This article was updated on November 12, 2021.
Marketers have a complicated relationship with Facebook. Many still haven’t gotten past the algorithm changes from a few years back that caused the reach of brand pages to plummet. But even in the face of recent scandals, Facebook is one of the most ubiquitous websites out there. And while the value of Facebook pages has dropped, something else valuable has replaced them: online communities through Facebook groups. These communities became extremely important during the pandemic, as users grappled with how to stay in touch, safely.
Benefits of Using Facebook Groups for Your Online Community
Facebook groups have 400 million active members. For any business building an online community, they’re an obvious platform to consider.
1) Tons of users
A great way to ensure people will join and participate in your community is to build it where they are. Close to 70% of all people in the U.S. are on Facebook, making it the most popular social media platform (other than YouTube). And Facebook users spend a lot of time on the site—an average of 38 minutes every day.
If community growth is one of your goals, you want to make it as easy for people to find as possible. Facebook users can find public groups using the search feature. If you choose a name your target audience is likely to search, they’ll come to you.
3) Privacy options
While public groups are easy for anyone to find and join, Facebook also allows for private groups that people must be invited to join. Brands that want a community that’s only accessible to customers or paying subscribers can do that on Facebook.
4) Qualifying questions
Even public groups don’t want to be plagued by trolls or bots. Facebook lets you add qualifying questions people must answer to join, so you can weed out people who either aren’t a fit for the group or aren’t actual people.
5) Livestreams and watch parties
Shared online events are a way to strengthen the sense of community. Facebook offers two great features for that. You can use Facebook Live to interact with your community members in real time over video, or set up watch parties where you all watch the same video together and discuss it in the comments.
6) Push notifications
The online world is oversaturated, and it’s all too easy to forget to check every community you’re in. But Facebook groups are already on a platform your members are checking, and Facebook uses push notifications that alert members to new posts and engagement in your group to keep them coming back.
Limitations of Using Facebook Groups for Your Online Community
The list of downsides to using Facebook for your online community is short, but includes significant issues.
1) Privacy concerns
Facebook has been embroiled in privacy scandals of late. Building a community there comes with the risk that some members won’t feel comfortable participating, or that the information that is shared may be used in ways they wouldn’t be OK with.
2) People leaving
In spite of the #deletefacebook hashtag trending last year, the platform is still widely used. But each time the company’s in the news for a new scandal, more people consider ditching the platform. And they’ve lost around 15 million users in the past couple of years.
3) Difficult to organize
In Facebook Groups, conversations come and go. While there’s a search feature people can use to find old conversations on a specific topic, there’s no good way to organize the past interactions that have happened. That means valuable insights and resources can be easily lost.
4) You don’t own it
Businesses with successful Facebook pages back in 2011 know this downside all too well. A tweak to the Facebook algorithm, and page reach plummeted by around 44%. If Facebook ever changes the way people see and access groups, you could lose the engagement there you worked to build.
5 Steps to Get Started on Facebook
If the benefits outweigh the concerns for you, here’s how to get started.
1) Create a strategy.
Building and managing online communities requires resources, so you need to be clear on what you want out of it. Define your goals, then create a plan that covers:
- Who your community’s for
- Who’s in charge of moderation
- How much you’re prepared to invest in it
- How you’ll promote it
- The kind of posts and events you’ll use it for
2) Create group guidelines.
The flip side of giving people a space to connect with each other is that sometimes they’ll clash. If you create community guidelines from the outset, you’ll be better prepared when conflict does arise. Clear guidelines also communicate to members exactly what to expect from the group. You can post them in the About section of your group, so they’re easy for all members to find.
3) Create your group.
On your Facebook business page, click on the triangle in the top right corner of the screen, then select Create Group from the drop down menu.
You’ll be prompted to fill in the name of your group and select your privacy level. For your name, aim for something straightforward and descriptive, especially if you want it to be easy for people to find.
Fill in your About section with details about your group (this is a good place for those guidelines), add relevant tags if you want your group to be easy to find, and specify your location, if it’s relevant to the group. Finally, add a relevant header image.
4) Invite your first members.
Now that you have the basics in place, start inviting people you think will be interested. If you’re hoping to grow a community from scratch, start promoting your group around the web—on your website, to your email list, and on social media. If it’s meant for a specific group of people like customers or subscribers, send out an email invite to the people you want to join.
5) Track your metrics.
Check the Group Insights tab to track metrics on member growth and engagement levels. Use the data to gauge how well your group is meeting the goals you established, and to test out different tactics you try. Use what you learn to improve how you manage your group over time, so you get increasingly better results (for at least as long as Facebook doesn’t change the game anyway).
Facebook isn’t your only option for building an online community, but it does provide a number of features that make it a solid choice. If your audience is already using the platform and a focus on real-time conversations and events makes sense for your goals, it’s a strong platform for bringing people together.
This is the second article in a series of community building online. Be sure to check out To Slack or Not to Slack: Using Slack for Community Building and Hashtag Community: Why Start a Twitter Chat.