Although Facebook groups are a relatively new addition to the tools and platforms used to build online communities, they are already proving popular with brands keen to foster more peer-to-peer engagement with their networks, rather than social marketing “at” people one way via a Facebook business page.
The most successful online communities in the world typically exist in forums. So what can we learn from online forums and apply to Facebook groups?
The science of building and managing communities has been thoroughly researched for decades.
Here are our top tips for building a successful community online:
- Active Community Management and/or moderation is key to building a ‘productive’ space that achieves its aims (and those of the entity hosting the community). Community management consists of strategy, governance, planning, engagement, content creation and curation, moderation and analysis to help steer the community in the right direction. A dedicated presence is essential; ideally, a professional who is trained and qualified in both building a thriving community, and keeping things running safely and legally. Even if you don’t engage in professional community management, some type of organised and consistent community oversight is critical for success.
- Guidelines. Have guidelines and be consistent and rigorous in applying them. These are essential in creating a group culture and very difficult to do once the vibe has set in! Do not tolerate unacceptable behaviour. Everything you allow or reject is a choice that tells the group and the world who you are and what you stand for. Allowing risky content or behaviour increases the risk of more problematic content and invites reputational and legal risk. For more, take a look at the ACM Code of Ethics.
- Welcome new members and show them how to get value from the group. Facebook has even introduced functionality which encourages you to welcome new members. How will you show value? You can use pinned posts or announcements, images, there are lots of tips you can use to direct users on how to derive value from the group. Welcoming helps people build trust and get to know one another, and is your touch point to steer constructive, desired interaction
- Listen to your community. Good community management is like being a shepherd – you lead from behind. Your community will rumble over what they do and don’t like about the group. The content. The moderation. The rules. Listen sincerely! This doesn’t mean you need to put into place every little suggestion or request. But the ideas and concerns raised will illuminate important insights about how your community is feeling and what’s most important to them.
- Foster self-governance. Facebook is unfortunately renowned for lacklustre moderation functionality. So you’ll have to foster self-governance to assist with scale and help you build a healthy, safe (and compliant) space. In practice, this includes things like getting members to report posts or explain the rules to each other. Publicly thanking users who do this will signal to others that this is encouraged.
- Create compelling content. At first, you’ll need to steer the ship, producing regular content to mobilise your members. But over time (the first three to six months typically), the balance of that content should shift to your users. When your group is more established, members should be creating 90 per cent of the content. If you’re not at that stage yet create a content calendar. It might be as simple a “Tuesday Tips”.Eventually, you can move into wearing more of an Editor hat, digging through member authored content to find topics or conversations with a lot of traction, then curating that into highlights, headlines and featured content. Community content should always be content by, about and for the community (not about you).
- Encourage Search! To prevent answer fatigue, encourage new users to actively search for existing answers. People will be driven away from your group if every day they are faced with users asking the same questions repeatedly.Use group tools for organising information (such as pinned posts, uploaded documents) and make it as easy as possible for members to find what they’re looking for and get to the more interesting stuff.
- Size matters. Bigger is always better, right? Not so when it comes to community. The larger and more socially dense a group becomes, the more the main goals of members (and the business hosting the group) can become compromised. Groups can become too large and too active. Reading a thread with 383 comments is too much for most users; searching for relevant content and discussions becomes a herculean ask.
Got questions about Facebook groups? Get in contact with us and we can help you out.
If the pace of your group is running high, consider whether you could split it by region or topic. (Facebook is experimenting with sub-topics/groups but that functionality isn’t widely available in Australia yet).
The power of connecting members, customers or fans can’t be understated. Groups offer an incredible opportunity to brands to create and deliver value, foster loyalty, drive sales, reduce operational costs, develop new products and much more, by leveraging true peer-to-peer relationship building.
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