Online community building is hot. Corporations are having great success with building online support communities and communities created around social causes connected to their brands. If you are a community-driven organization, you cannot afford not to actively build an online community in order to stay relevant, live up to the expectations of new generations, respond to environmental pressures and increase your impact.
But where should you be building your online community?
Using ‘free’ social media tools sounds like a great solution. But is it? The recently leaked Facebook Files have shown just how predatory social media platforms like Facebook are, more often than not choosing profit over public good or user welfare. Yet, the recent Facebook outage made us realize just how much we rely on these social media platforms.
I have listed some advantages and disadvantages of social media vs owned platforms in the table below. Even though I am representing an owned member engagement platform (Open Social, which is specialized in mission-driven communities), I have tried to keep it as factual as possible. Moreover, keep in mind that choosing the right platform always depends on your community goals and strategy.
Online Community ≠ Social Media
What it all comes down to is that social media is not built for effective community building. The objective of social Media is to make money instead of facilitating and moderating valuable conversations. Its algorithms are designed to keep user attention, mine data and sell ads. You can use it for ‘free’, but your data is being sold to advertisers. In this business model the consumer is the product.
The Verge Tech Survey 2021 found that among people who don’t use Facebook, 43 percent of them are avoiding it because they don’t like how it does business — a jump from 27 percent in 2020.
Owned online community (or member engagement-) platforms are designed for effective and valuable community interaction. This is quite a different starting point!
An owned community platform gives you the tools to win the ‘fight for attention’, increase your community’s impact and allow you to generate sustainable revenue from your community. Let’s elaborate on these three.
1. Win the fight for attention
We are living in times of information overload – the so-called ‘attention economy’. Especially with more virtual interaction and more social media platforms. How many communities do you actively engage in online? Maybe a hobby community or two and some shallow interaction with people from your industry?
Brands and communities are struggling to win ‘the fight for attention’. One of the biggest advantages of using an owned platform is that it allows you to become more relevant and member-focused, by:
- Bringing your members together online centrally in your own secure, trusted and branded environment where they know they can meet other respected members related to your niche.
- Facilitate and amplify human relationships, enhance the collective and the sense of belonging in your community with year-round member connections “in your pocket”.
- Offering trusted, reliable, filtered and relevant content, crowd-sourced and backed by your community (while benefiting from the use of social proofs, content marketing and Search Engine Optimization). All with less irrelevant distractions and clutter.
- Using data to trigger members with relevant content and personalized communications. Personalization is one of the major marketing trends in the coming decade. As you own the platform and the data, members will be more willing to share their personal data, allowing you to offer them a more relevant and personal experience based on their behavior in your community.
- Creating an integrated ongoing conversation before, during and after (online-) events by providing continuous connections, all while increasing the value of your event content by offering it on-demand in an interactive environment.
2. Create added value and increase your impact
Especially for community and mission-driven organizations, like associations, it is important to use digital transformation in community building to more effectively and continuously engage their members. In order to continue to play a vital role in creating the global talent pool and driving force in societal and scientific progress, they need to sustain and facilitate deep and continuous interactions.
Owning the community platform and -experience allows you to:
- Create added community value with purpose-built tools for content creation, collaboration, ideation and decision-making that contribute towards your community’s mission.
- Use gamification to reward your community members for participating in engagement that is valuable for your organization’s mission.
3. Facilitate new ways to generate revenue from your community
Owning the platform allows you to generate sustainable revenue from your online community while building member trust.
Generating revenue from your online community shouldn’t feel like a profit-driven endeavor to members or make them feel exploited, targeted or taken advantage of. To build a monetization strategy that feels appropriate and fair (instead of simply greedy), identify what unique facets of your online community are valuable and build your monetization strategy around them.
- Subscription/membership fees: Create different community membership tiers with unique subscription fees for each. The more expensive a membership tier is, the more advantages and privileges it gives.
- Content access: Add a payment fee to access specific premium community content such as online courses.
- Ticketed events: Add ticket purchasing fees to specific online community events on Zoom or Big Blue Button.
There are also other models, such as: sponsored content, donations, advertisement, merchandising and more.
Key question: What does your long-term strategy look like?
A key question for choosing between social media or an owned member engagement platform is: what does your long-term strategy look like, and how big a role does community play in it?
If your long-term strategy is community-driven, owning the ‘glue’ that continuously connects your members and allows you to control and facilitate the ongoing discussions in your community is a must to future-proof your organization.
Want to learn more about social media vs online community platforms? Watch our expert online panel discussion on social media vs owned platforms for community building that took place on 4 November:
An alternative version of this article, aimed specifically at associations, has been published by Association Meetings International (AMI). Read it here