Often I read advice on the twittersphere or on blogs about online communities and social media - publish your membership names! Tweet about top discussions! etc. and I cringe - not because the information is bad or wrong - but because it wasn't couched as consumer facing advice. Such practices would be absolutely detrimental to a private community. Often the best practice issued for B2C social media is dialectically opposite B2B best practice. About two years ago I put up on slideshare a presentation about the core difference about B2B and B2C that has been pretty popular but that doesn't begin to touch upon the behavioral differences between the two types of communities.
Credibility, Selectivity and Balance are essential ingredients for member engagement on private confidential communities.
Credibility- the community has to exude credibility in order to attract the members it seeks to serve and that is why they are often best created by a notable company or authoritative association. Prospective members will need to sense credibility in order to join the group know that, upon joining the community, they will be in a safe space and treated respectfully; that their privacy or information exchange in safe. In interviews with exclusive membership bases, one of the criteria for tacit trust among members is the belief that the brand or company's reputation is "buttoned up" enough for them to protect their brand and keep members safe. Another aspect of credibility happens within the community wall. The information shared about the members is ample enough so that the members know who else is in their virtual "room".
Selectivity - notice I didn't say exclusivity as that is a different intention that selectivity in membership. Selectively in members can be effectively created when you think about what the information exchange should look like. Spend time, actually lots of time, defining what the ideal membership mix should be to accomplish the mission of the community and be able to articulate it to others clearly. This will help immensely when the time comes to vet who is allowed into the community. Think about the functional roles that are valuable to decision-making, think about external experts or thought leaders, think out of the box and don't get hung up on title only as idea exchanges often benefit from a diverse portfolio of ideas.
Balance - this is the third important element to successful gated communities or those created to support confidential information exchange. Decision-makers are more comfortable being knowers than not-knowers. So, in the design of the member engagement, it is most productive to create a balance of information giving and taking. The more a senior practitioner is able to share what she knows, to demonstrate expertise in a particular matter, the more likely she will be to ask a question or raise an issue. In the social design of the community - which is absolutely critical to get right! - be mindful of balance in how the members interact with each other, with ideas and concepts and with the community sponsor at large.
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