Should I start my online community on Facebook?
We work with communities every day.
When talking to newer communities, we’re finding more often that they’ve started on social media, which makes sense.
A free platform where millions of people live is an ideal place to start something.
However, today we're going to talk about how important it is to build your community off of Facebook (or any other platform) so that your community can genuinely thrive long term.
Building a community on Facebook is like renting an apartment
Building a community on Facebook is like renting an apartment. You don't own anything, and they can revoke you at any time.
Facebook can change the rules at any time, shut down your community at any time, or change the look and feel of your community at any time.
Facebook is a great place to build an audience and even an individual community. It's just not the best place to create a big, broad community that encompasses many different people with different interests.
How to use Facebook to start
I’m going to start by saying that using Facebook to start your community only makes sense for interest-based communities; parenting groups, classic car owners etc.
If you’re looking to build a community around an existing business, skip to the next stage! For example, Monzo has a thriving community within their forums.
Start by creating a group for your community on Facebook, then invite people to join.
You can use the group as a place where you post information, share resources, and discuss topics. The more clearly you define what the group is for (and what it’s not), the easier it will be for members to find value in participating.
Set group rules
While setting up your group, it's important to make sure people know what they can and can't do.
First, this will help them avoid making mistakes that will embarrass them in front of their friends (or worse), but it will also make sure everyone feels comfortable in the group.
Once you've set up your group rules, you'll want to reach out beyond Facebook itself—for example: by posting updates on Twitter or inviting people interested in joining a discussion on Reddit. Once again, it's important to make sure that everyone knows the expectations ahead of time, so they don't feel confused or unsure about what they're doing there.
Give people a voice, not just you
You have the opportunity to create a community that is more than just you. The key to this is giving people a voice, not just you. At first, it may seem like the most obvious thing in the world, but putting yourself aside and letting others speak up can be difficult for some people.
Staying open-minded about what others have to say can help foster discussion and growth within your community. If someone has an idea or suggestion for how you could improve your content, consider implementing it!
This will encourage other members of your group to share their ideas as well—and they'll feel more invested in what happens next because they've had some influence on previous decisions made by your group (even if those decisions didn't go their way).
As your community grows, you should be looking to diversify your platform. The perfect next step would be an email newsletter.
The wonderful thing about an email newsletter list is its simplicity and transportability.
Facebook could close your group tomorrow, but if you have your members stored away in an email list, you can email them directly. You have ownership over that data.
Depending on the community type, you may use a community platform such as Circle, Slack or even something bespoke.
The critical thing to remember when it comes to diversification is that you need ownership of the core, vital membership data.
You may find yourself wishing for new features or specific tools as your community grows. For instance, Fusion researched various conferencing platforms before deciding that their niche required a specific set of features that could only be built from scratch.
FMLV knew that the off-the-shelf directory platforms wouldn’t suit the ever-growing list of requirements needed for their website.
Building a bespoke platform, or using a platform which allows you to expand via API integrations, will give you longevity.
Run a community of classic car owners? Why not build a helpful tool to calculate Car Tax?
Grown one of the largest cross-stitch communities? What about a bespoke marketplace and designer tool? (see here; https://steadfastcollective.com/work/love-it-stitch-it)
Overall, Facebook is not a bad place to start. There are many benefits, but also some drawbacks if you're looking to grow your community into something more.
If you're looking to take the next step with your community - or if you have any questions - do reach out to the team at Steadfast Collective.