In an open community, your community members may not know one another… but they can still interact with each other via a good content and community marketing strategy.

Before social media came along in earnest as a marketing channel around 2008, the big marketing buzzword was “community marketing.” The need for community marketers was brought on by the new wave of internet companies starting around 2000 that depended upon building solid, entrenched user bases to sustain their business model: think eBay, etsy and the like.

I’ve talked a lot about the importance of community in social media marketing as a dialogue marketing discipline: at its core, social media marketing – being a discipline that has engagement as its goal – is really just a community marketing discipline carried out on a social network as its channel.  With that in mind, looking at social media marketing as a community marketing discipline is a great way to make sure that our content marketing strategy is in-line with what we social marketers want to accomplish.

Back before Facebook and Twitter, the bulk of your brand’s community marketing program most likely lived on your company’s private message board.  This was a closed, moderated forum that required registration, and it made it a lot easier to control the tone and topics of conversation.  If you were a mod and you didn’t like a thread, it was easy to delete that thread.


And so, the list:

6 Closed vs. Open Community Marketing Upsides & Downsides

Upside: You had an email address for every user, and as such a private and direct way to contact them directly.
Downside: The barrier to participation was high.  It’s much harder to grow a closed community.

Upside: Snarky comments and trolls could be deleted, penalized and mostly avoided.
Downside: There was no easy way to spur word of mouth from your users.  Because there were no social networks with personal profiles that relegated the users to a personal publishing outlet, the only way you were going to earn that word-of-mouth marketing was if someone took the time to email their friends.

Upside: Having a closed community meant that people interacted with one another in a very intentional and deeper way, which helped with both loyalty and engagement with your brand.
Downside: It was much more difficult to find the sort of influencers that you might want for a community marketing program, and harder still to convince them to participate behind a registration gate.  Nowadays, “community” is dictated by you: your influencers may not know each other, and may simply be tagged in your community marketing software, and their influence can be as simple as a RT of your content.

Upside: Your competitors had no idea what your customers were saying about you.
Downside: You had no idea what your competitor’s customers were saying about them.  (A good social listening tool can give you all sorts of excellent data points for competitive analysis; for more on this, check out our free social listening guide for tips to using it well across your business organization.)

Upside: Content was crowdsourced.  Threads were started by the community, and engagement happened organically.
Downside: There was little or no SEO benefit to the content, and the format of message boards and articles made any side doors that did occur repetitive and hard to find for someone new.  This is to say that growing your community with good content was a lot harder.

Upside: You could see your community’s history with your brand.
Downside: Your private message boards didn’t give you much else.  Nowadays, any information outside the firewall is something you can examine, so you can get a much better idea as to your community members’ other interests, affiliations and relationships.

And so, essentially, the main difference between a closed and open community is that the first is easier to control, and lends itself to deeper engagement; the second is easier to grow, and lends itself to a larger sample size that can give you a better idea as to what people are really saying about your brand, program and products.  What this means for marketing is that the ultimate goal of meaningful engagement is the same, but your tactics and KPI’s will be different depending on what channel you’re using.