The Facebook Groups Revolution: What You Need To Know
If you haven't been following business updates from Facebook very closely (and there's not reason why you should) you may have missed a dramatic shake up in Facebook's policy.
Starting with an announcement in June by no other than Marc Zuckerberg himself, Facebook has updated its mission statement from "connecting people" to "building communities". What this means is that Facebook is shifting its focus from delivering updates about your friends to fostering richer engagement within large communities of users.
This change of tack was re-emphasised with a further radical announcement earlier this month that Facebook is changing its News Feed algorithm (the core software that determines what people see on their News Feeds) to “prioritize posts that spark conversations and meaningful interactions between people [...] over public content.”
Put simply, these changes means that:
- Organic (=un-paid) content from pages, like your race or organiser Facebook page, will be significantly de-prioritised on user News Feeds - so expect your organic page reach to drop even further.
- Posts from friends, family and group discussions will receive a significant boost in visibility.
Why should I care?
If you are like most Facebook page owners, your focus so far has been on growing page followers/Likes. And you've done everything right, as this has been the way to increase your audience on Facebook so far. But this is now changing.
Even before this recent shift, Facebook organic reach has been declining to such an extent that on average only about 6% of followers of a page got to see content from that page. That means that for a page with 10,000 followers, only about 600 on average get served content from that page in their News Feed.
Well, that is now going to take a material turn for the worse. So, if you're continuing to invest in building Facebook page Likes in hope of building an audience you can reach, STOP. Now.
What can I do about it?
With the further demise of organic reach and the de-prioritisation of public content, two avenues for maintaining a voice on Facebook are becoming increasingly more important:
- Paid advertising. You didn't want to hear this, but it's the true. If you want to be reaching people on Facebook, you'll have to start paying a little bit more for the privilege.
- Facebook groups. Since Facebook is compensating for the downgrade in public posts with an upgrade on group posts, you want to start thinking about building a community around a Facebook group.
The good news is that, as part of these recent changes in strategy, Facebook has released a major revamp of Facebook groups in a bid to support its new "community building" mission.
Facebook Groups 2.0
There are a number of key features that Facebook has added to Facebook groups that are making a huge difference to their effectiveness as not only community-building but also branding tools:
- Ability to link a group to a page This is by far the most significant update. Linking a group to your Facebook race page means that you can now post in your group not only as an individual but also as your page, which was previously not possible. So you can now participate in discussions, answer questions and drive conversations as your event brand with all the associated brand awareness benefits this carries.
- Prominent linking to your page inside the group By linking your group to your page - essentially, the page "adopting" the group - you can have a link back to your Facebook page prominently displayed at the top of your group. This means members of your group can easily navigate back to your page.
- CTA button at top of group page Not only do you get to link to your Facebook page from inside your Facebook group, but also a link directly to your race website through a "Learn more" or other CTA button. This is a great way for group members to find their way directly to your race website or race registration page.
- Group joining questionnaire One of the great tools now available to groups is the ability to collect information from prospective members before joining the group. You can serve people joining your group a custom questionnaire of up to three questions to help you screen members and learn a bit more about your audience.
- Meaningful group insights Another big grudge people had with the old Facebook groups was the lack of group insights on member activity. That has been addressed in this latest revamp, so you now get a wealth of info on member group activity, engagement etc to help you understand your audience better.
- Post scheduling Another handy feature, formerly only available to Facebook pages, is the ability to schedule posts forward. This is now also available on groups, so you can more efficiently build out your content schedule.
- Cross-linking of multiple groups You can now also point to other group suggestions from within your group, essentially linking many groups together. If you're thinking why you may want to have multiple groups for your race or event, read on.
- Better group moderating tools It is now also easier to manage discussions and ban offending members from the group with an array of new moderating tools.
Unfortunately, advertising your new group is still off the table, which is a shame. But, with the new direction now adopted by Facebook, don't be surprised if there are updates on this front in the not so distant future.
What kind of group can I set up?
Ok, so we've looked at many reasons why building a Facebook group may be a much more attractive proposition, but haven't yet answered the biggest question: what kind of group you would build and how it can complement your race page.
Groups are all about communities and discussions, so the real question is what communities around your race would you want to foster and build groups for?
Luckily, we've looked at this already and there's three key groups you'd want to consider: 1) past and present participants, 2) volunteers and 3) themed groups around your sport. For more on why you'd want to build Facebook groups for your race, check out this article.
Now, although most races will choose to create groups around their specific race audiences (i.e. participants, volunteers and fans of that particular race), you can also create more loosely-related groups that you can link to your Facebook page and race website.
For example, let's suppose you organise trail races in Scotland. You can set up a Scotland Trail Runners group and link it to your race page. That's ok - as long as you don't plug your race too hard you will extract tons of value from the group. There's really no bounds to where you can go with groups, provided the group adds value to its members and stimulates meaningful discussion.
What can I do with my group?
It may not be clear at first how you can drive value for your race from your linked group. But there are many invaluable contributions your group can help provide your event and brand, if used right.
One of the more obvious benefits of a group is generating traffic for your race website and raising awareness for your race. The group page offers ways of doing that (through the page CTA, for instance) and you can also find opportunities to post links to your website in the group. But - and we can't stress this enough - content you post in your group must be relevant, valuable and add to the community discussion. Spamming people with stuff will simply devalue your group and drive people away.
Another thing you can use your group for is recruiting people into your cause or organisation. That could be anything from race volunteers to race ambassadors and content editors - anyone, basically, who has a contribution to make to your event. Your group is the perfect place to find good people to help you resource your event.
And how about member feedback? Being able to pick the brains of the community when planning new initiatives and changes to your race is another great benefit of building a Facebook group.
Things are a-changing. Gone are the days of easy free Facebook exposure. The time has come when you need to work harder on earning that attention.
That's ok. As the saying goes, when chased by a bear you only need to be faster than your slowest friend. So as long as you pick up on these shifts and capitalise on the changes early, you'll land on your feet and get a head start on competition.