Which one to choose?
Organizations, businesses, fanbases, and all types of groups have taken their conversations to the online world. Online social networking communities are a great space for people to find each other, come together, and engage with each other on a specific topic. Online communities can be either open or closed. Open communities are those where anyone can join and contribute while closed communities are those that intentionally limit the communication with other communities and only accept members that fulfill specific requirements. For an online community, being open or closed has a direct impact on the growth and activity of the community. This happens based on several pros and cons of open and closed social networking communities.
To break this down, I will discuss the access factor, the relationship model, and the safety feeling provided by each. An open community is accessible to anyone on the platform and is easily joinable while a closed community is exclusive and has several requirements to join. In an open community the content is accessible to anyone which also makes it easily sharable with the use of social sharing buttons. This is especially useful if the online community is just beginning, and a following is still to be built. Easy sharing features allows people to serve as brand advocates to their own contacts. However, a closed community provides resources only members can access and use, usually making them more desirable.
The relationships built through the two types of communities are very different. Open communities have many members which could result in low activity because of the low stakes. This makes it hard to build meaningful relationships as people don’t care as much. At the end of the day, the other members remain just acquaintances. On the other hand, relationships created and fomented in closed communities are tight and strong. Closed communities have higher activity because of the higher stakes and care of its members. Here many meaningful conversations and self-disclosure happens. This creates real relationships that get to know each other on a deeper level.
To deepen the former point, the feeling of safety provided by each community contributes to the type of relationships that can be built in each. In open communities, anyone can view, comment, and share what one posts. This gives access of one’s posts to people who may not be supportive, to people who one may know in person, and to people who one does not want to read the post. This is the main reason why closed communities thrive so much when dealing with sensitive topics such as health-care issues. Many people are not comfortable posting comments in a forum with public access, so a closed network might encourage a more genuine feedback and engagement. Spammers, “trolls’ and haters are far less of a problem on closed networks, and if there are issues, access can be revoked. A way to easily visualize this is to compare it to in person interactions. Would you share more at a gathering such as a Rolling Stones concert where everyone is there because of their love for rock music or at a gathering such as an AA meeting where everyone is there to speak about their journey and struggle with substance abuse?
While both open and closed communities present advantages and disadvantages, which to choose when creating an online community on a social network depends on the group’s topic and the audience targeted. By clearly identifying both, one will be able to understand which is best.
“Debating Open vs. Closed Social Networks.” Corporate Counsel, 18 Apr. 2014, www.law.com/corpcounsel/almID/1202651543129/debating-open-vs-closed-social-networks/.
Joy, Elson, director. Episode 8 — Open vs Closed Communities. YouTube, YouTube, 10 Apr. 2021, www.youtube.com/watch?v=sbUF47kilu8.