Private or Public Forum?

If you’ve been by the Virtual Assistant Chamber of Commerce site lately, you’ve seen that we are in the midst of some major updating and site reorganization. One of the things we’ll be working on soon is our new forum platform, and I want to pick your brain about privacy.

The main question is whether the forum should be public (able to be viewed by anyone coming to the site) or whether it should be private (where only members with accounts can view the postings and conversations).

There are pros and cons to both and I honestly can’t decide which way to go.

The benefits of a public forum is that it attracts more users/members. Site visitors can see what’s going on and it’s great for PR and search engine rankings.

On the other hand, it’s not always a good thing that site visitors can see what’s going on. Some of the conversations I’ve seen on some of the public forums are quite embarrassing. If I was a client seeing some of these discussions and the questions asked, I’d be pretty leery about hiring some of these people if the quality of competence and qualification and lack of skill/knowledge was any indications of what I’d be getting.

Hey, I don’t blame anyone for asking questions, but clients and prospects just don’t need to see some of this stuff. Which is one of the benefits of having a private forum. I’ve always felt that VAs need a private sanctuary where members can let their hair down, vent on occasion if need be, and ask those questions and have those conversations without any fear that client eyes will ever see them. And in my experience, when there is a slight barrier to entry, you tend to attract the folks with a higher caliber of skills, competence, qualification and business sensibility.

The con of a private forum, however, is that you may not get the same amount of traffic and interest as you would with a public forum and people tend to lurk longer (which I can’t stand; I hate that feeling of someone looking over your shoulder, but never letting you know who they are).

So what do you think? If a combination of both private and public wasn’t an option, and you had to choose between one or the other, which kind of forum would you prefer? Which would make you feel more comfortable/safer participating in? Please select your choice in the poll below. I would love to hear your two cents and any suggestions you have!

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  1. Posted November 17, 2010 at 7:22 am | Permalink

    I would definitely go with private. It is one place where we can discuss openly, vent, etc..

  2. Posted November 17, 2010 at 8:13 am | Permalink

    Thanks so much for letting me know, Julia! I always value your input. :)

    For anyone who opted for a public forum, I would very much love to know why. I have been seriously leaning that way and I’d like to know from your perspective why a public forum would be the way to go over private.

  3. Theresa
    Posted November 17, 2010 at 9:22 am | Permalink

    Danielle, I opted for public for the following reason(s). I currently have a ft job but have thought of being a virtual assistant for years. I am in the research/working up the nerve to start stage and having access to the information and conversations in a public form has been helpful to me. This information provides insight into the experiences of those who are actually employed as virtual assistant. If there are other sources of this type of information I haven’t found them. Feel free to steer me in the direction. I hope this helps.


  4. Posted November 17, 2010 at 9:38 am | Permalink

    Thanks so much for sharing that, Theresa! It really helps to understand everyone’s thought processes.

    It’s a lot of work, effort–and money, I might add–to provide a quality forum, especially if you are wanting to provide it for free. So for me this leads to the question of who to cater to and why, which is really difficult.

    Do we cater to the needs of those who are only considering the business and who don’t (by virtue of their lurking) give anything back in exchange for all the work, effort, information and contributions of those who do participate?

    Or should we be more concerned about the wants/needs of those who have already made the decision, are serious about their business, and are willing to show up and let us know who they are by actively posting/participating and not hiding in the shadows (which is the way one “pays” and gives back to the community she is gleaning from)?

  5. Posted November 17, 2010 at 11:10 am | Permalink

    Danielle, I know you said to consider the question as if both public/private was not an option, but that was my first instinct. However, if forced to make a choice, I would say private. I think we need a safe haven to share our joys, successes, fears, concerns, issues and, probably most important, to learn from and support each other.

  6. Theresa
    Posted November 17, 2010 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

    Hi Danielle,

    Your response raised a valid point about those of us considering the business and the target audience for the message forum. Based on the responses above, I’d change my vote to making this forum private. I think the intent of the forum is to provide support for those who have committed to the VA business vs those who may be considering the business as an option to working for someone else. I will stay tuned.

  7. Tanya
    Posted November 18, 2010 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

    Hello :)

    My first instinct was to vote, ‘public’. I am also new to the VA world and am considering giving it a fair go. I would love to be privvy to info that is hard to come by :) But, your need for having a space to share issues is a very valid point to consider. If you were to make it private, would the sign-up of a new member have to be approved and if so, what criteria would the applicant have to meet? Someone like myself, who has no website and has just started to consider this as a business option would have very little to offer to start. Is there a mailing list or newsletter of sorts for those who aren’t members, perhaps where the most important issues from the private forum are addressed which would be beneficial to new VAs? Ponder, ponder and ponder some more … Thanks for letting us voice an opinion :)

  8. Posted November 19, 2010 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    Thanks, Kathy, Theresa and Tanya for adding your voice!!

    Another thing I’m curious about is whether those who voted for a public forum are in start-up stages or if they are already in business (even if it’s just started but they at least have a website and are ready to take on clients).

    Care to share?

  9. Posted November 29, 2010 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

    I defenetly go for private. I could also go for public but that is maily because i am norwegian and i guess non of my costumers would read it. But in norway almost all people understand much english. But i do like the chance to ask silly questions that my clients would never se! Thats why private!