01.13.2015

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Choosing a platform for your community is a huge responsibility. The amount of choices and the opacity of the process often stops people dead in their tracks. They never choose a platform and they never get started.

Facebook groups offer a good solution for those who are overwhelmed because it is so easy to just hit “go” and start building. But there are major pros and major cons to going with Facebook. You must be informed before moving forward.

Eliza Davidson, Udemy’s Instructor Community Manager, shares with us exactly why Udemy uses Facebook to engage their instructors and how they have grown their community to over 24,000 members in less than two years.

Eliza candidly explains Facebook’s benefits and its limitations and how she plans to grow the group in the future.

If you’re considering starting your community on Facebook, this is everything you need to know to do it right or to consider other options.

Note: we’re talking about Facebook Groups, not Pages.

Starting the Facebook Group

You may have read how Gagan Bayani, the co-founder of Udemy, got the first instructors to join the supply-side of the marketplace. But moving to Facebook was about scaling that effort, both in terms of quality and quantity.

Their teachers had a lot of questions and didn’t always know how to get started with the platform. This is the problem they set out to solve with a community.

Their goal was to give the new and existing instructors the space to learn from one another. Today, instructors can use the group to share best practices around creating new courses together, the bread and butter of the Udemy business model.

As such, the community has had serious business results. “Each month, about 10,000 new instructors start the process of creating a course,” says Eliza. Out of those, only “about 1,000 publish,” and then, of those “700 are approved into the marketplace.”

However, of those who interact even just one time in the Facebook group, the number of courses approved increases four times the typical rate.

Udemy instructors are four times more likely to create a course if they’re part of the Facebook group.

That means Udemy gets more content, more supply for their marketplace and ultimately, more revenue.

Udemy actually offers two separate Facebook groups for instructors, both meant to deepen engagement on the instructor side as members move from curious subject matter enthusiasts to course instructors to mentors of other instructors.

“Both of the groups are actively managed: the Studio is for new instructors just starting the course creation process (although many existing instructors hang out there also); the Faculty Lounge is only for instructors with an approved course on the Marketplace.” Here, we’ll talk mainly about the Studio as the community that gets instructors over the largest hump to engagement: first course creation.

To start the Facebook group, the community team ran through a three-step process:

  1. Define the value of the community
  2. Determine metrics to measure success
  3. Launch it: Test different types of content and outreach

1. Define the Value of the Community

Before launching, Eliza and the team knew they had to define the value of the Facebook group. Without a clear value proposition, there would be no point in launching at all.

“The Studio began as a support channel for instructors. Udemy’s end-customer are learners, so their customer service team was often split between handling learner questions and instructor questions”, Eliza explains.

As a result, instructors didn’t get the resources and support they needed to create high-quality courses, which was effectively limiting the amount of content that Udemy could offer to their marketplace (and limiting business growth overall).

In addition, they knew that they had to get the motivational pulls correct, convincing their community that Udemy’s success would spell more success for them. And it most certainly has worked out that way: Udemy instructors get paid for the courses they sell. The larger Udemy grows, the more earning potential instructors have.

Today, the average Udemy instructor makes $7,000 from one course. The top 10 instructors on Udemy have now made $10 million.

“There was a lot of attrition before we launched the Facebook group,” Eliza explains. Over time, the group also came to form around support for instructors as they were creating courses.

“The instructor barrier to creating a course is really high. People do this work alone, and it’s hard to keep up morale when you’re working alone. Support can get you up that mountain.”

udemy studio cmx

A snapshot of the Udemy Studio page with over 24,000 members

2. Determine Metrics to Measure Success

Second, the team defined some of the metrics for success: “The whole purpose of the Facebook group is to create engagement with a purpose,” explains Eliza. “We wanted to prove out how the group was helping with course quality.”

The purpose here was to get more instructors creating high-quality courses, so they’re careful to measure the number of courses created by community members as well as the overall quality scores of these courses.

In addition, they monitor generally the engagement rates in the community to ensure that they’re doing enough to continually engage community members.

“There are hundreds of posts per day with hundreds of comments each,” says Eliza. “Instructors don’t just talk about course creation either. There are conversations about hobbies, where everyone is from… and there is unofficial mentorship happening.”

Their group is now so big that getting concrete interaction numbers is a nearly impossible task (you can dig into Facebook Group metrics with some coding know-how as long as your group isn’t as massive as Udemy’s).

They consider this a good problem to have and have reconciled their lack of data power in exchange for the freedom and engagement levels that Facebook groups provides.

3. Just Launch It: Test Different Types of Content and Outreach

When launching a new community, we can ponder endlessly what kinds of posts will spark engagement. Unfortunately, simply pondering these questions does nothing to move the needle.

Instead, Eliza and the team jumped right in and tried several different types of content to intiailly engage people after the group launched.

The most successful type of content they tried was around sharing production tips with instructors. While their community was full of subject matter experts, they were not video production experts. So they really needed help figuring how to create quality videos. That became a large value proposition for the community.

From there, they started a series of posts around producing great content: “Instructors would upload their setups. These were 30-second videos where instructors showed their production setup and others would offer feedback on sound quality and more.”

Immediately, people started to get to know each other and offer tips and best practices.

Udemy Studio Setups

An example of a post about course setups, which elicited a handful of helpful feedback in less than an hour

“This was also a place for instructional design feedback,” which is something the internal Udemy team never could have done without the help of instructors in the community. At some point, they would have reached a breaking point. Instead, they scaled feedback to the instructors who were deeply invested in Udemy’s success.

In effect, Udemy was “able to outsource quality assurance to the community, connecting experts to each other.”

As Eliza explains, “There actually is quite a rigorous quality review process from the Udemy team on every published course, but that is more focused on things like production quality, structure, organization, whereas instructors can help give their peers advice on course topic-specific questions (which we cannot do).”

Defining Structure After Launch

Once your community is running and growing quickly, you can start to create more structure in order to scale.

Approving new members became a challenge.

Once the group started to balloon in size, Eliza and the team set up a formal – but manual – approval process for new members. Today, that process has become more and more automated and integrated into the Udemy instructor sign-up process.

“We started with a Google form. It was too time-consuming. Instead, we created a lecture around joining the Facebook group and put it into our course on creating a course.” Operationalizing community flows effectively saved them hundreds of hours of time they would have spend onboarding new instructors.

These days, they still manually approve all members. Facebook forces you to approve members one by one (one of the cons that we’ll discuss below).

“We have to cross-check the person’s name and email in an Excel document of our instructors. If you’re not in the database, we won’t admit you.”

At first, they were admitting 20 new people per week. Now, that rate is much higher and it becomes rather time consuming to do this. In effect, they defined a very clear structure for automating new member onboarding.

They also automated the welcome message to every new member of the facebook group. 

“We have a welcome packet for everyone who joins. It’s a one-page PDF that includes guidelines, how to use the group effectively, and more.”

It’s essential that they do have some structure in the community so that they keep things moving in the right direction. Again, this is a purpose-driven community, so it’s absolutely essential that that purpose is paramount.

“We do introductions threads that are often active for a week. We share what new members specialties are. It’s a great way of getting to know people and getting to know the most engaged people.”

When you sign up for the course, you get a personal email from a team member that looks like this:

udemy intro

Pros & Cons of Facebook as a Community Platform

Pros of the Facebook Group

There are a few obvious benefits of going with Facebook, which Eliza said far outweighed the costs for her in choosing it for Udemy, but be sure to weigh the cons seriously against these. 

  • Price: “It’s free.” Need we say more?
  • Relationships: “Facebook feels like a real conversation and you feel like you really know the people in your community,” Eliza explains. “There is no exclusivity here. It’s a great community.” Everyone has Facebook, so these relationships can be built more easily.
  • Support: “The group humanizes the team. We can @reply actual people and the instructors know that we’re real too.” Each Udemy Admin (pictured below) has their own Udemy Facebook account, separating work from their personal lives without taking away the human element.
  • Quality Control: While we can’t say for sure whether that is a self-selection bias, we can certainly say that giving these users a space to talk about course creation does increase the quality of the content they produce.
  • Easy to Start and Maintain: “Everyone is already on Facebook. There’s a very low bar to join.”
  • Easy to Engage: Since people are already on Facebook, pinging people to get them to re-engage is incredibly easy.
  • Easy to Scale (So Long As You Don’t Need Much): “I was worried about the size of the community at 900, but even now it’s still manageable.”

UdemyStudio:

Cons of the Facebook Group

We won’t tip toe around the cons here. You need to consider each of these and decide if you’re comfortable with these drawbacks before you choose Facebook. Changing platforms is an almost-impossible task. As Eliza explains: “You have to be comfortable with uncertainty with Facebook. You don’t own the platform.” 

  • Long-Term Cost: You may need to switch off of Facebook at some point since you won’t have access to members’ emails and other information you may need as you think of scaling and growing further. The cost of switching platforms is enormous, not only in the sheer price of a new platform. You’ll also lose many members in the shuffle.
  • Your Community Cannot Be Measured: “You have to be comfortable with the unknown. We don’t know how many people are interacting in the community at this point.”
  • Your Conversations Are Not Easy to Find Again: “Facebook is not a great place to store information. It is not an archived set of common questions and answers. It is a conversation.”
  • Your Community May Not Want to Mix Business with Personal: “Some people don’t want to mix business with their personal Facebook profile”
  • You Don’t Have a Direct One-to-One Contact Line: Of course, Facebook owns all these relationships, so if you need your community members email addresses, you’d better ask for them up front or in an earlier part of the registration process. Udemy gets around this by verifying all members in an Excel document, so that they have their contact information when needed.

The Best Litmus Test for Launching a Facebook Group

Eliza gave us a great litmus test for deciding whether or not to go with Facebook: “If your community does not do the bulk of their work on the site itself [as they might, say, on Reddit] and instead just needs a place to convene, then Facebook is fine.”

Have you launched a community using Facebook Groups? Are there other pros and cons you’d like to share? Let us know in the comments.

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Carrie Melissa Jones

Carrie Melissa Jones | @caremjo

Carrie is the COO and Founding Partner of CMX. She has built community at Chegg and Scribd and has consulted with community companies around the world. She lives in Seattle, WA with her pup, Bruce Wayne.