People often ask, “should my community be open, or closed?” as if community access is an either/or question. Meaning -- either the doors are sealed, and only members have access to the community, or you open the floodgates, and everyone with an internet connection can read and participate in community.
There are pros and cons to both approaches, especially depending on your industry and community goals.
If you want to grow your membership, increase brand awareness or use the community as lead generation, an open community is beneficial -- increased SEO, member-created content, and the opportunity for prospective customers or members to see your organization’s value. Plus, open communities prove your commitment to transparency and show the human side of your business. Even if the general public views negative comments about your organization, they’ll see how you react -- which can make or break a prospective member’s decision to join.
Closed communities also have their place in the world. They’re useful if your members need to discuss sensitive issues or if you want to create an exclusive experience. There’s also a level of safety and member privacy behind a login -- a closed community means your organization may lose out on member-generated SEO, but it’s a fair price if being open doesn’t further your organization’s or members’ goals.
And what if you don’t want to choose one or the other? Are there any options for a middle ground?
Depending on your platform, you actually have many options. With so many different configurations, you can customize your platform to fit everyone’s needs, maintain your lead generation and increased SEO, but still keep member’s privacy and trust intact.
What happens if you need to change your community’s settings, or at least open or close several discussions? As your community grows and evolves, there’s the chance you’ll want to reconfigure the settings to better match the community’s ecosystem, members’ needs or the organization’s needs.
Don’t make any changes without at least warning your members -- especially if a community goes from closed to open. Even if you think the information is innocuous, changing the settings before giving members a chance to review their posts, adjust their profiles, etc., is a breach of trust. Just because you think it’s fine -- or even valuable -- to post that information publicly, certain members might feel exposed.
If these three examples don’t perfectly fit your organizational and member needs, there is plenty of room for creativity.
In deciding how to configure the community’s privacy settings, keep in mind what the organization’s needs are and what the members’ needs are. The community is that middle ground, where both parties overlap. What types of conversations do you anticipate happening? What is the culture of your organization like? Answering those questions will help you decide what level of privacy to set throughout the community and which configurations would work best.