Facebook’s rollout of groups for pages in July heralded a return to the concept of community and gave brands another method to engage audiences on a one-to-one basis, in a more controlled environment.
If brands follow the fundamental rules of community management—being authentic, transparent and adding value to the conversation—then Facebook groups for pages will quickly become a critical component of many brands’ social media strategies.
Take, for example, a few of the groups I belong to, which are essentially the things I am most passionate about: West Ham United Football Club, cycling and my local area. Groups for these passion points are full of like-minded people and are virtual spaces to discuss the latest transfer moves for West Ham, recommend the best place to get your car serviced and share war stories of bad customer service in local restaurants.
While groups have always been around, prior to this launch, brands themselves have never been able to set them up using their pages. Now pages can link to groups, encouraging fan discussion and, in some cases, fostering superfans and even customer advocacy.
In order to successfully capitalize on groups for pages, brand managers need to have resources in place in two important areas: moderation and content.
First, you’ll want to address moderation. All brands strive to be transparent and must accept that negative comments are a fact of today’s online society. However, there must be a balance between constructive criticism and content seen as bullying, abusive, offensive, threatening or illegal toward the brand or members of the group itself.
Currently, if you are an admin of a Facebook group, you can approve posts before they appear. Because that can be very time-consuming, often a full-time community manager would need to be assigned to manage the content.
However, similar to LinkedIn, Facebook groups provide two levels of moderation: allowing either everyone to post (any member, moderator or administrator) or only the adminstrator. If you are managing a LinkedIn group, you can pre-moderate individual posts or use the classifier queue to handle any flagged content.
LinkedIn groups also rely on self-moderation by members and its auto-moderation tool, which is able to identify promotional posts.
Going forward, we would hope that Facebook and LinkedIn will provide additional tools for administrators to control inappropriate content so that the essence of the group is not ruined. Currently, the only way to stop spam and abusive content is to delete the indidual post or remove the member from the group altogether.
The second piece to address when running a Facebook group for a brand is ensuring that you have enough quality content. As it builds members and excitement, your group will eventually have plenty of topics and issues to discuss. However, at the very beginning of any group for pages, it’s entirely up to the brand itself to drive the conversations.
Obviously these conversations should never be pushing product or sales-oriented. No one wants to join a group and be sold to.
You may want to have a dedicated content producer to initiate conversations around topics relevant to the group. Members not only need a reason to come; they need a reason to stay.
Also, consider publishing exclusive content when possible for your members. People want to feel like they are getting something of value if they are getting involved with the group.
By introducing groups for pages, Facebook is segmenting how customers interact with brands. Pages will now be for pushing key marketing messages and product information, as well as an outlet for customer support. Groups is a dedicated space for more in-depth, meaningful conversations and relationships between a brand and its fans and for fan expression.
With this important launch, Facebook is attempting to recreate the open and transparent environment of forums and traditional communities.
Facebook pages was honestly never a real online community—it was primarily a place for users to write negative comments and start the process for any customer-service queries. But now, a group run properly by a brand can be an excellent window into what their customers really think about their products and what trends are emerging in the market, as well as a way to achieve tangible insights into how their service or product is used by their audience.
Groups for pages, of course, won’t appeal to all brands. Keep in mind that the premise of a good community is to have a common goal or passion that like-minded people want to talk about.
However, if your group is run in a professional and transparent manner, it can be a tremendous avenue for two-way communication with your audience and offer a snapshot into how they feel about your brand.
I hope the next step from Facebook will be robust analytics and additional functionality allowing one-to-one conversations within the group—perhaps even the ability to send one email to all members, as you can with LinkedIn groups. I’d also like efficient ways to remove content and members and prevent spam and inappropriate content, in order to ensure the success of these groups.
But overall, for brand marketers, groups for pages is a great start from the social network giant.
Lisa Barnett is director of content and innovation at social media agency The Social Element.