Dissolving the myth: Facebook groups are not brand communities

Once it was found out, what value brand communities can contribute to the brand development and success, “community” became a big buzzword in the digital marketing world. Not too long time ago social media channels such as Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and many others took over the online space for people to interact, share their knowledge, opinions and other content as well as to collaborate and learn from each other. Now the history is repeating itself, but in a reverse: forums and online communities are taking over the online space and prove to be more valuable for companies and businesses than ever. So why is it happening?

First of all, everyone is on Facebook nowadays – private persons, celebrities, big companies, small- and mid-enterprises, freelancers and self-employed professionals. With the changes to the Facebook algorithm regarding the ads exposure and the feed preferences towards friends and groups, it is getting more and more difficult for companies to reach their exact target groups. Furthermore, according to the study conducted by the Pew Research Centre in September 2018, there has been a big shift in the behavior of Facebook users. In year 2017, 42% took an active break from Facebook, whereas 74% of the users have adjusted their privacy settings, reduced the amount of time they spend on Facebook or even deleted the app from the phone.

No wonder, that Facebook is trying to gain back the spotlight among brands and companies by claiming to be THE space for communities. And Facebook is not kidding, the word community is everywhere – there is a whole Facebook community page and in February 2018 there was even a Facebook Communities Summit, where outstanding Facebook community builders such as group or page admins were invited to London.

However, something has to be clear: Facebook groups are not communities and they hardly replace brand communities. Let us break down the myths and assumptions about the impact of Facebook groups and brand communities on your brand.

Communication vs. Sales

The reason, why Facebook decided to change the algorithm, was the realization that paid ads were taking over the entire feed. At the same time another process was noted, namely the uprising and popularity of groups. So officially the groups were made into communities. However, the advertisement in the feed did not disappear completely – it was moved into the groups, and according to Digiday UK, Facebook groups were actively pitched to advertisers since then. Therefore, the whole idea of making users to co-creators and influencers instead of consumers simply failed. The power is basically centralized, because even though the members feel the ownership for the content, there are still strict rules and regulations on the content and the main organization and exposure to advertisement is run by the brand or company itself.

Monologue vs. Dialogue

We remember, that the core idea of communities is transparent communication, that offers value to each community member. In this way brands can benefit within their marketing and sales department and create long-term connection to its audience, which eventually can generate new customers and contribute to a positive corporate image (see our post Why communities are the best fuel to drive customer centered marketing”). In Facebook groups main communication happens in the form of a monologue. We all remember what happened to Google+ back in 2012: the low activity levels on the channel made it look like a “ghost town”. Taking into consideration Socialbakers statistics from August 2018, it is clear that German brand interaction on Facebook is far behind a real dialogue. Brands are inactive when it comes to two-way communication and they focus more on paid advertisement and content sharing. Facebook does not make the communication in general particularly easy: private chats between group members have to be on Messenger, and are only possible, if the group members are connected. Also admins cannot create sub-groups for different topics within one community, which would offer more structure and clarity. So the group members do not feel involved and turn to observers, whereas the conversation is mainly led by the brand itself or not at all.

Needs of the audiences vs. Marketing hypes

As we already stated in our article How to build your brand community in 6 steps, it is vital to find the appropriate channel with appropriate tools and options for the brand community, because people are different and they have different needs. Audiences and community members of Starbucks might have very different needs from Lego fans. Facebook is only one of the possible community channels, so it depends on your marketing format, engagement strategy as well as your budget, whether Facebook is appropriate for you or not. Considering the fact that communities are not a group of random people, who come together and are motivated by incentives (Facebook ads, campaigns, apps) in order to communicate, it should be thought well through, which channel is the most appropriate for the brand’s community.

Community managers vs. Group admins

Taking the perspective of the brands, it is also important to define the role and responsibilities of the community moderator. By fostering a real brand community, it is not about bringing a big number of people into one group. Community management requires to do the homework before the creation of the community. It is about researching and defining the audiences, developing the community strategy and structuring the engagement indices. It is also about defining the added value first of all  to the community members and finally selecting the communication channel. Then it is about content creation, which matters and which can be mainly continued by the members themselves. So bringing people with the same geolocation and same age in one group and entertain them with content would be rather a group admin task, mainly managing the people instead of leading them.

Facebook as a social media channel has many qualities: it is great to promote your company and your products, increase conversions and sometimes also to engage customers and solve issues. However, for building a community around your brand it is important to understand what is a community, the needs of your audiences, and to consider strategies and communication channels.

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