Back to Glossary

Private online community

Definition

A private community is a community that is closed to the outside world. All the discussions and content shared in the community is visible to the members only. Private communities may have stricter requirements about who can join than public communities.

Existing groups or organizations often use private communities to provide members with a place to discuss relevant topics online. Paid communities also tend to be private to ensure that only paid-up members can access the content.

Private online communities vs. public communities

If you are thinking about building an online community, then one of your most important decisions is whether to make it public or private. Public communities have many benefits, especially when it comes to growth—after all, it’s easier to build something that everyone can see.

But there are also reasons why you might decide to start a private online community.

This type of community is often easier to manage, which can lead to better discussion and relationship-building opportunities. You can also keep content hidden and control who joins—making these spaces a great option for creators or businesses looking to monetize their audience.

Read on to explore private communities in greater details. Including what they are, why people typically use them, and how you can create one.

First, we’ll define exactly what we mean by public and private online communities.

Private online communities are exclusive spaces that only people who are accepted can join. The admin may invite the member personally, or they might find the community online and then apply. All content in a private community is hidden behind virtual walls. This means only members can see and take part in discussions.

The benefit of being private is that it can encourage high-quality conversations and relationship building. Moderation is also typically easier in private communities.

Public online communities are more open. Often anyone can join by creating a profile. If there are rules about sign-up, they are typically quite lax.

Anyone can see the discussions that take place in these communities. While only members can take part, the information is available for everyone to benefit from.

Public content can help increase the reach of your community. You could get the content indexed on search engines like Google to help with SEO or share it in newsletters or social media posts.

This type of community is also good for customer support communities. By being open, you enable a wider audience to benefit from the information it contains.

But public communities are typically harder to moderate and control than private ones. This is because you have less control over the people who join and are more likely to end up with a larger membership base.

Private vs. public online community
Private communityPublic community
  • ✔️ Only those accepted can join.
  • ✔️ Content is hidden.
  • ✔️ Good for creating curated spaces, holding discussions, and relationship building.
  • ✔️ Easier moderation.
  • ✔️ More open sign-up rules.
  • ✔️ Content is available for anyone to see.
  • ✔️ Good for maximizing how many people benefit from the community.
  • ✔️ Moderation can be difficult.

Why build a private community?

There are many reasons why you might choose to build a private community over a public one. Here are some of the most compelling use cases.

They are exclusive

Community admins control who can join private communities. This lets you curate your membership based on the criteria you choose. Here are the examples:

  • ✔️ People who have joined a course
  • ✔️ Members of an existing offline group
  • ✔️ People in a particular profession
  • ✔️ People who have paid the membership fee

They are safe for sensitive content

Content in private communities is hidden from public view—only people within the space can see and participate in discussions. This is essential for groups that plan to discuss sensitive topics. For example, employee communities or industry masterminds.

You can build better relationships

A curated membership can lead to better discussions and relationship-building opportunities. This can lead to a better user experience and more community engagement.

You can easily monetize private communities

Closed communities are a great way to offer exclusive content to members. Often this is paid content that you don’t want to share with the wider world.

They are easier to moderate

Since members are vetted before joining the community, it makes community management and moderation easier. It’s easy to reject members who might break community rules before they even join. And even if people get through, it’s easy to remove them.

Private community use cases and examples

There is no single reason to build a private community. People use them in many ways. Here are some of the most popular private community use cases.

Customer communities

Yes, in some cases private customer communities are created when the intention is to offer exclusivity or the discussions are around a sensitive topic. For instance, a community for only the paying customers or a community of loyal customers to gather feedback on upcoming projects.

Employee communities

An employee community is a private space that provides employees with all they need to know about their job. They can ask and answer questions and find answers by browsing the existing content library. Meanwhile, HR can use the community to update employees about crucial business changes. These groups often contain sensitive data about business operations. That’s why employee communities must be private.

Example: IBM Corporate Social Responsibility Community
The IBM Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Community is a group for IBM employees who want to make a social impact. Members use the space to discuss how to get involved in social projects. As the community is private, employees can discuss sensitive issues without sharing them with the outside world.

Industry masterminds

Masterminds are private groups where a small number of peers offer each other advice and support. They typically form around industries, types of work, or goals—with the idea being that everyone contributes their experience to help.

These groups typically have strict requirements for who can join. Everyone in the group must add value to the community. People often discuss sensitive information in masterminds, so the conversations must stay private.

Paid membership communities

Paid communities are those where the community creator charges people to join. These communities typically provide access to exclusive content or a valuable network.

This type of community is often a Communities of Practice. This means they are based around a profession or industry. Here members can learn from each other, network, and simply discuss the topic they are interested in. Paid communities must be private, or people will be able to access the content without paying for it.

Example: MO Pros
Mo Pros is a community for marketing operations professionals to learn and network. There’s a free version of the community that anyone can join and a paid community with access to exclusive content and mentorship opportunities.

Social group communities

Many existing social groups can benefit from an online space to organize events and discuss topics relevant to the group. By keeping the online space private, only members can see the information. Groups that could benefit from a private online community include:

  • ✔️ Sports teams
  • ✔️ Student societies
  • ✔️ Church groups
  • ✔️ Non-profits

Course communities

People who run online courses often create communities so students can discuss class content. It’s a great way to provide a more involved learning experience. These communities may include extra content and spaces to talk about each lesson. They must be private, so only people taking the course can see the discussions.

Alumni community

Alumni communities are spaces where graduates of a particular university can keep in touch. These are useful for keeping everyone up to date with alumni events and news. These communities must be private to limit the information to people who are part of the alumni association.

How to build a private online community

To build a private online community, you need somewhere to host it.

Most people choose one of three options:

1. A dedicated online community platform like Tribe.
2. The group feature on social networks like Facebook or LinkedIn.
3. A communication tool like Slack or Discord.

Each of these options has its pros and cons. The best one for you will depend on your business requirements. Here is a look at each solution in more detail.

Community software

Community platform like Tribe makes it easy for anyone to build custom private communities. The biggest benefits of this type of solution are that you have complete control over your community, and you can customize it to your needs. Control means you own your data. You are always free to move your audience to a different platform.

In contrast, when you create a community on a social media site, the platform owns the data. It’s much harder to move your community to another space. This can be disastrous if the platform changes how it operates, for example by limiting the organic reach of community posts.

Customization options to brand your community, choose features, or host the community on your domain. There’s no need for anyone to know you built the community on a third-party platform.

The downside is that setting up and customizing your community takes time, and there is a slight learning curve. However, it is often worth it to get the community exactly as you want it.

Features to look out for

When choosing a community-building platform, select one that meets your needs. Here are some features to consider:

No-Code Builder: These allow anyone to create a community that meets their needs, even people without programming knowledge. Just choose the features you want and customize them using the built-in options.
Single Sign-On: Single Sign-On lets people sign in to your community using their existing account details. For example, someone taking an online course could use the same details to access both course content and the community.
Invitations: Keep your community private by choosing a platform that lets you manage who can invite new members.
Privacy features: Ensure your community platform has settings that let you keep content private.
Moderation: Moderation is essential for all communities. Choose a platform with features that make it easy.
Analytics: Analytics features track how people use your community. You can use these metrics to power community growth.
Customization: By customizing the look and feel of your site, you can create a branded community. Some platforms even let you add your own code.
Integrations: Plugins and integrations allow you to add extra functionality via third-party tools.
Notifications: Being able to control notifications can alert members to important community content.

Social media group

Some social media platforms have community-building functionality. Facebook groups are the most obvious example, but Band and Linkedin groups are similar. The most significant benefit of building on a social site is that doing so is free. They can also be easy to sign up to if your target audience is already active on these public social networks. If not, this is a barrier to entry.

The downside is that you don’t own any of your member data: you’re at the mercy of the social media site’s algorithm. Competition for attention can also be intense on these platforms. Your community content competes with images, shared news stories, personal posts, and more. This can reduce member engagement.

You also lack the ability to customize your group in any meaningful way. You can’t host it on your own domain or remove the social network’s branding.

Messaging software

Messaging software like Slack and Discord are popular ways to create private communities. These platforms usually have free plans you can use to create your community. They also have functionality that, while not explicitly built for communities, can translate well.

Communities built on these platforms are easy to sign up for if the user already has the mobile app or desktop tool. And even if they don’t, it’s typically easy to sign up and create an account. The downside is that free plans can be limited. For example, the Slack free plan only saves the most recent 10,000 messages. Why does this matter? Well, it means you lose access to valuable discussions or content within older messages. And with prices starting at $8 per month, upgrading to a free plan is prohibitively expensive for many communities.

The other issue is the lack of customization. You can’t remove the platform’s branding and you’re limited to hosting the community within its app. Check out this article for more about when to use Slack for community, and when another solution makes more sense.

Private communities have many uses

Ultimately, private communities have many uses.

They are the obvious choice if you want to keep the content within the community hidden. And they also provide excellent opportunities for building relationships and creating curated spaces.

Click here to learn how you can create a private community with Tribe.