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The Anatomy of a Private Online Member Community [Infographic]

Written by Joshua Paul | on June 5, 2013 at 12:40 AM

What does it take to create a successful private member community?

Being a membership professional or association executive can be tough.

While membership organizations are at the heart of every major industry, technology, profession, and cause, they are usually cash-strapped and lack adequate staffing. Managing members, keeping them engaged, and providing value in the form of a membership can be especially difficult.

Does this sound like your organization?

In addition, productizing membership often takes a higher degree of planning, staffing, and coordination than selling a typical product or service. When it comes to innovation, ideas usually flow from the top down. Often times, whatever the board says goes.

Membership Organizations and Private Online Member Communities

Buried within these realities exists a paradox. Their communities mean everything to membership organizations, but building community is often a low priority.

Private online member communities epitomize a double-edged sword for membership organizations. On the one hand, there are few strategies that can create as much lasting value for members and keep members engaged at a high level than online member communities. On the other hand, it takes time, a well-crafted strategy, and ongoing staff hours to plan, launch, and manage a successful private online member community.

It can be overwhelming from the very beginning if you don't have your bearings and understand where you need to focus your efforts.

To help membership professionals better understand the elements and actions that go into a thriving online member community, Socious has produced the following infographic. It highlights three areas that need to be firing on all cylinders:

  1. The strategy that ties solving your members' biggest problems to meeting your organization's goals.
  2. The online community software features that will create value for members and keep them coming back to the community over time.
  3. Online community management processes that will keep the community active and growing.

The Anatomy of a Private Online Member Community

Online Community Strategy


Be careful not to dilute the social density of your member community. Avoid making its content, network, and access to experts freely available to nonmembers.

Members' Problems

Your member community should be seen as part of your product or member benefit strategy before it is part of your social strategy. Keep in mind that the world's most used products are built on solving problems for their target market.


With the proliferation of profession or industry-specific online content and networks, membership organizations have a unique opportunity and mandate to set themselves apart in their market.

Member Experience

Help your members get all of their general membership communications, chapters and interest group information, and personal social network information all in one place.


Use your online community software to provide each member segment with information and resources that are relevant to them.

Actionable Data

Combine traditional demographic and transactional data from your members with social and behavioral data to recruit new advocates or target members at risk of leaving the organization.

Revenue Generation

Go beyond advertising in your online member community to provide more value to both your members and your sponsors.

Online Community Software Features

Features that Create Value:

It is important to have enough features that give your members a reason to visit your community frequently. Membership organizations usually start with a minimal number of features and roll out more features over time.

  • Online directories
  • Members-only websites
  • Chapter communities
  • Discussion forums
  • Blogs
  • Document libraries
  • Media centers
  • Secure files
  • Content management
  • Wikis

Features that Keep Members Engaged:

Creating value for your members is important, but it does little good if your online community platform does not have the tools to bring busy members back to the community.

  • Listservs
  • Personalized content
  • Content alerts
  • Event management
  • Personal & group
  • Calendars
  • Badges & gamification
  • Advocacy & idea tracking
  • Targeted email engine
  • Surveys, voting, & polls
  • Mobile apps

Features that Generate Revenue:

Since your private member community will be at the center of your member communication universe, take advantage of these online community features to generate significant revenue and provide a seamless member experience.

  • Online store
  • Virtual products
  • Conferences & events
  • Vendor programs & sponsorship
  • Online advertising
  • Dues collection & invoicing

Online Community Management

Strategy and technology only make up two thirds of the formula needed to create a sustainable member community.

Setting Expectations

Online communities take many months (even years) to grow. It is critical to appropriately set the expectations of your executive team, your boards, volunteers, and members.

Consistent Content

Over time, members may come to the community for the connections they have made and the people that they know. However, for a long time, it is your exclusive and helpful content that is going to bring members back to the community often. Content is the springboard for discussions and other social activity.


New community members are at a fragile place in their member engagement lifecycle. If they don't feel connected or can't see how to get value from their membership, your organization will have to work twice as hard to get them to participate (and potential keep them as members) down the road.

Put yourself in new community members' shoes. What would help you to feel comfortable participating in a new community?

The 24 Hour Rule

Don't underestimate the amount of time is takes for your community to be semi-autonomous, where members answers other members' questions without prompting. During the initial phases on your online community, prepare to monitor all activity and make sure that all questions, posts, and feedback gets a response. Your staff can respond or you can ask another member with knowledge of the issue to chime in.

The Right Metrics

Managing a private online member community can be like flying a plane in inclement weather. In low visibility conditions, pilots rely on their instruments to fly. Community management can be a similar science. Online community managers can use the data coming from their online community software to navigate, steer, and strengthen their member community.


Rather than spending time putting out individual member fires and answering members' complaints (leave that to other departments), online community managers should focus on optimizing processes that impact as many members as possible.

Online and Offline Events

Your member community does not only exist in the discussion forums, file libraries, and social networks. Managing online and live events using your online community software enables you to focus members' attention, promote networking, and use the event's momentum to spur online discussions long after the event is over.

Chapter Management

Empower each chapter or component to run their own private social networks, events, and content. Use your online member community platform to run your organization and all of your autonomous chapters from a single system.

Download your copy of Higher Logic's 2016 online community benchmarking study.

Topics: Online Community Management, Online Community

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