily refer others.

  • Decide which features you need: Once you know your target audience, you’ll be able to get a better idea of what sort of features and functions they expect from your online community.

Perhaps your members want to form their own interest groups within your community? For example, you might have a group for members to leave suggestions and another where they can share tips and insights with their peers.  Or, maybe they want to watch streaming video content? Knowing how you want your users to engage with your private social network will help you figure out which features you need.

  • Choose the right platform: The private social network industry is booming. But that doesn’t mean you have to create something from scratch.

With a white-label social media app like Disciple, you can give your members a familiar social networking experience. But, unlike opening a Facebook group, for example, you can choose from a much wider range of features and apply your own branding.

  • Define your community structure: Any private social network revolves around the community it serves, so you’ll need a structure that accommodates that.

For example, if you expect to have a lot of members discussing different topics, you might want to create multiple groups. Also, consider whether you need moderators or admins to keep your community in check. The more better your community structure, the easier it will be to look after your social network. Most smaller communities can get by just fine if members can upvote each other’s posts.

  • Brand your community: Naturally, you’ll want to make your private social network your own. This will help keep your business at the top of people’s minds, while also delivering a more unique and personalised experience.

Choosing a social networking platform that lets you customise the look and feel and user experience is key to achieving this. There’s more to this than just applying your logo or changing the app icon – you’ll also want to apply your own brand colours and styles so that your community truly feels at home.

  • Promote your social network: Getting your first members to sign up shouldn’t be too hard. Simply send out newsletters to your existing customers and announce the launch on any other social channels you use.

To grow your community beyond its core base, you should encourage referrals, publish great content on your website to increase search traffic, and continue to promote your network on other platforms. Another tried and tested way to grow your community is to work with influencers in your industry. For example, if you’re a fitness instructor, you might consider working with leading influencers in the space – people who have large followings of their own.

Examples of private social networks

The best private social networks are the result of careful thought and planning, and there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. That’s why it’s best to explore what the competition is doing.

Here are some examples of private social networking platforms:

  • Yammer is freemium enterprise communication software for internal use in large companies. However, while it offers a highly secure and private environment, it’s not suitable for building a customer-facing community.
  • Notabli is a unique private social platform for parents and children. It’s ideal for creating a small community of family and friends and sharing pictures in a secure and private space.
  • Disciple is suitable for most types of online community, including for small businesses, entrepreneurs, and non-profits. Our solution provides excellent safety and security, as well as powerful monetisation features like paid subscriptions and in-app shopping.
  • WordPress lets you create a full-featured website with little or no coding. You can also use a forum plugin to create a private social networking experience. However, it’s not best-suited to mobile engagement.

What are the benefits of creating a private social network?

For more than a decade, creators have considered social media a great opportunity to build engaged communities and connect with their target audiences to find out what they actually care about. More recently, however, the buzz has shifted from the familiar networks to private social networks, which give people the freedom to cut out the third parties.

Here’s why you too should consider launching a private social network:

  • You own the experience: When you’re relying on Facebook or other networks to build your community, you’re not in control of the experience. Things like unwanted algorithm updates can reduce the visibility of your posts. On top of that, you have to deal with the constant scandals and controversies ranging from hate speech to privacy violations. With your own network, you’re the one in the driver’s seat.
  • It’s easier to manage: Having an open social network might seem like the way to go when all you care about is member counts. But, it’s never too long before the trolls and spammers set foot in your community. Tens of millions of Facebook accounts, for example, are fake, and keeping them out of your community can fast become a full-time job!
  • They’re highly engaging: Public networks are noisy and overcrowded spaces where content has a limited lifespan before it’s buried beneath memes and ads. Creating your own community gives you the opportunity to connect with your members on a meaningful level. That means real relationships born of shared interests in a healthy, more intimate environment.
  • You can grow an active community: Familiar networks try to be everything to everyone, rather than lasering in on unique needs and interests. But having your own network makes it easier to focus on a common topic. That means you can grow a more active and engaged community that truly is one of a kind.
  • You have more opportunities to earn: With a private social network, you have endless opportunities to monetise your community. And, because your business will be on the centre stage, people will be all the more likely to buy from you. For example, you can sell your products or services directly to your network by integrating online payments or paid subscription plans.

How to choose the best platform for your needs

There’s a tonne of different ways to build a private social network, but not a lot of right ones. Some businesses build their own platforms from scratch, which can be costly and time- consuming, while others choose a white-label platform to save themselves the hassle. What works for you depends on factors like the following:

  • Business communities: Many larger organisations, including non-profits, create their own social networks specifically for their employees or volunteers. If that’s the case, then your biggest priorities will probably include privacy, security, and ownership.
  • Interest groups: There’s an online community for just about every topic imaginable. If you want to create a small interest-based network, a forum might suffice. However, a mobile app which supports friending and messaging can really help bring it to life.
  • Social communities: If you’re looking for a way to connect with friends and family in a safe and private space, you’ll need a privacy-first app that doesn’t sell your data to third parties.
  • Monetisation: If you want to monetise your community, you’ll need to choose software that lets you integrate the right features, such as online shopping and payments, paid subscription plans, or live-streamed webinars.

Final words

Creating a private social network is like having a membership or fan club that brings people together, but in an online space. For businesses, that means having direct access to your customers, and creating a fun, safe, and engaging environment where they can follow their passions and meet others. Best of all, you don’t ever need to write a line of code to launch your own social network either!

Here’s a quick recap of what we’ve learned:

  • Identify your target audience and build your plan around their needs
  • Shortlist your feature requirements and define your community structure
  • Choose a solution that accommodates your goals

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