With the theme of this year’s F8 centered around “The Future is Private,” it’s no surprise that Facebook Groups were a main topic throughout the 2-day conference. In fact, FB5 (Facebook’s newest look and feel) makes Groups central to the revamped user experience, with an entire tab devoted to your own Groups and a multitude of ways to discover new Groups. While Facebook may be making what feels like a radical shift in focus towards this largely private product – they are essentially responding to a deep-rooted, non-radical human behavior: the need for social cohesion and community. Even though technology has given us the ability to connect at rapid speed, at any time and across any location – human beings still crave meaningful, personal, community-driven interaction. And they’re finding that through Facebook Groups.
Meaningful groups matter.
In their need to find community, Facebook’s users have been increasingly flocking to spaces within the platform that feel more private. To date, there are over 1.4B people in Groups across the world. More importantly, 400M of those people consider their Groups to be meaningful and fulfilling. People find value in the niche communities they join and build together. The variety, nuance and specificity of Facebook Groups is astounding. There are Groups for pregnant women due in June/July, Groups for vegan cheese lovers, and even Groups for Instant Pot Vietnamese cooking connoisseurs. Beyond just fueling passions, Groups are often a source of critical connection during times of need. Groups for parents of children with Cystic Fibrosis provide a place for support and information-sharing when dealing with a rare disease. Local neighborhood Groups can help newcomers develop new friendships when things feel especially lonely. And while we often hear that social media is contributing to depression, loneliness, and isolation, Facebook Groups are often a space where people feel a sense of belonging and an overall improved state of well-being.
Connect with the most passionate consumers.
Brands and businesses cannot ignore the untapped value of Facebook Groups. Unlike other digital spaces, these communities aren’t comprised of passive, numbly-scrolling users. They are filled with active, engaged and devoted fans – already self-categorized into nuanced, qualified targets like active runners, health nuts, new homeowners or self-taught cooks. The ability to identify and reach people who matter to your brand is unparalleled within Facebook Groups.
The key is knowing how to reach them.
Find your tribes.
Arguably the most important factor, brands need to first understand what sorts of sub-communities exist within their current customer base. This means looking beyond the standard psychographics or typical age demos. It’s about finding the passionate fans and advocates that may exist one layer deeper. For Airbnb, it was identifying their most experienced hosts who wanted to mentor newcomer hosts, leading to their formation of the Community Leaders Group. For Adidas, it was local subsets of devoted runners across the world, ultimately kick-starting their Adidas Runners Groups. However cliché, finding your brand’s “tribe” is essential to building an authentic foundation for a Facebook Group – and can be a make-or-break factor for its success.
Uncover the right insight to drive value.
Once you’ve identified a given community, it’s equally important to dig for meaningful insights. What kind of support does that community need? Is there an obvious gap that your brand can fill? How does creating this space add value? In the last few years, Conde Nast realized they had an entire group of female readers who were exchanging travel advice across their digital properties. This insight led to the creation of their Women Who Travel Group, which provides a private space for women to share their stories and swap tips for travel. With over 134,000+ members, this Group is seeing 3x more engagement than their main page. By building on a specific community – and tapping into a real, data-driven insight – Conde Nast was able to fill a need and provide value, all while staying authentic and on brand.
A different approach to branding.
In order to preserve a meaningful user experience, brands have to be strategic about how to name and brand their Facebook Group. For a majority of effective brand-driven Groups, the branding itself isn’t super obvious or in-your-face. The aforementioned Conde Nast Group is broadly named “Women Who Travel.” Similarly, the wildly successful Starbucks PSL-lovers Group is distinctly titled “Leaf Rakers Society.” In both examples, the experience feels welcoming, private and engaging to users – essentially the opposite of advertising. Yet, each brand was still able to successfully build a bridge to a high-qualified group of consumers, ultimately leading to long-term brand favorability and connectedness.
Make it self-sustaining.
When it comes down to launching a Facebook Group, it’s easy to feel intimidated. A common myth is that maintaining a Facebook Group will require a ton of evergreen content – and will take a massive toll on creative and strategic resources. And while it may take some heavy lifting up front, the ultimate goal for any brand should be to create a self-sustaining group. If we’re doing our jobs right (finding our communities and tapping into a real need), the Group will naturally find its independence – with most of the content, stories and discussions coming from the users themselves, not the brand. And this only adds to the authenticity and consumer-first experience that all brands should aim to foster within their Facebook Group. This is the mark of a true success.
Focus on community moderation.
Where a brand really does need to play a role is in the security and safety of the Group itself. Most of the effort in maintaining a branded Group is enforcing a strict code of conduct and devoting resources to consistent Group moderation. Because these spaces feel so intimate, a feeling of trust is critical to longevity. The minute you lose that trust, the community starts to erode. By letting a troll run loose or allowing members to break established rules, you can easily lose all of the progress you’ve worked so hard to build. An investment in community moderation is not a nice-to-have, but a mandatory in this space.
Meaningful Groups yield meaty results.
In an age where any decision to shift money or resources to a new platform requires risk (and needs to drive hard-hitting business goals), starting a Facebook Group can seem like a tough sell. So…is it worth it?
Beyond just being able to tap into a rich, high-quality subset of your consumers, the immeasurable returns you could yield from a Facebook Group are truly exciting. Take the Adidas Runners Groups, for example. By creating these Groups, Adidas now has a goldmine of user-generated-content from its most authentic fans. They’ve pulled hundreds of stories, photos and videos from this Group to use across their social channels and website. They’ve even featured Group members in their video and TV spots. On top of mining for content, Adidas is also bringing Group members into their brand planning process, tapping fans to advise on new activations and even leveraging communities to do product testing of new apparel or equipment.
While these returns are largely qualitative, there are also new ways to measure the quantitative impact of Groups. Brands are now experimenting with Facebook Pixels for Groups in an effort to understand whether engagement in Groups actually leads to brand loyalty, affinity or even sales. The ability to tie Groups directly to business goals could be the final push brands need to take the leap into this space. And I foresee many more brands entering the space this year and beyond.
Embrace the future of private social.
As marketers, it can feel increasingly difficult to navigate the growing demand for privacy within the social media landscape. Our goal of pushing messaging at scale often seems entirely at odds with today’s consumer preference. Facebook Groups provide brands with a unique opportunity to embrace this behavior shift and create space for users to find connection and cohesion. If done right, brands can unlock a whole new, highly-positive side of Facebook and create a rich community of devoted fans.
So go find your tribe. I dare you.
Author: Rachel Datz, VP/Director, Social Strategy, Digitas