“The biggest communities in which young people now reside are online communities.” – Howard Gardner, a renowned American psychologist.
It is quite evident that online communities are one of the biggest trends in brand development, customer experience, and product strategy space. So, it was an obvious move for Facebook to leverage this and position its Group feature as the go-to place for “community” building.
Although that has been the trend in the past few years, the recent event in April focused more on Facebook’s new found direction — apart from making stricter changes for data privacy, they are going keep Facebook Groups as the foundation of the main Facebook app. This is indeed a piece of great news for community software providers, as it reestablishes the importance of communities and opens up a tremendous opportunity to innovate.
According to a report published by Pew Research Center in September 2018, user behavior on Facebook has undergone a massive shift in the last few years. Just to elaborate on the facts and figures, around 42% of the users have stopped themselves from checking the site for a period of several weeks or more, close to 26% have reportedly deleted the app from their phone. Also, over the last year, more than 50% of the users have updated their account privacy settings.
These type of changes in the user behavior heavily impact the advertising revenue of Facebook as companies find it increasingly difficult to reach their audiences. Thus, communities (as a much fancier name) became a strong proponent of a new business channel and that was further bolstered with a feed which favored friends and groups (user-generated content) instead of pages.
Thus, it should now be quite clear that Facebook is using groups disguised as communities to increase their revenue. The more intimate and focused is the discussion, the more accurate will be data-backed advertising! Apart from this, Facebook needs to protect itself from the rapidly evolving advertising market that is gently getting inclined towards brand communication via sponsored content and influencers.
For the context, when we say communities, we mean a scalable online space that brings members with a shared purpose into one safe and secure place, so that they can connect, engage and add value to each other. A branded online community (perhaps customer community in the real sense) puts a business in the above mix, which creates two types of broad relationships — user engagement with the brand and peer-to-peer engagement.
This fundamental understanding of the community makes Facebook Group an absolute deal breaker when it comes to branded community building. And the shortcomings of Facebook Groups are tremendous opportunities for community software vendors to actually solve some interesting problems to help both businesses and their target users. Read on to explore these in greater details:
Communities are practically goldmine of information and using the search functionality to discover previous discussions is one of the most prominent features used by members. Yet, Facebook allows members of the groups to search discussions only from the last 30 days.
Communities must be designed to organize the user-generated content in a way that allows users to discover the right material at the right time (e.g., asking questions, posting content and searching).
Intimate discussions with subgroups
It is quite common for group admins to create subgroups inside a community to help the members discuss different topics and have a live conversation without any restriction on participation size. This is something which Facebook groups lack.
Data ownership and privacy
Even though we regularly hear from Facebook’s PR team (rather disaster recovery team) that they need to improve in terms of privacy and security, there has not been any convincing action. Also, on Facebook Group, a business has zero ownership of the data generated by the community which is a valuable asset from any company.
Access to granular user behavior for data allows a brand to enrich existing data, run powerful analytics and reporting.
Lack of customization options
Facebook Groups will always remain aligned with the brand guidelines of Facebook. It will not be possible for companies to use Facebook Groups to provide the same integrated brand experience they can do on other owned touchpoints.
Software vendors could leverage this to allow customization of the community both in terms of branding guidelines and unique user preferences of the company.
Optimizing for search engines
Facebook prohibits search engines from crawling and indexing the content on its platform. This is quite detrimental to the growth of the community and diminishes the positive impact the content can have on would be members,
Community platform providers can deliver inherently search engine optimized content so that new members can discover the content. Apart from that, any third party site should be able to easily link to useful pages on the community.
Robust moderation framework
It is crucial to moderate discussions, set the course of the community and establish guidelines for the members while scaling user growth.
It is very difficult to achieve this with Facebook since there is no way you can make the community and content guidelines visible based on the user action. Apart from this, there should be a proper structure for the users of the community from the company side, e.g., community managers, admins.
Facebook Groups don’t provide any API, so businesses simply can’t integrate the community in the existing company workflow. For example, a company running a customer community or support community would like to create support tickets directly from the issue reported in the community.
Reporting and analytics
Facebook Groups don’t deliver any valuable insight to the group owner. Here the community software vendors have a great opportunity to innovate and deliver powerful reporting features.
This will allow the businesses to gauge the health of the community and find out its ultimate impact of the business goals. This is critical since every investment must be justified for the business outcome.
Adding community experience in the customer journey
Can you add important components of the Facebook Groups inside your product or site? The answer is ‘no’. Here the vendors should ideate on integrating the community inside the product experience.
For example, in an e-commerce product listing page, if community discussion can be added, it would result in much better engagement which would lead to new product discovery and feedback sharing.
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Where does Facebook Group fit in?
The major advantages of the Facebook Group come from its active users — it allows easy discovery of the posts in the group when users going through the news feed. And this leads to more conversation. Another key element is that it is very simple to create; this low-friction set up and easy to use interface doesn’t require users or admins to learn anything new.
Hence, it makes sense to use Groups as a communication tool. Also, when it is a casual group that doesn’t require resource investment and the expectation is not about creating business value, it can work out.
For example, “cat lovers from Glendale” might very well run on Facebook Groups. However, a pet food company building a community around its business must invest resources in creating a community that they can actually “own”.
It is safe to say that Facebook Groups can be just one of the many communication channels of brands, and certainly nowhere closer as a means to build branded communities. It is high time we go back to the roots and define what exactly is a community for a brand, how does it add value to the business and the success criteria to justify the investment.
Answers to these questions and the inherent drawbacks in Facebook Groups have great potential to push the community platform providers to come up with robust solutions for community building.