Internal Social Networks: Pros & Cons
I’ve seen quite a few association folk talking recently (in a variety of venues) about the importance of internal networks and how that is the way that associations should be moving. Not to discount the internal white-label network (there are many advantages, see below), but for me there are also a lot of disadvantages. I’d like to break down the pros & cons from my point of view and ask that you add your own to the comments. As I receive them, I will add them to the list with credit.
- Metrics, metrics, metrics – It is much easier to obtain metrics through a white-label network, since usually your software company has already figured that out. Also, they are usually pretty open to feedback since there are only a large handful of major players in this space for the association world and they want to keep you happy.
- Participants may not realize they are socially networking – I think of the “older crowd” with this point, meaning they may have something against Facebook, but may not realize they are doing the exact same actions within the confines of the association. There is a comfort in that because they have a monetary investment in the organization.
- Control – To a certain extent you can create the member’s entire experience. From look & feel, to what content they are exposed to, to how they interact with other members, the association decides the who, what, when, etc.
- A great community can be a great member benefit – The better the community, the better the value to the members and therefore a better recruitment and retention piece. Outside networks are very rarely going to be considered a benefit to the association, because by there nature they are free & open to the public.
- Cost – Seriously. Besides hiring a full-time Community Manager (because, yes, you do need one) and paying them fairly, the software itself costs a lot. Though there are cheaper ways around this (like Ning or Groupsite), you may also be able to offset the costs through advertising.
- It’s a lot more work – Any good Community Manager knows that an internal network is a lot of work. From finding & inspiring your influencers, to priming the pump with content, your community manager must have their finger on the pulse of your membership. They must know what excites them and how to find it. Oh, and if you don’t have a community with a large number of creators and/or contributors… well good luck. Most internal networks usually operate on the assumption that eventually they will become self-sustaining, if you don’t have individuals that interact in that way online, your staff is going to have a lot of fun trying to pick up the slack to keep the community vibrant.
- If there isn’t a clear purpose, it will flounder – Any community has to exist for a reason and that must grounded in member needs & wants. It’s much easier (and cheaper) to experiment with external social media sites first. Other than man hours, the cost of setting up & experimenting is nothing more than staff time, initially. There you start to build a community and figure out how your members interact and proceed from there.
- Control costs money – This is a bit of an addendum to the last point. The more control you want to have over something, the more it will cost you. Social Media likes to nickel & dime for control (and analytics!).
- You have to drive your members there – Instead of going to where they already hang out and engaging them there. Once they are finally there you have to keep them engaged, which means having a strong content strategy.
My biggest concern against white-label social networks is that it will just become a mirror of the people that already participate in the association in other ways because it is within the association’s digital walls. Some of my most meaningful connections are with individuals who don’t necessarily want to get involved on a large level (though they joke about it constantly because they want “the big office”), but still care deeply about their profession. Housing an internal network will let those who are comfortable speaking out in a large professional space (think leaders, speakers, etc.) give them a feeling they are comfortable with, but ostracize those who are great influencers, even if they aren’t in YOUR space. At least with my group, I can guess who the influencers would be in an internal network, because all I will need to do is look at my governance structure, for the most part. However, I’d be missing out on some of the greatest online influencers I know. Maybe this is just for us, but maybe not.
External tools allow you to access (what I like to call) your unexpected influencers. These are individuals who may not be active in the organization because that isn’t their style, however they are more engaged and more influential than a lot of the more active leaders because they participate in a space beyond the organization.
If you’re trying to engage the same member audience you’ve engaged time & time again, then an internal social network is practically a no-brainer (given that you do it the right way). But if you’re looking to expand beyond the normal crowd and reach out to those who may not participate in the association in the traditional way, then external sites ARE how you are going to reach them. If email & direct mail worked for these individuals, then they’d already be playing along.
Alright, so what is this list missing? (I’m sure there’s quite a bit)
Filed under: Associations, Social Networking | 11 Comments
Tags: Social Networking, Social Networks, white-label social network
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