Engaging your customers Article 2: Invest in a private social network

In this series of articles on how to better engage your customers, the second article will going to highlight the advantages of having your own private social media site in conjunction with your Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and other social network pages.

Social media tools such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter are ideal to attract visitors to your site and also to start building your online presence.  However one of the main disadvantages of Facebook and Twitter pages is the amount of distractions that one finds whilst browsing social media pages. There might be other companies’ adverts, images or comments from the visitor’s own friends or even alerts that could all capture their valuable attention.  Probably by now most of your competitors already have an online presence or are present in social media sites and therefore simply being present on such social media sites could do little to improve your competitive edge.

The truth is that Facebook and other public social media sites are all filled with distractions that can take the attention from your own organisation, products and website. Private social network will help you maintain total control on what is displayed whilst at the same time provide a great social experience for your website’s visitors.

Note: A private network should not substitute the popular social sharing tools available from Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Both types of public and private networks should still be used.

Nowadays there are numerous free open source social networking platforms such as Elgg that can provide you with all the base functionalities you may require. Owning a private social network has some great advantages and it is clear that in the near future we will see integrations between popular open source eCommerce solutions such as Magento and Elgg or other social media platforms.

Advantages of owning your own private social network

  • If you post valuable content and provide a great social experience then this will encourage your own customers to interact and spend time on your site. Moreover you will have total control on the content shown on your own private social network, there won’t be any adverts related to other companies and less distractions for your customers. This will help your visitors to keep focused, encourage them to interact on the network and ultimately make a purchase.
  • You will be able to make membership to such networks exclusive. This means that not everyone will be able to join, but membership will be available for your best customers or customers that satisfy your own set of criteria.
  • A positive online brand experience creates loyal customers that recommend your products to their friends and family. If your social network is successfully managed then your customers might be the ones that create that valuable unique content and post it on your site. That content might then be used by other customers to make a purchase decision or even be used to attract traffic to your online site.

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Figure 1: Asos encourage their customers to upload their own photos and the community members then vote for their favorite looks

  • On your Facebook or Twitter page there is always a limit to how much your customers can interact with you or other customers. The size of the comment and posts are generally short on public these social media sites. On the other hand if you have your own private social media site customers will be able to post their own blog posts and contribute to the online private community.
  • On your own private network you can encourage customers to contribute to content by allowing them to post blogs, discussions and ask for feedback from other members. You will be able to award the most active and valuable members by giving vouchers or provide extra loyalty points to your most active contributors. You can also hold fun competitions amongst your network’s members.  For example Jinx, an online clothing retailer, provides competitions that encourage its own members to create T-shirt Designs. The community members than vote for the best design and these designs are then printed on t-shirts and sold on the site.
  • By being the owner of the social network you will be in a position to modify and control your template and use A/B or multivariate testing (testing multiple versions of your own site) to come up with the best layouts and templates.

All of these features will help to make your site more engaging.

The rule of thumb is to focus on providing a pleasant and valuable experience to your customers on your online store. Don’t forget that the more time a customer spends on your site the higher the probability that he will make a purchase.

Examples of eCommerce sites having a private social network



Asos is one of UK’s most famous online fashion retailers. They have an online fashion shop and private social network that focuses on improving their customers’ experience on the site. On their own Network Page they provide information on fashion trends, competitions and advertise events held specifically for their network’s members. Each member also has his own area where they can interact and improve their knowledge in the fashion industry in a fun and interesting way. They can ask for feedback from other members and create their own fashion look (using ASOS’s products). Other members will then be able to vote for these looks.


Figure 3: Asos private social network


Another example is LIVE OUT THERE that is a Canadian site that sells outdoor leisure equipment and provides an online private community. The community is ideal for those sharing the interest of out-door adventures since members can share their experiences, give advice and organise events. Live Out There have realised that by providing valuable content and interesting interactions through the use of their social network they will then automatically attract the right audience to their e-commerce site. In fact they market their site both as an E-commerce and Community site. Live Out There use elgg an open source social media platform for their community. By using this network they are able to encourage their own members to share their adventure stories, photos and videos of their outdoor adventure on the site itself.

As you can see from their Community Page they still use public social media sites such as Twitter.



Figure 4: Live out there community page

Mozilla Community Store

Another popular community is that provided by Mozilla that encourages its users to design and create their own t-shirts and then sell them online directly on the community.