A friend recently asked on Facebook about whether to use a Facebook Page or a Facebook Group for his newest project — or indeed whether to run both.
For what it's worth, here was my advice (now elaborated upon):
General Rule of Thumb: Choose
My general rule of thumb (which may be flawed) is that groups and pages have different pros and cons.
For some projects, one is best; for others, it's the other; for yet others, it's a hard call. Regardless, I think it's very rarely best to run both, as by diluting presence and interaction you risk losing some (online presence and social interaction).
There are plenty of web pages that outline the pros and cons [and I've just added yet another one] but in summary I think it's this:
- Are you primarily building a community that interacts, or are you primarily communicating information (to a set of interested people, who again may interact)?
- Ask it another way: if you weren't building within Facebook but were building a stand alone website, which would it be: a blog / news site with comment feature, or a forum?
How Will People Interact?
Here's another consideration: Social media is all about building, well, a social presence. That's to say, people interacting is key. It's why I said repeatedly above "who interact", "with comment feature", and so on.
- Pages gain traction as people "like" and "follow" them.
- Groups gain traction as people "join" them.
That is a different process, with different benefits:
- Pages have a lower barrier for entry. "Liking" something is easily done. You can follow every post with interest, or dip in from arms' length. But, as a result, engagement from your followers will be lower.
- Groups have a higher barrier for entry. Even assuming it's a public group, they need to click to join, and wait to be approved by a group admin. This feels like a bigger commitment, but as a result they feel like members not just readers.
This means you need to decide what you're aim is. Do you want the maximum number of people to notice your brand, whatever the depth of their engagement, or are you aiming to build a smaller yet more dedicated community of followers?
This is actually just rephrasing my "blog site" versus "forum" analogy. Blogs attract readers, many of whom will dip in and out, and some of whom may comment. A forum requires membership, but (a proportion of) those who join are generally keen to take part.
Is Facebook even the right channel?
There's a prior question: Should you be building your online presence on Facebook at all? Or you should go for an "old-fashioned" website, with its own domain name and all that jazz?
I'm not going to answer that here: It's a big question, and I want to keep this post more focused on the "pages versus groups" issue. But I will ask some questions:
- Do you already have a website, and you're considering adding Facebook to your online presence mix, or is your Facebook page / group your first / main online presence?
If you already have a website:
- Why are you wanting to be on Facebook as well?
- What functionality does your existing website have?
- What are you trying to add with Facebook?
- Social media needs active involvement: Does someone have time to post / reply to comments / etc. on top of the time required to keep your website current?
If you're establishing your first online presence:
- Does Facebook Groups have the forum capabilities you need, or do you need self-hosted forum software to have all the features you're after? (Assume you can't migrate later).
- Does a Facebook Page have the capabilities you're after (in terms of publishing regular posts, customising look and feel, contact and other static pages, menu structure to help people find existing entries), or do you need a Wordpress site (or similar) instead?
- Do you have the expertise required to run and maintain a Wordpress / Drupal / vBulletin site? This includes applying security updates in a prompt fashion? Or is Facebook a quicker more convenient way to get online?
- Do you have a budget for domain registration and hosting? Forums particularly, when they get busy, are resource intensive and cannot run on cheapest shared hosting.
And then in general:
- Have you considered Facebook's terms and conditions? Although you will be the admin / owner of your group / page respectively, on Facebook you're still subject to their:
- Terms and conditions. Certain things are unacceptable to Facebook, and get removed. You'll have seen the headlines when this is done sensationally.
I don't consider myself a social media guru. This post is just what a little guy learned along the way. So my online presence will be far from perfectly executed. But if some concrete examples help illustrate the above principles, then here you are:
- Our church has a Page. This was a hard call to make, but it boiled down to why I wanted us to have a Facebook presence. (We already had a website). Ultimately, I wanted it to be another source of real-time news, that can feed out good news about recent events, announce forthcoming ones, and get the word out about planned developments. That meant having a small number of contributors who can post on behalf of the page. I definitely wanted there to be social interaction, which may have suggested we should have a Group. But you get social interaction with a Page, too. People can comment, tag each other, and so on.
- I started a small Group for UK-based coffee enthusiasts. That has stayed small, because promoting it is not a priority, but I nevertheless wanted somewhere where a small group of friends could discuss anything relating to the UK speciality coffee scene, and where others we don't know in person could also join in. That is definitely a Group. I'm no coffee guru, and the others in the group would be peers, so we needed something where anyone can post, not just an editorial team.
- I started an equally small, and not really growing, forum for Brits who travel in France and more widely. That one, I started as a separate forum rather than a Facebook group. That's because there are features (search, moderation tools, premium membership) that I wanted to bake into the site, and that Facebook doesn't support.
Over to you, my readers. I'm sure some of you have far more experience of this than I do.
Please add your thoughts on this debate in the comments below.