Some Q&A on virtual private communities

Back around Thanksgiving, Doug Haslam tweeted about working on Prospero podcasts.  I sent him some recurring questions that I’ve been hearing about virtual private communities – you know, like Communispace, Passenger, Prospero, MarketTools.

If the topic interests you, it’s probably a good idea to check out the podcast directly.  I’ll paraphrase the Q&A here:

Q:  Why should I do a paid virtual community? Why not just do it for free using existing tools and tap into the discussion that’s already out there on other communities and existing blogs?
A:  Participate in both, i.e. integration.  Use the private community for focused discussion and insight, can seed out to external places.

Q: Should a community be customers or non-customers?
A: Depends on company goals; the more specialized the topic, the more closed customer communities make sense.

Q: Is there bias inherent in a brand-sponsored community?
A: Analogy to paid search – acknowledge that brands are there, but as long as you don’t meddle too much, it’s not a problem.

Q: How much time does managing a community require?
A: No easy answer; will fit into marketing strategy and touch on many areas, impacting engagement.

Q: Do you need to change your marketing process and organizational structure to make this work?
A: Probably not just for communities but definitely for social media in general.

I’ve done some research into Del Monte’s use of a VPC (subscription required); Emily Steel wrote a WSJ article about the same effort; and Communispace won a Groundswell award for their work with Charles Schwab.