Once the value that brand communities can contribute to brand development and success was realized, “community” became a big buzzword in the digital marketing world. Not too long ago, social media channels such as Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and many others took over the online space for people to interact, share their knowledge, opinions and other content, as well as to collaborate and learn from each other. Now history is repeating itself, but in reverse; forums and online communities are taking over the online space and proving to be more valuable for companies and businesses than ever. So why is this happening?
First of all, everyone is on Facebook nowadays – private persons, celebrities, big companies, small- and mid-enterprises, freelancers and self-employed professionals. With the changes to the Facebook algorithm regarding ads exposure and feed preferences towards friends and groups, it is getting more and more difficult for companies to reach their exact target groups. Furthermore, according to the study conducted by the Pew Research Centre in September 2018, there has been a big shift in the behavior of Facebook users. In 2017, 42% took an active break from Facebook, whereas 74% of the users have adjusted their privacy settings, reduced the amount of time they spend on Facebook or even deleted the app from their phones.
It's no wonder that Facebook is trying to gain back the spotlight among brands and companies by claiming to be THE space for communities. And Facebook is not kidding, the word community is everywhere – there is a whole Facebook community page and in February 2018 there was even a Facebook Communities Summit, where outstanding Facebook community builders such as group or page admins were invited to London.
However, something has to be made clear: Facebook groups are not communities and they hardly replace brand communities. Let us break down the myths and assumptions about the impact of Facebook groups and brand communities on your brand.
Communication vs. Sales
The reason why Facebook decided to change the algorithm was the realization that paid ads were taking over the entire feed. At the same time another process was noted, namely the uprising and popularity of groups. So officially the groups were made into communities. However, the advertisements in the feed did not disappear completely – they were moved into the groups and, according to Digiday UK, Facebook groups have been actively pitched to advertisers since then. Therefore, the whole idea of turning users to co-creators and influencers instead of consumers simply failed. The power is basically centralized, because even though the members feel ownership for the content, there are still strict rules and regulations on the content, and the main organization and exposure to advertisement is run by the brand or company itself.
Monologue vs. Dialogue
We must remember that the core idea of communities is transparent communication that offers value to each community member. In this way, brands can benefit within their marketing and sales department and create long-term connections with their audience, which eventually can generate new customers and contribute to a positive corporate image (see our post “Why communities are the best fuel to drive customer-centered marketing”). In Facebook groups, the main communication happens in the form of a monologue. We all remember what happened to Google+ back in 2012: the low activity levels on the channel made it look like a “ghost town”. Taking into consideration Socialbakers statistics from August 2018, it is clear that German brand interaction on Facebook is far behind a real dialogue. Brands are inactive when it comes to two-way communication and they focus more on paid advertisement and content sharing.
Facebook does not make communication in general particularly easy; private chats between group members have to be on Messenger, and are only possible if the group members are connected. Also, admins cannot create sub-groups for different topics within one community, which would offer more structure and clarity. So the group members do not feel involved and turn to observers, whereas the conversation is mainly led by the brand itself or not at all.
Needs of the audiences vs. Marketing hypes
As we already stated in our article “How to build your brand community in 6 steps”, it is vital to find the appropriate channel with appropriate tools and options for the brand community, because people are different and they have different needs. Audiences and community members of Starbucks might have very different needs from Lego fans. Facebook is only one of the possible community channels, so it depends on your marketing format and engagement strategy, as well as your budget, as to whether Facebook is appropriate for you or not. Considering the fact that communities are not a group of random people who come together and are motivated by incentives (Facebook ads, campaigns, apps) in order to communicate, it should be well thought through as to which channel is the most appropriate for the brand’s community.
Community managers vs. Group admins
Taking the perspective of the brands, it is also important to define the role and responsibilities of the community moderator. By fostering a real brand community, it is not about bringing a big number of people into one group. Community management requires doing the homework before the creation of the community. It is about researching and defining the audiences, developing the community strategy and structuring the engagement indices. It is also about defining the added value to the community members first, and finally selecting the communication channel. Then it is about content creation, which matters and which can be mainly continued by the members themselves. So bringing people with the same geolocation and same age into one group and entertaining them with content would be rather a group admin task, mainly managing the people instead of leading them.
Facebook as a social media channel has many qualities; it is great to promote your company and your products, increase conversions and sometimes also to engage customers and solve issues. However, for building a community around your brand it is important to understand what a community is, the needs of your audiences, and to consider strategies and communication channels.