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B2B Community: Open or Closed?

Lithium Alumni (Retired)

A colleague of mine got an interesting question this week:  what is the benefit for business-to-business (B2B) communities if being open versus being closed?


I often preach the value of open communities in my work with customers.  In my presentation last year at the Community 2.0 Conference, I included lack of openness as one of the "warning signs" that a community effort is at risk of failure (see slide 8).  But it's a good question - can we quantify the benefit?


First, a couple of definitions:  a closed community is one where access is limited, and an open community is one that any visitor can access.  The most common type of closed B2B community is one that restricts access to customers or partners only.   And open B2B community allows any visitor to the website to view the community and join in on the discussion. 


Yesterday I took a look at some metrics for communities running on Lithium, to compare closed B2B communities to open B2B communities.  Lithium powers more than 50 B2B communities today.  A little less than one-third (29%) are closed, and the rest are open.  Communities in these two segments are quite alike in average age -- open B2B communities on Lithium average 1.3 years in age and closed B2B communities average 1.5 years.  There are no discernable trends in terms of industry, company size, product type, or customer profile -- both closed communities and open communities are varied along each of these dimensions.


However, open and closed communities do vary in one important dimension: volume of activity.   The difference is pretty dramatic.  Open communities have ten times more contributions (10.7, to be precise) and greater than thirty times more page views (35.2).   I pulled only these two metrics, but I'd guess we'd find corresponding differences in registrations and visits, respectively.


So what's the benefit of ten times more content?   In a support community, the benefit consists of many more questions and answers, thus building your knowledge base of user-generated content to help your customers.  What's the benefit of thirty times more page views?   If you believe the authors of Groundswell, one out of six views of an answer in your forums may produce one less call to your call center.  How much does it cost you on average to handle a call in your call center?  If you know, do the math.


But there's one other benefit to an open community for B2B that may trump everything else:  because of the relatively small size of the average B2B community as compared to other communities on the web, an open community is much more likely to grow and thrive than a closed community.   Maybe that's why two out of three companies say:  let's open it up!

Message Edited by JoeC on 01-31-2009 11:51 AM
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