Should You Build Your Own Private Social Network?

October 21, 2009

should you create youor own social network

As social media have become more popular, organizations have frequently wanted to create a more branded and controlled experience for their target.  A common (and expensive) solution to this problem has been to build a private social network aimed at connecting your users with one another while bypassing the “distractions” in other networks.

These attempts range from a few wildly successful cases such as MyBo and Pickens Plan to many failures that just turned into virtual ghost towns.

The successful private networks are definitely the exception and not the rule.  You’ll notice all the successful cases were supported by organizations with really, really deep pockets.  It’s very difficult and nearly impossible to start a private, niche, network that organically takes off.

However, the very popular and high profile cases catch a lot of headlines and thus lead people to consider launching one for their own organization.  I frequently speak with great non-profits, corporations, and individuals who are toying with the idea of launching their own network. 

My answer is almost invariably no.

Save Resources and Go To Where Your Audience Already Is

Even though services like Ning have reduced the dollar amount to almost nothing to build a private network, the cost is still too high.  The true cost is your time and resources devoted to attracting and engaging users on a new network when they’re already herded and conversing on others, such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and more.

Your audience has already set up shop in their desired social media, and to convince them to leave and spend the time to launch another presence is a nearly impossible task.  Rather than building your own space from the ground up, you should focus on leveraging the organizing tools in place on popular social networks that your target already inhabits. 

From Facebook Fan pages to LinkedIn groups (read more on using LinkedIn for business) to Twitter discussion, rather than trying to slowly build an audience from scratch and then engage them, you have the power to immediately connect with them in a space they’re already accustomed to.

Making Sure It's the Right Decision for Your Organization

Before you build your own network, you have to be able to answer the following questions with a definitive yes:

  1. Have you already built a formidable community (I’m talking thousands and thousands of folks) through other social media?
  2. Do you have the available resources to support and promote the new network with other media?
  3. Has your brand cultivated an audience that is passionate enough to sustain its own community?

If the answers to those three is yes, I congratulate you on having a great organization and taking advantage of social media.  However, it still doesn’t mean you’re ready to launch your own presence.  You then must be able to pledge your continued and persistence efforts to the following:

  1. Creating loads of content  that provides valuable information and fodder for discussion to educate and engage the community.
  2. Continually interact in the  community by answering questions, greeting new members, posting content, and encouraging interaction.
  3. Progressively upgrade the network with exciting new features, offers, and opportunities.

As I stated above and these checklists demonstrate, it's very very rare that it's appropriate for an organization to build its own social network, it's even more rare for that intiative to actually succeed.

Your resources would be best utilized to engage your target on their ground and terms rather than trying to dictate a new gameplan.  Have you seen other organizations that don't fit this mold successfully build their own networks?  Have you been a part of a winning private network?


Clay Schossow's avatar
Clay Schossow NMC team member

Eagle II,

Thanks for weighing in. Trevor is definitely an impressive guy. I checked out the Ning site and could not find a Members count, so I am unable to fully judge the success of the group. However, it does look like there is a good amount of activity there. I think this network is seeing some good results for two main reasons:

1. He is a unique candidate with a compelling message. It is not everyday that a green beret independent runs for office. I think his unique story makes people much more excited to personally align with Trevor and join a network dedicated to him. Similar to how Obama was a once in a lifetime candidate who was bigger than politics, leading to the success of his private network.

2. He has you volunteering to focus their full energy on maintaining and cultivating the leveraging. Most campaigns are not so lucky.

Thanks for the comment!


Eagle II's avatar
Eagle II

Well, my memory is a bit skewed .. here's the URL to his site mentioned above or below where ever this comment ends up.

Eagle II's avatar
Eagle II

You may have a point... then again, the web trends offer nothing that's fixed when it comes to web presence. We were on the web before it was ( in vented by Al Gore?) the web building mail tossers between FidoNet, GTPowerNet and a host of other net type software and the message based internet. Finally domained in 1996.. and we have seen them come and go. I setup this site for Trevor ( for free ) a Green Beret/Afghanistan Vet who is running as an independent in Arkansas for the US Senate less than 2 weeks ago.. people may never leave their base on Twitter or Facebook, and others, yet so far this new site is not lacking for a good startup userbase. Is this an exception to your rule (opinion ) out lined in your article? I don't think so. In the end any site will be ONLY what one is willing to put into it and it's growth. If you visit, excuse the Cyber Construction Dust as the site, despite the growing user base is still a work in progress. When you over 60 you kinda work a tad slower, but no less wiser.

Eagle II sends
Never Forget - Never Forgotten What Price Paid for Freedoms ( Closed site for historical only )

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