Private Professional Networks: Turning Community into Business Results

Your business is only as strong as your network. It’s time to get serious about building a streamlined professional network of people where incentives are aligned, objectives are clear and where both the organization and the members see massive benefit.
A person at a laptop looking at business results analytics from Mobilize community

Mobilize started with digital movements, helping organizations like MoveOn.org, Elizabeth Warren’s campaign and the UN’s Sustainable Development Solutions Network to rally thousands of people around a shared cause. 

As we grew, other types of organizations came to us with the same need to bring people together to achieve shared goals. Essentially asking the question: ‘how do we become a movement?’ 

Innovative companies, associations and nonprofits are realizing the best way to build a sustainable “moat” and become the industry-wide leader is through private professional networks. This is an exclusive place, outside of the chaos and watchful eye of social media, where real work can get done. 

What is a movement? 

At scale, it is the swirling vortex of human energy that creates deep, lasting change. For causes, it’s making the world better through action. For companies, it’s becoming the locus of ideas, connections and opportunity that define and change an industry and drives explosive growth. 

According to NFX, 70% of the value of the entire tech industry is due to network effects. Industries are made or broken by who owns the network. 

Consider AirBnB for hospitality, Uber for transportation, Facebook, Peloton, Salesforce or Avon. Entire markets are changed when a company owns the “big conversation” and organizes all the interested parties, and each new member increases the value of the overall whole. 

What are the characteristics of a successful digital movement? 

To understand how you can use a private professional network to shape your industry, you must first understand what’s behind a successful digital movement. At the highest level: 

  1. Strong connection to purpose and values: People need to believe in the change you represent. They need to believe they are joining a set of like-minded people with the same vision and values. 
  2. Small group belonging: People want to matter. They need to be seen, heard and valued and feel like their efforts are contributing to the larger mission. 
  3. Actions to take: People want to be educated, entertained, inspired or motivated, and have a list of “stuff to do” that keeps them coming back. 

In short, connection happens when members have a powerful “why,” leaders who keep things moving and a list of what to do next in support of that purpose. And that engagement, in turn, delivers results, both for the members and the organization. A country can get a President elected while the volunteers feel good about the role they played. A company can become an industry leader while the members grow their careers. 

Why it’s time to think like a movement

People engage differently in this era. As opposed to efficiency (which is now a given), people want meaning, experiences, connection and authenticity. Millennials helped bring this change, Gen Y is pushing it even further. But it transcends generations. And COVID has turned up the volume significantly. 

But companies are still investing almost 95% of marketing spend in ads, automation, AI, scale, 1-way content and optimization. Companies are sending bots loose on a populous that is hungry for human connection. Automation is fine, but if it’s not in support of a real relationship as the uppermost measure of success, it’s wasted money. 

People have infinite choice. But they don’t have infinite time…and they will choose to spend their valuable time where they feel seen, heard and valued. 

What is a private professional network? 

A driving force towards shared professional purpose.

It is an exclusive network of customers, prospects, partners / resellers / distributors, industry members and thought leaders who come together for professional purpose, and where real work gets done, like advancing careers, increasing impact, improving the industry and finding work. It is focused on learning, growing, mentorship, events, advice, collaboration, opportunities and recognition. 

Doing this on LinkedIn or Facebook is like renting a tiny furnished apartment in a building with thousands of other people while a video camera records all your movements, like that Big Brother TV show. Instead, what you need is your own house, where you control the flows, people, organization, security and outcomes. 

Unlike traditional community software, which is more akin to a private Facebook, a professional network is more like a Private LinkedIn. Less focused on discussions and more on opportunities and growth. Less focused on transactions (“solve my problem”) and more focused on long term relationships. Not likes and follows but learning, connecting and collaborating. Less aimless content, more personalized experiences based on what they most need and when they need it.  

Why do you need a professional network? 

You can’t own your audience on a public network. Ultimately, they own it. And as a result, you never really own the relationship or understand what your audience truly wants. To build a “moat,” you need to own the network. 

When done well, a professional network: 

  1. Attracts more customers for less money. Metric: CAC (customer acquisition cost)
  2. Streamlines the process to first sale through relationships. Metric: Win Rate 
  3. Retains customers who rely on this trusted community. Metric: Retention, LTV (Lifetime Value)
  4. Becomes a 24×7 focus group for innovation and opportunity. Metric: Cost of Feedback
  5. Solidifies your leadership in your market. Metric: Marketshare, Valuation
  6. Fuels your understanding of customers. Metric: Loyalty 
  7. Drives your mission forward. Metric: Valuation, public sentiment

How do you make it successful? 

Own your network, own success.
  1. Align with your member’s deepest motivations. What do they most want? To serve a cause? Make more money? Learn a new career? Own their own business? That awareness is the fuel for engagement. 
  2. Organize it well. Not only to optimize participation but also to think through group dynamics (e.g. managing for members who are competitive with each other). 
  3. Keep the energy and activity going by giving them things to do and reasons to keep coming back. 
  4. Build a distributed leadership model to drive small group participation and avoid making the host organization the communication bottleneck. 
  5. Build a virtual cycle of “recruit, onboard, engage, grow” that turns new members into ambassadors and leaders over time. 
  6. Blend the online with the in-person (or virtual) events such that the online community becomes the connective tissue to keep people engaged throughout the year. 
  7. Recognize and reward users: don’t “gamify” in the traditional sense, which causes more harm than good. Incentivize people to build their reputation in a way that doesn’t harm or disincentivize others. 

What are examples of private professional networks?  

We have helped companies build networks of independent players in their industry, including networks for: 

  • A private company that brings small and large companies together to bid on unique government contracts, which dramatically increases the number of bidders and quality of solutions while increasing the network effects for the company. 
  • A consumer brand that engages 3rd party retail salespeople, which drives more sales through better information, relationships and incentives.  
  • A network marketing company that helps reps learn, grow and “keep the faith” during tough times (and even customers), which drives rep retention, recruiting and productivity. 
  • A cosmetic goods manufacturer who keeps independent resellers educated, informed and motivated in order to drive sales, loyalty and retention. 
  • A large education publisher who uses the “24x7x365” focus group to lower the cost of feedback by over 10x. 
  • A company that gives real estate agents training, mentorship and opportunities in order to drive subscriptions, upsells and satisfaction. 
  • An association who brings nurses together for advice, learning and support during COVID, which drives dues and non-dues revenue and member growth. 

And many more examples of organizations using the power of movements to change their industry. 

Own your network, own your industry

Your business is only as strong as your network. It’s time to get serious about building a streamlined professional network of people where incentives are aligned, objectives are clear and where both the organization and the members see massive benefit. 

It’s time to own the “house” and stop renting the tiny Big Brother apartment. It’s time for a private professional network. 

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Work with experts who build successful communities

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