Late last year, Facebook announced three major changes to the Facebook platform: more transparency about the user data that apps use, the ability to download profile information and a complete reworking of Facebook Groups. All three are likely to improve the Facebook experience for all users, which ultimately is a big win for the brands who want to continue to be able to reach them there. But it’s the potential of the new Groups functionality that we’re most excited about, both for users and brands alike.
Previously, Facebook Groups was a poorly understood feature with functionality that overlapped with Pages, to the point where some brands were confused as to whether their Facebook presence should be a Page or a Group. Now, Groups are a quick and easy way to bring a specific group of Facebook friends together around a particular topic or interest. And while the new Groups feature is aimed at bringing context to a user’s Facebook experience, socially savvy brands will find ways to capitalize on them as well.
Bite-Sized Bits of Info
First of all, it’s important to keep in mind that a Group is designed to facilitate conversation around a specific topic of interest to a relatively small group. So, for instance, a resort could set up a Group where fans who have scheduled upcoming visits could virtually meet up prior to arrival.
A brand could also use a Group to encourage collaboration on a specific cause marketing initiative or crowdsource fan coverage of an event, similar to the way Twitter #hashtags are used. Creating meaningful Facebook Groups could encourage fans to form stronger social ties with each other, with the brand at the center of those ties.
And while it might pose a bit of a slippery slope for brands that don’t have a disciplined social media strategy in place, a Group could be the ideal place for brand representatives to interact directly with fans, using their own Facebook profiles.
If a specific customer service issue arises, a brand could try to move the discussion of it off of their Page and into a Group established to help their fans with the issue. It’s a far more effective way to discuss a single issue than trudging through 300 comments on a Wall post. It also empowers fans to help each other out and separates a negative conversation thread slightly from the brand’s primary Facebook presence.
For 5% of Fans
Groups could also be used to encourage discussion around any aspect of a brand that has a small but extremely devoted following that might not be of interest to the larger fan base. If certain posts generate a great deal of feedback on the Wall but also coincide with a bump in the number of fans unsubscribing from updates or un-Liking the Page, moving those conversations to a Group might be the solution.
A Persistent Presence for Content
Given the transient nature of Facebook Wall posts, setting up a Group could be a good way to give a persistent presence to something that the brand wants to feature but doesn’t want to post about repeatedly, because of its limited appeal to the larger fan base.
But Wait, There’s More
Active Groups could also pay secondary dividends for the brands that administer them. The brand’s Page admin might use content from their Groups and curate it for the Page. And if Facebook Ad targeting remains unchanged, a brand can include Groups in their media targeting and potentially pull in new fans who have joined a Group but not the main brand Page.
Finally, since Groups will have its own APIs, developers will be able to create applications that leverage Groups in ways that we can’t predict. But it’s a safe bet that their versatility will only increase over time.
Let the Brand Beware
Now, with all of this said, there some significant caveats. In a Group, the most recently commented-on post moves to the top of the page, which makes it difficult to push a specific brand message or bury unpleasant content “below the fold.” Administrators have to use personal Facebook profiles when posting to the Group; they cannot comment or post as the brand itself. And if a brand gets too Group-happy, there’s a danger of fragmenting the fan base and diluting the social messaging strategy.
Groups will never replace Pages, and brands should never use them interchangeably. Also, not all users have access to the new Groups yet, and as with everything else about the Facebook platform, aspects of it are subject to change without notice. But for creative, informed and engaged brands, Facebook Groups could be a powerful and versatile new tool for connecting to and activating fans, and we look forward to discovering new ways to do just that.