On the 12th of January of this year, Mark Zuckerberg announced a significant shift in the way Facebook approaches its News Feed. From now on, Facebook will shift the focus away from what Zuckerberg calls ‘public content’ (posts from businesses, brands and media) in favour of content that brings people together (friends, families and groups). Rightfully so, this has caused some people to question the value of brand pages.

One of these questions came from SAP. We were working on the communication strategy for the SAP Forum in Luxemburg. Suddenly, someone asked: “I’ve heard that groups are the only real way to market on Facebook nowadays. Is this true for events as well?”

Two ways of using Facebook groups

Facebook groups are indeed powerful tools in a marketeer’s arsenal – if they’re used correctly. The way I see it, there are two ways you can use them:

  1. You can use it as a platform to push information onto your audience (i.e. using groups instead of pages and events), or
  2. You can use it as a platform where peers can share interesting content with each other.

Facebook groups are perfect for the latter (after all, that’s what they’re made for), but amazingly bad at the former. That doesn’t mean #2 is easy, though. It is nothing less than full-blown community building. So what do you need to start a community?

The two elements of a community

At its core, a community is just a massive ball of wool with conversations instead of threads. And for a community to work and last, you will need copious amounts of those two things:

  1. Content: Whether it’s sharing personal experiences or an insightful question, a community needs large amounts of content to get the conversations started. This needs to be sustainable, since (in theory) you need infinite amounts of it to make up for conversations that die out, and to keep users interested.
    The good news is that there’s a point where user-generated content will do this on its own, making the community self-sustaining. This milestone may come instantly, or it may be so hard to achieve that it never happens. How long before the community hits that turning point? That depends on a myriad of factors: the perceived value of the community, the bond between the user and the subject matter, the amount of interaction etc.
  2. Engagement: Content alone is not enough. A newsletter is a monologue, not a community. A real community needs to have real peer-to-peer conversations. It’s a place where you can share your thoughts and opinions about someone else’s thoughts and opinions about someone else’s thoughts and opinions about … Engagement is the beating heart of the community.

If you cannot guarantee these two elements, a community has no hope of surviving, and the same holds true with Facebook groups. If there isn’t enough (strong) content or if there’s too little engagement, you’ll end up spending enormous amounts of time to artificially make up for them, in a vain effort to force them. And just like everyone hates forced conversations, so the group will see a strong decline in both users and usage, sending it into a downward spiral.

Non-community groups

Yes, you can forego the entire community-element of Facebook groups and just use them to push your own information, but where’s the point in that? Facebook pages and events are far more suited for this and here’s why.

For one, the information is much more organised. For an event, it’s incredibly easy for a user to see the date, the location, the event description, and so on. With a page, everyone knows where to find the page description, location, opening hours, etc.

Additionally, having a group means every member of the group can post at their own leisure, which can quickly overshadow your own communication, especially because newer posts always show up on top (pinned posts excluded). With a Facebook page or event, the possibility of interaction is still there, but conversations with users are a lot less distracting.

Lastly, the options for boosting a group through paid promotion are quite limited. It’s also a lot easier to post under the brand name (rather than the personal name) on a page or event than in a group.

To sum it all up

There’s no denying that Facebook groups are powerful and will soon become even more so. By design, they’re only good at one thing though, and that’s community building. But building that community is no easy feat. It’s very easy to go in with the wrong angle, so make sure that this is not a decision you make lightly. A strong and healthy community is a veritable goldmine for marketing efforts, product development, customer relations, PR and pretty much every possible side of your business. My advice is the same as for an absurd brand voice: simply consider it. If it works, the rewards will surely be worth it.

Does it seem too daunting to build a community on Facebook?

Don’t worry, we can help. Give us a call and we’ll tell you exactly the things you should (and the things you shouldn’t) do.