Facebook Groups – What, Why, Who?

by Erin Tierney April 17, 2018

Guest post by Tim Hanslow 

We’re all familiar with Facebook groups, those little walled-off corners of the internet where conversations hinge around a topic.

But how do you get the most out of them? And what should you watch out for? Let’s get into it.

Group Types

Facebook groups can be one of 3 types:

  • Public
    Everyone can see everything in the group and freely join in.
    Like gathering in the middle of a party. People come and go, people might even listen and never speak up.
  • Closed
    The group itself is visible and its members, but the actual posts aren’t. Think of it like a meeting room with glass doors. Everyone know’s who’s in the meeting, but not what it’s about.
  • Secret
    The title covers it all. Secret groups aren’t visible to search, or it’s members shown. You’ll need to be added to the group to even know it’s there.

The first real question you need to answer about your group is what kind of group you want to have. Choosing a public group is pretty obvious, but the vast majority of groups still use Closed. The main reason is being able to approve members before they participate. This helps keep out spam bots if nothing else.

Closed vs. Secret though, is about discoverability. Do you want your group to be found by people who search, or will you and your members take on the role of bringing new people in?

The secret option is there for when things need to be behind closed doors. Groups created for use by groups of friends, industry peers, families and more. They provide a valuable tool at no cost for marginalised groups, at-risk individuals, sex workers and more. But secret groups come with two major caveats. Firstly, this is not an open platform, anything happening in a closed group is still on Facebook’s terms, and on their turf. And a groups status can be changed at will by an administrator. Anything posted into a secret group could be viewed by an errant member added erroneously, or by a group whose status is changed by an admin.

N.B.: Facebook removes the ability to change group privacy down once the group exceeds 5,000 members. A closed group of over 5,000 members can be changed to secret, but not public. And a secret group of over 5,000 members can’t be changed to either of the settings.

Who’s in charge?

A Facebook group has 3 tiers of members.

  • Administrators
    With complete control over a group, an admin can add and remove other admins and moderators, change the group description, privacy settings, and pictures. As well as approve/remove people and posts, and view support inbox.
  • Moderators
    They can do everything an admin can with members, posts, and support.
    But they’re unable to make changes to admins/moderators or the group itself.
  • Members
    There’s no special access for members.

Until mid-2017 this post would have been completely different. Facebook made one single change that fundamentally changed the viability of groups. Admin visibility.

Facebook groups will identify on desktop, mobile, and in-app when an admin/moderator posts or replies. These posts will contain a shield icon next to their name to indicate their status within the group.

Visibility of the admins provides a core piece of community management functionality natively, without any effort. This is a critical piece of managing and looking after your community. At it’s simplest level it provides a bold voice and highlight to posts from an admin (“Guys, cut it out!”) and at a higher level, it indicates to members that the group managers/owners are present and invested.

But who do you want as an administrator or moderator?
The short answer is that admins need to be as small a number as possible. The admin only powers to change group settings, images and description are seldom needed and present risk if abused. Moderators have the ability to approve and remove members and posts, which covers 99% of the necessary admin actions needed.

Who do I post as in the group?

A group doesn’t allow you to post as the group. All comments and replies will come from your own Facebook account. Eg if running a group “Tims Burger Reviews” and responding to comments or sharing your burger reviews, the replies would come from “Tim Hanslow” and not from “Tims Burger Reviews”. The group is a container for the posts, not an entity that can participate.

However, as a page admin, you can link your group to your page. And this will allow you to post in the group as the page. This comes with major caveats:

  • Linked groups are named on the page itself.
    This may not be suitable for all groups
  • All page admins can post in the group as the page. You can identify who made a post, but not prevent it as long as they have admin access to the page.

How do I control who joins my group?

Facebook makes it nice and simple to control who joins your group.
The two main settings you want are “Membership approval” and “Membership requests”. You can see these and the other relevant settings by selecting the “…More” icon on the group toolbar and then “edit group settings”.

Membership approval lets you control whether new members can be approved by anyone in the group or admins/moderators only. To control your group, change this setting over.

“Membership requests” is a newer addition to the Facebook arsenal and a double-edged sword. It allows you to ask 3 text questions to potential members and they’ll answer them when they join. You can review their answers before admitting them to the group.

Like many other aspects of groups, this comes with caveats:

  • Non-group members can’t easily see things like the group description.
    On desktop and mobile links to the group will default to “ask to join” and not let them see it. With a little clicking and fumbling around, they might get to it, but many won’t.Many groups ask you to confirm you’ve read their rules before you join by finding a keyword. It’s a really ineffective tool for multiple reasons, but the big two? Someone can’t easily see the description. And they can simply scroll down for the keyword and not read.
  • Once a member is approved, their answers are gone. You can’t go back to see them. So don’t ask for info you want to keep unless you log it elsewhere.
  • Remember privacy laws. Asking for some information could be classed as discriminatory, and if you store the answer information elsewhere (like an email address) it may be a breach of privacy laws and guidelines.

Now you’ve got a group, how do you make it successful?

Here’s a couple of quick tips to help get your group performing.

  • Post content
    It seems obvious, but it’s an often overlooked one. It’s your group, so get posting. Create posts that drive conversation and activity.
  • Don’t post content your group members could
    This is community management 101. You’re not here to overshadow people. If there’s breaking news that’s relevant to your group, is someone else going to post it? If they will, let them do it.
  • Clean out the spam
  • Be ruthless, fast and upfront about it. If people see irrelevant content and spam in your group, they won’t stay.
  • Moderate in the open
    If you need to enforce the rules or let people know things aren’t ok, do it in the open.
    Be firm, but polite. And switch off comments on relevant posts.
  • Like posts and comments
    Use the react button to laugh, and love and go wow! Set the standard that you want people to react to posts.
  • Participate
    You’ve got two major ways to participate, and you need to spend time equally on both. You need to be actively IN the conversation. Talk about knitting, answer questions about wine, share links to rare motorcycle hubcaps on eBay, whatever the group needs. And, let people know you’ve seen their posts. Say thank you, point out great points, acknowledge time taken to help people or write a long response.

And that’s everything you’ll need to manage your group, from the settings to keeping things smooth. Let us know in the comments below if you’ve got any more burning questions about looking after your group!