Are Facebook groups the right platform for your online community?
Ah Facebook groups! Many community managers loath them. But are they ever the right fit for your online community?
The truth is, like most community platforms, Facebook groups come with a range of pros and cons.
Today, I’m going to break these down for you, give you my overall verdict, and share the instances where a Facebook group may actually be the best option for your online community.
The pros of using Facebook groups for your online community
Let’s start by exploring some of the benefits of Facebook groups:
Facebook groups have discoverability
One of the biggest benefits of running your community on Facebook is discoverability.
Facebook users can search by interests, and your group has a chance of showing up in their search results.
As a result, you can experience organic growth, as users discover your group.
I’ve experienced this first hand. We started the Procreate Creative Community Facebook group, as an extension of my company Design Cuts. The group has grown organically to over 10k members!
Similarly, Jennifer, a member of Learn.Community grew her doll-making Facebook group to over 5000 members – which gave her a captive audience, which she could funnel into her email list and paid community. You can read more about Jennifer’s successful community launch on this blog.
Because members are typically discovering you through search intent around an interest (unlike random discovery that can happen on social media), it tends to result in a very focused, targeted type of member.
Tip: Ensure your group name and description are optimised to be found for the keywords and key-phrases you want.
Facebook groups are easy and quick to setup
Providing you have an existing Facebook account, a group is very easy to set up. I’ve built all kinds of groups over the years (some for business, some for fun) and have typically been able to set them up in minutes.
Compare that to my paid community on Circle, and that took me probably a day to set up (and I consider Circle to be highly intuitive).
However, there is very limited amount of control with Facebook groups, something I cover in the cons shared below. If you don’t mind some restrictions, it’s very quick to get your group up and running.
Facebook is where users naturally spend time
One huge benefit is that users are already spending time on Facebook.
That means that notifications from your group are more likely to be seen.
It also means less friction for them to jump over to your group and catch up there.
One of the toughest things about running your community on a third party platform is that it’s often not where users are already spending their time – which creates friction as you have to encourage them to go and spend their time there, for the sole purpose of being in your community.
Facebook users are already familiar with the platform’s UI
Another benefit is that Facebook users will already be familiar with the UI (user interface) of Facebook. This means they won’t have to be trained or onboarded with how to use it.
Having your members immediately know how to navigate your community platform like this is definitely a benefit.
The cons of using Facebook groups for your online community
Whilst there are certainly some benefits to using Facebook groups, they definitely aren’t perfect. Here are some drawbacks to consider:
Facebook is filled with distractions
As a social platform, it’s Facebook’s job to grab attention.
This means that even when members are using your Facebook group, their attention is being pulled away by ads, notification bells and a busy UI.
This definitely creates a sub-optimal experience, where members are a notification away from leaving your group.
Facebook is clean to use, but groups feel very much bolted into their core user interface.
As a result, it’s fine, but is definitely not a community group first platform, like something such as Circle.
Members may not see group content
Like most social networks, Facebook increasingly throttles the visibility of content happening in your group.
This is far from ideal, as members could easily miss vital happenings.
I love hosting my communities on a private platform, where I can ensure members always see key updates, announcements and notifications when they visit.
With any social platform, you’re on rented land
One of my biggest fears about using Facebook for my community is that you don’t control the platform (unlike a private community, website or email list).
If they change the algorithm, you have to put up with it. If one day they retire groups, that’s out of your hands.
This is a risky play, and not one that I want to expose myself to.
Facebook groups have limited control and features
Facebook groups can be OK for the basics, but they certainly don’t have the features of a more robust community platform. Plus you’re pretty much stuck with using their layout, as there’s very limited scope for customisation.
What’s my verdict on Facebook groups?
I think there’s certainly cases where Facebook groups are appropriate.
They’re fantastic for local communities (your local town likely has an active one).
They’re handy if your target members are active users of the Facebook platform.
It’s quick and easy to get running, and you don’t require any budget.
Facebook groups can be a great discovery vehicle – even allowing you to capture leads and funnel them towards a paid community on another platform.
However, for the majority of people running a paid membership community, I feel Facebook is not the best option. There are too many risks, too many distractions, not enough features or customisation and it generally feels less professional, versus a white-label platform such as Circle.
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