How to grow your online community with a private forum

How to grow your online community with a private forum

The internet has given everyone a voice. Content creators from professional photographers to health and fitness instructors can connect with people across geographical boundaries to exchange ideas and offer their services online. Social media gives them a space where they can share every success story and develop meaningful relationships with those who matter most. And that’s just the start! But the internet is also a noisy place. There’s often so much going on that it’s difficult not to get drowned out. That’s why creators are increasingly relying on online communities, such as private forums, to engage and nurture their target audiences. Here’s how they’re making it happen:

What is a private forum?

An internet forum is any kind of online discussion board where members can discuss common interests and exchange messages. A private forum goes a step further by hiding its content behind a sign-up page so that only registered members can view and post content.

There are many such forums (sometimes paid forums) available online, wherein all chatter is kept as a private discussion.

Some of these forums also have a public area where the content is viewable to anyone who visits the site. Others are entirely private communities with all the functions of a social network, albeit without those pesky privacy and security worries.

A select few private forums are accompanied by their own private forum app too, allowing their users to keep communicating on the go via their smartphone or tablet.

What are private forums used for?

A private secure forum helps creators and influencers grow their communities in all sorts of ways. It might be closed to the public, but that’s exactly what a lot of people want. After all, most of us don’t like talking about certain topics for the whole world to see. And not many trust Facebook and co to keep their information safe! Here are some of the most common reasons for launching a private forum: 

  • Niche interest groups: With more competition than ever, many content creators and solopreneurs make a point of catering to a niche audience. These niche interest groups give members a space where they can stay on topic and connect with others who they share something in common with.

  • Sensitive discussions: Whether it’s personal health, finance, or legal matters, there are some topics people don’t feel comfortable discussing on a public forum or social network. A private forum offers a space where they can talk in comfort and confidence without the negative impact of overcrowded social channels.

  • Employee discussions: Many businesses have private forums where staff can chat about work-related matters. Some use a business messaging app like Slack, while others use intranet software to provide a centralised space for discussion, file-sharing, and more.

  • Premium services: Private forums and social networks offer new ways for creators to monetise their content. For example, members might pay a subscription fee to have insider access to exclusive content, like training sessions and webinars. Others might include online shopping for things like merchandise or downloadable content.

What are the benefits of having a private forum?

Internet forums offer a tried and tested way to create an online community. They’re spaces where members can share knowledge, discuss problems, and talk about what’s important to them. A private forum has the added benefit of offering a more secure and exclusive space, as well as additional opportunities for monetisation. Here’s a closer look at the many things you can enjoy by launching a private forum:

  • Nurture real relationships: The main social networks try to be everything to everyone. But the focus on maximum publicity and high follower counts often comes at the cost of real relationships. After all, trying to hold up a discussion when there’s a thousand other people vying for attention is hardly much fun!

A private forum gives you a space where you can focus on building and nurturing real relationships and give every conversation the attention it deserves.

  • Add value to your community: What’s more valuable to a community? A Facebook Group inundated by off-topic conversations and spam, or a private forum that provides genuinely useful content?

Come for the product, stay for the people, we like to say! Private forums let members talk about what matters to them, whether it’s seeking support or sharing their insights, in an exclusive environment.

  • Attract more customers: A private forum might sound like an odd way to attract new customers, but you’d be surprised! More than ever, people crave exclusivity away from the overcrowded social networks.

A private forum serves as a community platform for a select group of people, and that’s something many of us want to be a part of.

  • Overcome the noise: Networks like Facebook and Instagram are simply too busy to make a real impact, unless you’re willing to invest lots of time and money. Even then, there are no guarantees you’ll be able to reach your audience.

By launching a closed community, you can shut out the spambots and trolls, and help keep the conversation on topic. Your members will also appreciate the chance to have a voice that’s actually heard!

  • Encourage engagement: With most large public forums and social networks, the vast majority of people who use them are ‘lurkers’ who never actually post anything. Often, that’s because they don’t expect anyone else will engage with their content or even see it.

Private forums take a different approach by cutting out the fluff and keeping the core of your community together. Moreover, many people feel more comfortable posting if they’re not on a major public platform.

  • Guarantee security and privacy: Now here’s a big one! With the familiar social networks facing a barrage of privacy-related controversies, it’s simply impossible for a business to guarantee the privacy and security of its members. For example, although Facebook doesn’t own the content its users post, users grant it the right to use, share, and distribute it however they want in accordance with your privacy settings.

Launching a private community of your own gives you ownership and control, which is becoming more and more important to today’s customers.

Why private forums are better than Facebook groups

Chances are, most of your customers have a Facebook account. But does that mean starting a Facebook group is the way to go? Sure, it might be free and quick and easy to set up… but that’s about all. Like everything on Facebook, private groups aren’t as private as a lot of people might assume. Once, there was even a loophole which allowed third parties to find out the names of people in closed groups. 🤦 Even putting privacy concerns aside, who actually engages with Facebook groups? It’s likely not as common as you might’ve hoped. You’re also not in control over the experience, which means a single update to the platform can change everything – often to your disadvantage. In addition, Facebook only offers a limited feature set, and there’s little opportunity to apply your unique branding beyond uploading a profile image. Having a private forum or social network offers the added benefit of keeping all your content in one place that’s easy to search and organise. 

How to create your own private forum

So, you’ve decided it’s time to create your own private forum? Some popular platforms include Buddypress, Discourse, and Slack. Another option is to use a simple plugin for your website builder. But while all these solutions have their use cases, they also lack many of the features that make an online community effective. Here are the three most important things to consider when creating your own private forum:  

  • Find out what your community needs: Determine what your community values most. What sort of features are most likely to improve their experience and encourage them to participate?

For example, members of a mental health community might value privacy most of all. Forums for internal use in a company or charity might need additional security features. People signing up to a fitness or teaching community may expect live training sessions. Decide what sort of experience you want to provide, and find out what your audience wants. Perhaps consider launching a short survey to ask them directly!

  • Choose the right forum software: Creating a secure and private forum can work for any type of online community – large or small no matter the niche. But that’s not to say there’s a one-size-fits-all solution that works in every use case.

After exploring what your community needs, you likely have a few must-have features in mind, but you also need something that can accommodate your audience size now and in the years ahead. It’s also important that the platform you choose offers the right pricing plan for your needs – you shouldn’t have to pay to create a community which can accommodate a million members if you’re only aiming for a few hundred. In fact, that’s why Disciple offers personalised pricing plans based on your community size and feature requirements.

  • Create something more modern: Forums present a great starting point for building an online community, and you can easily make them private too. But traditional forums are also rather outdated, and they rarely offer a great experience on the small screen.

How about creating something more modern using a full-fledged community platform? With the right platform, you can customise the experience and offer a complete range of social networking functions that will keep your members engaged. Basic forums, on the other hand, are really only good for group discussions. However, add activity feeds, friends lists, and common interest groups into the mix, and you can provide an even more engaging and valuable experience.


Final words

Launching a private forum is a great way to build an engaged community where members can talk about the things that matter to them on their own terms. Whether it’s a niche community or a space for people to talk about more delicate matters, private forums let you choose who comes in and how they experience your community.  Here’s a quick recap:

  • Decide what you want to use your private forums for

  • Research your target audience to find new ways to add value to your community

  • Find out what your community needs, and choose the right private forum software

Disciple’s easy-to-use private forum software gives you everything you need to create your own online community.