Private online communities: What are they + what’s their purpose?

While private online communities have been popping up across the internet for years now, what they are and what they accomplish—their purpose and importance—still remain a mystery to many. Until now.

Seeing as how we know a thing or two about private online communities, we’re here to help demystify their existence while informing you, our amazing online community, of everything they have to offer.

What is a private online community?

For starters, a private online community is one of the most efficient ways to encourage social interaction among humans online. 

Private online communities are ideal for associations, companies, non-profits, businesses, and brands alike. Whether you’re working with members of an association, employees of a company, customers of a business, advocates of a non-profit, or fans of a brand, a private online community is one of the best ways to grow—authentically and meaningfully—and own your data along the way.

Much like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram—which are all public online communities—private online communities consist of groups of people with a shared interest or purpose. Instead of existing IRL, these groups use the internet as their main form of communication. Whether public or private, all online communities have their own set of guidelines, goals, needs, and systems.


What are the differences between public and private online communities then? Well, the biggest differentiating factor is that with a private online community, you get to own your precious data. That’s correct, private online communities do not sell their data to third-party advertisers, who then use that data to build in-depth profiles and target members across every action they take as long as they live (no, we’re not exaggerating).

With a private online community your data is, well, private. Which means that if you’re the business or association running the private online community, you get to KEEP your data and use it to grow. And if you’re a member of a private online community? Well, then you don’t have to worry about your info being sold off to anyone and everyone under the sun. Translation: private online communities are a win-win situation.

10 Benefits of private online communities

Now that you (fingers crossed) have a much better idea for what defines a private online community, let’s take a look at the benefits of building one for your association, brand, or business.

While the benefits of private online communities are close to endless, we’ve included some of the most prominent ones in this nifty list.

  1. As mentioned earlier (it’s worth mentioning again and again and again), private online communities let you collect unique data from your members—with their consent of course—and own it.
  2. This unique data (something you don’t get with public social networks) transforms your private online community into a space that’s useful and beneficial to your organization.
  3. Because of this extremely useful data, decision making is much easier and more informed. 
  4. Engagement, engagement, engagement. With a private online community, you’re not vying for attention among other brands and businesses on one giant platform. Instead, it’s just you and your people. Tête-à-tête. As a result, you get to know your members and form more authentic, useful, meaningful relationships with them. Through these relationships, engagement skyrockets.
  5. Public social networks don’t even come close to matching the kind of privacy, control, trust, and security that private online communities offer.
  6. Private online communities make it much easier for your brand, business, or association to become a thought leader in its industry.
  7. When you build your own private online community, you have the opportunity to create an amazing user experience for your members. Along with trust, transparency, and value, user experience (UX) is key to member retention and growth. When your community members stay engaged as a result of good UX, you then get to access the knowledge, insight, and topics of discussion occurring throughout your entire community. This, dear friends, is pure gold.
  8. Private online communities increase your discoverability, and spark lead generation and member acquisition. If your community is hosted on a public social network or online community, the relevant content your community creates isn’t doing anything for you in terms of search engine optimization (SEO) or brand awareness. With a privately hosted online community, you gain the opportunity to bring in organic leads through searches. This is also gold.
  9. Private online communities are a phenomenal way to continually improve upon the products, services, and programs you offer. All without having to conduct outside surveys, set up a separate support team, or constantly beg for feedback. Once your private online community reaches a certain point of growth, trust, and engagement, consistent feedback from members is almost a given.
  10. With a private online community, you can grow your brand, business, or organization as much as you desire. No, building a private online community isn’t easy by any means. But put in the work with your distributed leadership team, and both your community and ROI will grow.

To learn more about how a private online community could benefit your business, brand, non-profit, or organization, talk with one of our friendly Mobilize experts today.

To learn more about how a private online community could benefit your business, brand, non-profit, or organization, talk with one of our friendly Mobilize experts today.

What is a branded online community?

In talking about private online communities, we can’t not dive into branded online communities. The two go hand in hand. So, for your information and reading pleasure, let’s touch on the latter. 

To borrow from another article of ours, What Exactly Is An Online Community?, a branded online community is “a group of people who have a common interest and communicate through the Internet… but who then kick it up a notch by defining that group of people as a professional network.”

That is, the professional network of a branded online community brings people together around an organization or brand. There’s a common purpose or shared experience or exchange of information that occurs. And these things help the organization grow in meaningful, sustainable, collaborative ways. With a branded online community, depth, data ownership, and authenticity are the name of the game. Not advertising and third-party data miners. 

Benefits of branded online communities

While some of the benefits of branded online communities are evident in the term’s definition alone, other benefits include:

  • Meaningful connection within your online community
  • A useful exchange of information and ideas
  • Increased return on investment
  • Built-in feedback on your products, services, organization, and approach
  • High-quality member and/or customer experiences
  • A disintegration of the traditional one-way exchange of information
  • An opening up of communication to deliver increased value

If for no other reason, do it for the data

With a number of excellent alternatives to LinkedIn Groups and Facebook available (including yours truly, Mobilize), it’s time to make the shift away from public social networks and online communities that never really served you in the first place. 

Private online communities are spaces where you can own your data, protect your members and build trust, and receive far more in terms of revenue, engagement, feedback, and valuable SEO content.

If for no other reason (though there are plenty), do it for the data. Make the switch from public social networks and online communities where data is not all that useful or accessible, to a private online community where you get to keep your very useful data. Every last bit of it. And then use that data to inform your organization’s goals (from retention to success to marketing). 

With your own private online community, you go from poor data analytics and trying to stand out among millions, to all eyes on you and your members. 

So, build your private online community and start listening in on all the key conversations unfolding among your customers and members. Take note of what interests them and hear their concerns, wishes wants, and feedback. Act on all that data.

If for nothing else, do it for the sophisticated reporting tools. Do it for the data.

With Mobilize, you can build a beautifully branded, private online community where members feel heard, the data is yours for the keeping, and growth and ROI are inevitable. Get in contact—build your private online community with Mobilize today, not tomorrow.

Work with experts who build successful communities

Mobilize is made up of community experts who have launched communities for the likes of Dropbox, United Nations’ SDSN, Dermalogica, and more. We work with you to align your business goals with a tailored community strategy to ensure its success.

Whether you’re just getting started or are looking to improve outcomes with your existing community — we have strategies and industry-tailored programs to help you get things done. Schedule a demo for a personalized walk-through of our technology and learn about our expert-led strategy services.