Major changes to Facebook Groups

by Venessa Paech October 5, 2020

Facebook Groups are now a full decade old and nearly 2 billion people use the tool each month personally and professionally. The Facebook team announced a slew of changes and updates to Groups at their recent Communities Summit. We break down the main agenda items with some professional community management perspective.

Public Groups in the news feed

Facebook is testing major changes to the ways people discover conversations happening in public Groups on their platform.

Users across the platform will see related Group discussions in their news feed when someone posts a link or re-shares a post. These discussions will also be indexed by search engines for the first time.

Facebook says Group owners and administrators will be able to opt-in to whether their group is surfaced via this new experience – an essential caveat. Without this, public Groups could become more risky and time-consuming to manage and moderate, as non-members engage sporadically across the platform without exposure to guidelines or relevant onboarding.

Exposing topical content in Groups across news feeds could open up valuable discussion, however it may also increase the proliferation of harmful content across both the platform and the wider web via search engines, while provoking new frictions (e.g. members of a Group for parents of autistic children are served content in their feed from an anti-vaxxer Group discussing autism).

The new experience is being tested in limited markets to start with, so watch this space.

Moderation tools

In welcome news, Group administrators are gaining some new automated moderation support.

The new automation toolset, called Admin Assist, will be available to public Groups first, and is not yet available on mobile. It gives owners and admins better control over members and posts through a range of filters and criteria, including how long they’ve been in the group, whether their posts contain links or specific keywords, and whether their historical posts have been reported.

You can also mute members and automate feedback if they trigger certain criteria (e.g. a post of theirs was denied because it contained a link).

These are common features for other online community building platforms and have been requested by community management professionals for some time. It’s terrific to see them included in this update.

Group profile customisation

Facebook’s real name, singular identity has always been incompatible with real life – we adopt different ways of expressing ourselves depending on the people we’re interacting with. Additionally, there are many reasons people may want or need to interact in an online group without revealing their legal name and identity (for example, an addiction support group, a group for victims of abuse, a group for dissidents and oppressed peoples).

In a partial acknowledgement of this, Facebook is finally allowing users to make slight modifications to their profile photo for select Groups they participate in. Users can change their photo and username for that Group (e.g. a gamer can change their username to their gaming handle and profile picture to their avatar just for their gaming Group, without affecting their standard profile).

It appears only the picture and username are changeable, meaning a user’s other identifying information is still easily exposable. This limitation, combined with its privacy track record and moderation shortfalls means Facebook is still not a recommended platform for interactions that need sensitivity or protection. Still, the small level of customisation is a welcome improvement that will allow some users more expressivity within certain Groups.

Engagement tools

Groups will get multi-user, real-time chat, new Q&A functionality, and a new post format called Prompts. These visual posts allow creators to ask people to share a photo in response to a prompt, with the responses becoming a swipeable slideshow.

We don’t yet know whether this format will allow alt.text and other accessibility features to ensure everyone can read and participate in the Prompt.

Organising tools

Organising content within a Facebook Group has always been challenging. The platform has announced a new feature that aims to make this easier – organising content by hashtags, which can also be pinned to the top of the Group by administrators.

Group admins may use this as a de facto search engine to help manage frequently asked questions and popular discussions over time.

Commercialisation tools 

Groups will now have access to Facebook’s Brand Collabs Manager, which will allow them to work with brands who wish to promote their products and services to the group’s users. Admins will be able to connect to brands looking to advertise and control which ads that can be posted into their group from those external parties.

Groups admin training

Facebook also announced a new online course and certification for group owners and administrators to help them set-up and run their groups effectively, building on their existing content hub of tips and advice.

It’s important to note that this training is specific to Facebook, and will not include crucial, regionally specific risk management. For example, in Australia anyone managing a Facebook Group needs to be aware of and have a plan for defamatory content.

For those interested in building online community management capability, including appropriate governance and oversight, we recommend platform agnostic professional training via Quiip, or through ACM endorsed training courses and programs.