06.27.2017

Back in January 2016, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced that more than 1 billion users had used Facebook’s Groups features to connect with likeminded individuals in a month.

Those were the early signs that Facebook Groups were massively impacting our experience with community. About a year later, Zuckerberg published the manifesto on building global community, and now on June 22, he announced that Facebook, for the first time ever, would change its mission statement to “empower people to build community and bring the world closer together.”

The CMX team was at Facebook’s first-ever Communities Summit in Chicago where the announcement was made. We were among an elite group of 300 Facebook Group Power Admins and received stunning validation of what our community here at CMX has been working toward for years.

What does all this mean for you and the community industry? Facebook is a massive business that has to focus on profit to please shareholders. Can they make a genuine investment in community that has a positive effect on the entire industry – and the world at large? Will this shift change the industry for the better? For full transparency, Facebook is a client. But we’ve been building our community on Facebook for years and have always been straight with our community in our analysis of the industry.

Here’s our take…

Expect More Attention and Support

Many people are skeptical about Facebook’s promise to the world: from Techcrunch to Mighty Networks. A change in a mission statement is not a change in business practices until day after day, one change on top of another, the entire business has shifted. This takes time. But the proclamation itself is vital to all of us.

Skepticism aside, Facebook’s announcement puts online community on the map in a way we have never, ever seen before. Facebook is the largest social network in the world, and it is one of the largest businesses in the world. They set the example. Facebook has now made a clear, direct investment in community, which will set a good example for countless other companies. They are generally ahead of the curve, and other companies will continue to catch on. More and more brands will attempt to capture belonging and connection as a brand value.

This intention also means Facebook will likely invest in more research, tools and organizations in the community space. That means more data, resources and businesses pushing the industry forward.

Most importantly, as we’ve seen in other developments around the community industry, the emphasis is moving towards builders like yourselves. Take note: Facebook created a summit for Group Admins, not VPs of Marketing. 

The priority of Facebook will become the priority of the companies that are built around and reliant on Facebook. There are already whole lot of companies that are deeply invested in Facebook groups as a partner, a marketing channel and as a community management tool, from Udemy to Buzzfeed to us here at CMX. Expect more companies to follow suit.

The Lady Bikers of California Facebook Group Leaders

More People Will Need Community Training

At the Summit itself, the CMX team had the opportunity to help these incredible Admins frame their strategies. These Admins were people of all ages, from all over the world, building communities in an incredible range of interests from locksmiths to birdwatchers to lady motorcyclists to business builders to religious leaders.

Everyone had one thing in common: they cared deeply about their community and their members. Usually, they didn’t plan to build massive communities. They just started connecting people, and their communities grew organically.

This is common for community builders. The art of community comes naturally, but bringing structure and strategy to that work isn’t something they’ve had to do.

For Facebook, they’ve learned that simply connecting people isn’t enough. The quality of those connections is what matters, and building “meaningful” community is critical.

The 5 qualities of meaningful groups at Facebook

At the scale of some of the groups on Facebook, some reaching millions of members, we already know that without a clear strategy, admins will struggle to keep up with moderation, vetting, and culture creation.

This is where your skills are going to be vital. As more people build communities, they’ll look to you for advice, expertise and best practices. Get ready to share yours more widely and for more people to understand what you do for a living.

Money Will Move Into Community 

One of the many things we noticed at the Summit was that these Admins are spending countless hours running their groups, whether they be focused on fitness, blogging, beauty, or military families.

The big question that will need to be answered over the next few years: How will community builders sustain their work financially?

Facebook does not currently have a way to pay Admins directly through Groups (as a membership platform like Higher Logic or an association management platform might). We foresee a day in which this can happen, and in which more and more businesses make community an important piece of their customer experience journey, if not central to their business model.

If community is central to your business model, you’d better believe you’re going to get more resources. We’ve been talking about this change for years, and it is coming closer to us day by day.

Facebook Communities Summit mural

Artists painted a mural of the groups that were present

Discovery Is Central to Your Community Success on Facebook

One of the biggest values of building a community on Facebook has always been the reach. That’s the big trade off, you give up control, but growth and retention are a lot easier.

Making your group discoverable will be key. Facebook is focusing intensely on tagging by categories and helping you identify similar groups. And with new linking functionality, you can now link partnered groups or other groups you own.

This means that as your community matures and splinters into multiple groups, you can still control group activity. It also means that you can partner with a business and they can link to your group to further their goals and vice-versa. Facebook’s major strength is in how it has made people discoverable to one another (think Instagram’s location features). Expect the same from Groups.

Want to ensure your Group benefits from these changes? Update your tags, categories, and locations now, folks!

There are a lot of amazing community tools available today. Each one is different and will have different advantages. For many, Facebook Groups still won’t be the right solution. The point is not that Facebook Groups will be the end-all-be-all for building community online. That said, Facebook’s decision to place a focus on building meaningful communities, and developing new features for groups, instantly affects billions of people and how they experience community in the digital age.

At the end of the day, that’s the purpose behind the work that all community builders are doing… creating deeper, more meaningful connection for people.

What specific features did Facebook roll out at the Summit? Here’s the quick take:  

  1. Insights: You now have access to real-time data behind your community growth, content performance, user specific activity and a number of other details. You can also export all your data. This is exciting because it represents a big shift in Facebook treating groups as a professional platform, rather than a casual tool.

    Some insights from the CMX group

  2. Linked Groups: These are not quite “subgroups,” but you can now link up multiple groups so if your members have specific needs, they can see the related groups that are available to them. This makes your group more discoverable as well, and they have quietly rolled out more robust category tagging and geo-tagging in the past few weeks. This is also a big step in the right direction for helping communities scale, as we know that when communities get big enough, they will start to form subgroups.
  3. Filters for Member Requests: A big issue for really large communities is managing all the member requests that come in on a daily basis. You can now filter by gender, answered questions, how recently people joined Facebook and location. This will help those communities scale and keep out those who don’t qualify.
  4. Scheduled Posts: You can choose a date and time to post your content, so you can plan your content in advance. Again, moving in the direction of more professional community management.
  5. New Moderation Tools: You have a few more options when you remove members now, which allows you to remove other content they’ve created so they cannot wreak havoc, and even ban other members they’ve invited. For controversial communities, having troll members storm in and invite friends to overwhelm admins is not uncommon. And you thought your job was stressful…

In addition to those features, they’ve recently released:

  • Questionnaire Feature for Member Requests: You can ask people to answer up to three questions when they request to join your group, so you can vet everyone who joins. The overwhelming consensus among Admins is that this is helping them keep out bad actors.
  • Groups for Pages: You can connect your groups to a page, and post to your group as a page. This helps admins who’d rather not use their personal identity. It’s also a big statement because they’re telling page owners (businesses) that they should also invest in building community.

Yes, there are limitations to every feature that was rolled out. From our experience there, we know this is a work in progress and things are definitely moving in the right direction.

This is one small step in a major shift forward. This will affect not only those building communities on Facebook Groups, but everyone who is working hard to build community.

Onward.

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David Spinks

David Spinks | @DavidSpinks

David is the Founder and CEO of CMX. He's been building digital communities since he was 13, and has trained a number of the world's leading businesses in community strategy. He created CMX to unite the community industry, and bring community professionals the resources, network and training they need to thrive.