You have heard that online communities help promote brands, and you probably think it is time to try the Facebook community for your brand. This could be a ground-breaking idea, but there may be a time in the long run, where you will find that your community’s needs outgrow the standard functionality that these social media platforms provide.
Facebook’s groups can be great for some situations, but it’s also worth considering the viability of a ‘self-owned community.’
When we talk about this type of community, we are talking about one that is your own, branded and hosted on your website, usually delivered on a forum platform — sometimes called branded or proprietary communities.
However, before you go ahead to ditch your idea of Facebook groups for self-owned communities, it will be wise of you to check out the pros and cons of Facebook’s groups. Brand peculiarities exist, and it could just be that the advantages you find that outweigh the disadvantage for your brand.
So, here we go, starting with the pros.
PROs of Using Facebook Groups
Creates community – Using Facebook might be the quickest way to form a community around your business. Customers can network and help one another. This can increase the perceived value of your offering(s).
Since almost everyone is on Facebook, joining a group is just a matter of a few clicks. No need to teach them about your own proprietary platform, which means one less site for your customers to visit.
You get ideas – A natural part of a community is to share ideas. As a business owner, you can see exactly how people are using your product and get ideas on how to modify or improve.
Social proof – If someone is trying to decide whether or not to invest in your product and they stumble across a Facebook group with many users, then they may be persuaded by that alone to join.
Makes you more accessible – Doing business with “companies” isn’t very engaging. People do business with people, and having a Facebook group makes you and your products more relate-able.
Are these pros not convincing enough for you?
Then here are some simple points on why an owned community can deliver competitive advantage:
1. User experience is within your control
While starting a group on Facebook makes it easy for users to integrate the group into their lives, it does limit your ability to interact with members using the parameters Facebook provides. You have no control over your members’ experiences throughout the rest of Facebook.
You have no way of preventing any negativity that your member experiences such as bullying, annoying and irrelevant content, and simply being sick of the platform. Surprisingly, there is an increase in the number of people removing the Facebook app from their phones for varied reasons.
However, a self-owned community allows you to have complete control over the content, navigation and layout as soon as the member hits your website. You can provide a welcoming and inviting space for your members.
It also allows you to provide and refer information to members within your ecosphere and know that the conversational topics are not only seen by those who need it (rather than Facebook where you are relying on an algorithm) but also aren’t being seen next to pictures of irrelevant or inappropriate content.
2. Anonymity and private messaging
One of the hugely overlooked benefits of a self-owned community user experience is anonymity or ‘pseudonymity.’ Many self-owned communities allow members to be anonymous – creating a heightened sense of trust and confidentiality. For a huge number of topic areas, privacy and trust are paramount, whether it is discussing difficult relationships, work environments or health concerns.
In a forum, you can decide if you will allow members to private message each other or not. With Facebook, most members use their real name and people will be able to contact group members via direct message – a platform feature that group administrators have no control of.
When it comes to the user experience, you really need to think about how you would want to interact with the community as a member yourself. Do you want to share with all of your friends and family that you are part of a specific community? Do you feel that your community will not open up with real names attached?
3. Better ownership and access to data
Even though you can set questions and requirements for entry into your group in Facebook Groups, this data disappears once you accept a member.
While you can record these details for yourself, the GDPR (which came into effect May 2018) requires watertight consent and data management. While your community may not be aimed towards Europeans, you need to ensure you have covered the standards in the event that someone from this region joins your community or you risk hefty fines, regardless of where your company is located.
With Facebook Groups, you have minimal data insights available to you, and unless you have captured your audience’s email addresses upon Group entry, there is no way to reach out to them behind the scenes.
With a self-owned community, you have much more data available at your disposal to win back sign-ups, contact members who go dark and design interventions to engage with members at all stages of the membership lifecycle.
Forum platforms offer a far superior suite of moderation tools. This is essential if working in a high-risk, health or youth-focused community. Being able to moderate also effectively means that you have responsibility for the health of your community.
It is also far easier to create your own culture and rules within a ‘gated’ community, which can set the tone and help maintain a safe and welcoming space, especially as the community scales.
5. Better organisation
One of the best features of a self-owned community is the ability to organise content that makes it easy for your community to consume. You find that rather than one standard group wall, you are able to organise into groups and threads that point to your members which topics/content belongs where.
This not only makes it easier for new members to join the community and not feel like they’ve come in mid-conversation, which can be very discouraging; you’ll also find that your members will stick around a lot longer as they do not continuously have to scroll through content to find something that’s relevant to them. Additionally, your self-owned community will have a more comfortable and more accurate search function across the platform, bringing up relevant discussion points.
Forums remain the single largest warehouse of human knowledge, and the ability to organise and structure this information is hugely beneficial to delivering the right information to people.
The underlying purpose of a community is to deliver value to both your organisation and the members you serve, thus looking at your community strategy, you need to decide the best platform to not only start but to grow into.
Facebook Groups certainly offer a compelling community-like offering, but for an organisation, self-owned platforms should be seriously considered as part of your long-term community strategy. Community, when done properly, is an investment that will immensely benefit the business and members alike.
So, it is time to get back to the drawing board and study your brand again, taking the value of the brand and its market demographics into full consideration. You will undoubtedly find vital reasons to either strengthen or refute your decision to adopt Facebook Groups.