Private Social Network: An Oxymoron?

12 Jan

There are a number of vendors out there (and AssociCom is one) who provide private social networking tools. Sometimes when I tell people what I do for a living, I get a puzzled look of the sort people get when you talk about something like bureaucratic efficiencies. If they’re feeling conversational, I might get a question like: “Isn’t social networking all about finding and connecting with people without regard for traditional boundaries or affiliations?”

In short, private social networking sounds like an oxymoron. The notion of private runs at odds with everything that is supposed to be good about social networking. So, why would ever use such a phrase?

The answer lies in the fact that social networking or even more broadly, social media , encompasses a variety of goals and behaviours. Some of these benefit from a very open community in which you want to maximize your exposure to different people and different sources of information. Others actually benefit from more closed communities. For example, a learning community focused on a particular profession benefits from a high level of specialized knowledge in its members.

So I think private social networking does make sense, and it’s definitely not a replacement for public social networking, that is, sites like Facebook and Twitter. In fact, even if you have access to a private social networking site, I’m sure that you will continue to interact on public social networking sites with people who share your work interests.

What then, is the value in an association creating a private social networking site for their members? There are three advantages that come to mind immediately:

  1. First, as noted above, your association’s private social networking site can bring together a set of people with highly specialized knowledge. This allows the technical aspects of discussions to operate at an elevated level because there is a presumption that the audience is familiar with the core components of the field. A set of experts discussing a particular topic is an incredible learning resource for others.
  2. Second, as befits the moniker private social networking, the discussions remain within the confines of the association. There is less need for concern about how it will be perceived by the general public; although of course, there is never any perfect guarantee of privacy, any more than with other information which is shared with the membership in general. Still, my experience is that discussions can be more open and frank.
  3. Third, a private community provides an excellent channel for getting feedback from your existing members. Since the community is composed, by definition, only of members of the association, you have a platform to interact very directly with them and get a much better sense of their needs and how the association could more effectively serve them.

Overall then, not only do I think private social networking makes sense, I think there are strong motivations for any association to make it a part of their overall strategy for communicating with and delivering value to their members.


3 Responses to “Private Social Network: An Oxymoron?”

  1. Adi Gaskell January 16, 2012 at 7:31 am #

    IBM is hosting Lotusphere at this very moment and the whole event is about such private social networks. This whole area is going to be huge in the next year or so I think as companies look to get employees working better together, especially if many are working remotely.

  2. Terry Coatta January 16, 2012 at 9:36 am #

    Thanks for the pointer. I’ll keep my eye out for any info coming out of Lotusphere.


  1. Online Community Management Links Roundup 20/01/12 - Community Management | Blaise Grimes-Viort - January 20, 2012

    […] Private Social Network: An Oxymoron? […]

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