Reasons to invest in an owned community

by Venessa Paech October 9, 2019

A good social media presence is an ongoing dialogue between your business and your followers. But it rarely moves to the next level; deep interaction between community members.

If you want signal over noise and sharper strategic alignment, stop renting and start owning.

Sometimes called ‘on network’ communities, owned or branded communities come in all shapes and sizes (messaging apps, enterprise networks, virtual worlds, classic forums). What they have in common makes them attractive to anyone who wants more from relationships with customers, clients, colleagues and constituents.

Context

Social media is the town square where many customers already are. But its pervasiveness is the problem. If you’re building an audience you want reach, and social media can deliver. But if you’re building an intentional community, you need qualified numbers. You need context. You don’t make your base of operations a booth at a conference. You use that presence to draw people into separate, dedicated spaces and experiences.

An owned community lets you ask who you want and need in the room, and what is the new conversation you want or need to occur? Don’t settle for shouting into a cluttered abyss. Create a contextual community, insulated from the sink of spam, fake news and trolls.

Control

Control is a defining feature of successful communities. Yours, and your members.

People who communities want agency and influence over their experience. As the owner of the community, you won’t succeed if you can’t exercise some control over community experience. You also need to give your members control over certain content and experiences to help them belong and participate.

These are all challenging on social media, where you’re renting space at a premium (akin to buying television advertising of yore) and you’re not the architect of anything around you. Algorithms working for someone else’s goals sort your community content. New features can be a win or decimate your hard work. Even if you’re spending big dollars, you’ll never have the steering wheel.

Barriers

Friction is anathema. To win the war of attention and engagement, content and experiences must be easy, effortless. Marketers wouldn’t dream of making people work to participate.

Here, community radically departs from marketing. A community has a specific, strategic purpose aligned to a grander plan – business goals, organisational objectives, or a big vision. To grow and catalyse that community, newcomers must be intrinsically motivated.

Barriers create sustaining, successful communities by necessitating an appeal to intrinsic motivation. Using qualifiers like an application process, community builders attract the members they want and need, who can best serve the community overall. Most social media platforms are optimised for engagement’s lowest common denominator. Barriers are difficult, or impossible to configure. An owned community lets you design and set-up considered steps to joining and participation that drive outcomes.

Read more: Is your online community healthy?

Safety

Successful communities need proactive moderation. Minimising those things that create harm or obstacles, while maximising those that help people get what they need. You also need to stay legally compliant when it comes to protecting your members, your organisation and yourself around harmful content, privacy and high-risk behaviour.

Social platforms, sadly, have notoriously poor moderation tools. Their business models may not align with your need to limit certain types of activity and create a place people feel safe and comfortable. If you build on community platforms, you have access to feature sets that let you remove obstacles to purpose and enhance what’s working best for your community alone.

Data

You need metrics that matter to drive results. On social networks, you only have access to a fraction of the data required to measure and optimise your community (and some of that data isn’t necessarily trustworthy).

You’ll need to study how member relationships are forming and performing over time, how interactions are driving member needs and how they’re supporting your objectives.

Which people are returning, connecting, and in what patterns? Who are the dominant voices? Hidden influencers? How is value being built and exchanged?. What does ‘engagement’ mean for you strategically, and is it generating intended value?

Own the building blocks and you’ll have the blueprint to create the ideal community for hosts and members, including the products, services, tools and outcomes you. Don’t build someone else’s CRM.

Discovery

Imagine hundreds or thousands of content-rich interactions taking place on your own network. The daily energy of community can boost your digital footprint and odds of discovery. This helps you become synonymous with the topic of your community, attracting more qualified members.

Make social media spokes to your community hub; channels for you to surface content that embodies your brand, highlights trust markers, tells your story and recruits new members.

The next generation of consumers won’t just stop at page one of Google as they currently do. They’ll rarely leave the results page itself (why would they when they can ask their device and get the answer they need). Staying competitive in discovery means building a credible, authentic and human knowledge base relevant to your organisation – an owned online community gives you that, at scale.

Moving on

Communities need reason for being. If that reason is no longer present, or changes beyond recognition, then the community can comfortably hang up its hat.

Just like individuals, communities need succession and retirement plans that honour their history and members. This only happens with a reasonable level of control. For now, social media platforms don’t offer portability of community data and content, and migrating or winding up a community can be an ordeal.

There’s a long list of reasons owned communities offer superior business integration and richer long term outcomes. Step outside social media and explore what’s possible.