Facebook Groups — a feature introduced in the fall of 2010 — have proven to be effective ways for people to stay in touch with families, friends and other collections of people. But, did you know that Facebook Groups can also be a prime tool for group collaboration and information sharing?
What makes a collaborative, effective Facebook group? Harrison Kratz, an admin of the #PRStudChat Student Forum (a group created to continue the Twitter chat between students, pros and professors), notices a significant difference between Facebook Groups and Google Docs as collaboration vehicles. He explained:
“Facebook group collaboration is more like brainstorming in a coffee shop while google docs is like collaborating in an office. A coffee shop session usually offers creativity and better free thinking. The office setting is a great way to go over results, but may not offer the best creative setting to find new answers through collaboration.”
3 Uses for Facebook Groups
- Organize events. According to Arik Hanson, co-founder of Help a PR Pro Out (#HAPPO on Twitter), Facebook Groups helped 30+ HAPPO champions located throughout the country plan a series of HAPPO Happy Hours. “Facebook Groups has been a great tool for HAPPO. About a month ago, Valerie and I set up a secret Facebook Group for the 30-plus HAPPO champs across the country. The idea? To give us a private space to collaborate and share ideas for future HAPPO events. It’s done that, and more so far. We organized our recent HAPPO Hour event, almost exclusively on the Facebook Group. I think I sent one email–the rest of the communication was on Groups. This was nice because it freed up my email inbox, and allowed everyone to chime in without the “reply all” syndrome. It’s also allowed the champs to share HAPPO posts so the rest of the group can share (easily on Facebook) when they want.”
- Improve communication with team members. Shonali Burke, editor of Women Grow Business, was primarily communicating with the site’s contributors via email, until she decided to experiment with groups. “Since almost all the WGB bloggers are connected on Facebook, I thought it would be interesting to see if a group could serve as an added venue for interaction and support (since, let’s face it, most people like us are on the platform pretty frequently). It took off almost immediately. I still send the emails out occasionally, since not everyone who contributes is on Facebook, but they are few and far between.”
- Generate Ongoing Discussion Among Group Members. Whether you’re belong to an organization that regularly meets in person, such as professional associations, service organizations, or committees, or if you’re part of a “virtual group,” Facebook Groups can foster an ongoing dialogue and build stronger bonds between participants. Harrison Kratz is a long-time participate in the monthly #prstudchat Twitter dialogue and saw an opportunity with Facebook Groups to create a more frequent, in-depth dialogue among chat participants. “Posting a controversial topic generates some amazing conversation, but definitely can go awry due to a variation in the individuals’ approach a certain topic. Posing questions gets the most discussion and keeps the group lively and that is my favorite part,” he explained.
Advice from Group Administrators
One benefit of collaborating via Facebook Groups is the minimal learning curve. As HAPPO co-founder Valerie Simon notes, “There is virtually no training needed by participants and it provides an easy, efficient and timely way to share information and offer discussion.” However, familiarity with the platform doesn’t automatically translate to a lively, active group. Not every group is a runaway success.
So, if you’re managing a Facebook group, what can you do to cultivate a collaborative, interactive environment? Some tips from those who are practicing what they preach:
- Push community, not sales. David Spinks, who administers a multiple Facebook Groups, observed that an emphasis on community, as opposed to a brand, makes for a more lively group. As he put it: “Can a business use facebook groups? Definitely. But, it has to be community focused, not brand focused. That is, unless there is already a strong community built around the brand.” Or, put another way, Shonali said, “I feel quite strongly that such groups should not be used to ‘sell;’ rather, to build community and slowly drive interest and engagement.”
- Effective moderation. Both Harrison and Shonali note that moderation is key to their groups’ success. Shonali doesn’t view the Women Grow Business group as “her” group. Instead, it’s the community’s group, and she tries to moderate it as such. If topics or people start to get off-topic, that’s where a moderator is critical. “With so many people talking in an informal setting, answers and topics can very easily become inconsistent with the group’s purpose. A level headed and strong moderator will always be able to keep the discussion and direction on the right track,” Harrison explained.
- Keep members focused. The most effective groups seem to be the ones built around a common theme, or designed to bring like-minded people together. The HAPPO group is a private group limited to HAPPO champions from around the country. Everyone who is part of the group is there to support the cause. Likewise, Women Grow Business was initially created for the site’s contributors, but Shonali does invite other women to the group — as long as they have a connection to women and entrepreneurship. Meanwhile, the #prStudChat Student Forum provides discussion opportunities for students to bounce ideas off each other, ask questions in a safe environment, and learn from people with common experiences.
- Understand the community you’re trying to build. Shonali hit the nail on the head when she said, “One of the keys to a successful group, I think, is to understand the community you’re trying to build. If it’s a relatively new community, it will probably take more time for people to get active in it. Another factor is how strongly people feel connected to others in the group; if they feel safe, they will be more likely to ask questions, brainstorm and share information. Education is also, I think, a key component of successful groups; people are more likely to participate in groups where they think they will learn something.”
- Make sure people want to communicate via groups. A group won’t be successful if the members aren’t comfortable. As Valerie reminded me, “Because Facebook is still for many a primarily personal platform, I do think it is very important to consider the participants before determining whether the platform is suitable… particularly for businesses.” While many of you reading this are in PR and probably relatively comfortable with the blurring between personal and professional lines, there are still lots of people who aren’t as open to mixing their work and home lives. If people feel forced to participate, it won’t bode well for the community you’re trying to establish.
Your turn. Are you a member of any effective Facebook Groups? What makes them run so well? If you manage a group, what advice would you offer?