What The New Facebook Groups Mean For Community

Yesterday Facebook released a new version of Groups. So what?

Well firstly, phew!, finally Groups and Pages are different again and groups appear to have functionality that would make you want to use them! I don’t know about you but as a marketer and community builder, I struggled between knowing which to use for what, based on the benefits of both.

However now these new Groups have been built from the ground up with a new resolution to facilitate real world groups and communities that already exist, something that gets back to the core of Facebook’s early mission of ‘helping you connect with the people you know.’ And within this, I think there is not only opportuniy, but also it acts as a confirmation about what we’re now thinking about communities in general.

Communities are made of micro-communities

Let me take church as an example, seeing as I used it recently already to illustrate community. A church meets every Sunday for their service, which is the macro community, where all the people come together, no matter what age, demographic, class, gender, ethnicity, etc. But it isn’t the virtue of Sunday in itself that brings this community together nor holds it together. In actual fact, we find subsets of communities within this community, micro community if you will, where people exchange life on a more frequent and deeper level.

Therefore, macro community is the product of micro communities. The strength of this macro community is the strength of these micro communities – the strength of the bonds between the people in them, and the strength of the bonds that link these micro communities together.

This isn’t just a church thing. Take #LikeMinds and you’ll find we have micro communities within our macro community. Take your school, your family, your friendship groups, and so on.

What this reminds me of is this slide below from “The Real Social Network“, an exquisite and mind-shifting, a-ha moment presentation from Paul Adams at Google. It basically says that we can’t approach social networks from the point of view that we have one community, because we don’t. We have different sets of friends who we might say totally different things to. In other words, micro communities that make up our own personal macro community.

Facebook isn’t a single community

Whilst Facebook isn’t a single community, we currently have to treat it like it is. I have to send my Church updates to everyone, and my work updates to everyone. It’s just one community. And when I do share any of this content, it is quite clearly owned by me, not by anyone else.

What Facebook now appear to be doing is giving us a way to groupalise content. Remove my made up word and you’d have ‘co-owned content’ or something similar. The groups allow you to have  group photos, group tags, group emails, group documents – a space where no one is really the owner but where everything is shared.

This means, it I use the image above, I could now form a group for each of those 4 communities above, and govern or guide it accordingly.

Groups in the status feed

From my early testing, these new Groups insert the updates into the news feed for those who are following them, meaning I have a new way to keep track of information that relates to an area of my life. Previously, it was this ability that gave Facebook Pages a competitive advantage over Facebook groups. Facebook Social Plugins, however are currently still only with Pages or customised content, so Groups don’t have a weigh in there yet.

Groups are like contact groups in your email client

When I use Mail to send an email to certain teams, I can type the name of that group. Now, I can do the same with the new Facebook Groups, as well as see it in the news feed. This is a powerful move towards what The Real Social Network was talking about when it said that we don’t have one single community.

The way that I plan to use them is like I’d use this email contact group, a place to foster micro community through curation of people (not so much content.) The difference over the old format of groups is that I get notifications on all the activity. This is really lacking when it comes to Pages, but now means I can track everything in that group. Considering that for many Facebook has replaced email, and is their top communication method other than talking, it makes sense for me now to conduct work through a Facebook group that will automatically keep me up-to-date on all the activity.

The bigger changes

Facebook making this change tells me a lot about how we are changing in our knowledge economy. Facebook has become strikingly powerful at both reflecting and shaping how we think and interact. I’m interested to see how this changes us. ‘Friend’ was their first big thing, then ‘wall’, and then most powerfully with ‘like’. Whats the new verb or noun going to be now?

Your Leading Thoughts

  • Do you see a use for Facebook groups? Or is it effort that you just don’t have time or interest for?
  • Do you observe my same observations about macro and micro community? What has Facebook taught us about how we really approach community?

Archived Comments

  • http://jeffhurtblog.com Anonymous

    Here’s an observation about macro-communities. As a newcomer to a large community it is often difficult to find your micro-community. And we may not feel like we are part of the macro-community until we find our micro-community.

    Using your analogy of a church, if one attends one a mega-churches, it is very easy to feel like a nobody lost in the large crowd. One doesn’t feel a sense of belonging until he/she reaches out to another person and finds the smaller community.

    Facebook is like that. Twitter is like that. Twitter is definitely hard to find the micro-community as a newcomer until we discover hashtags.

    And I find that feeling like we belong is important for us to experience all a community has to offer. We must feel that our macro- or micro-community is a safe, welcoming, affirming and accepting place before we’ll announce that we are officially one of the members of that community.

    So the challenge for macro-communities is to find a way to help new people “fit in” and find their micro-community. It becomes more about growing, building, developing and empowering members of that community to manage the overall experience.

  • / Scott Gould

    Jeff

    So true – so good.

    Lets even forget a mega church. Lets say I go to a church of 200. Most times, people are not greeted, and they certainly don’t feel comfortable to begin talking to people themselves.

    So we must provide smaller social spaces for peoepl to meet people. We do this with events all the time.

    I think that these sub communities don’t just facilitate that original connection – they keep them going. Try having a conversation (not a monologue) with more than 6/7 people – hard work!

    Taking it into Social Media with Twitter and Facbeook, I agree, it’s very hard.

    I would say a few things:

    1. Hashtags and follow fridays, I agree, are like sub-communities, althougth when a hashtag gets going, it’s really hard work if you’re new. I find, for instance, #eventprofs to be hard work.

    2. The facebook comment thread is a micro- and temporal- community. I def believe that.

    3. Indeed we must help people fit in and then continue to facilitate them. I scrapped panels at #likeminds this time in aid of facilitators. Doing the virtually is hard work, and I’m still not sure how.

    Thanks for these insights Jeff – I’ll think on them and get back to you!

    Scott

  • http://gearboxmagazine.com Brian Driggs

    I agree with the micro/macro concept. It’s absolutely true. Coming from the automotive sector, I see communities built around individual platforms or models, and have spent more than a year trying to show as many of them as I can their place in the larger, global community, irrespective of platform or pursuit. The expanded horizons offer access to a diverse set of resources, which can mutually benefit the micro/macro communities.

    Of course, I’m no social media, groups expert. I’ve only been participating, creating, and leading online communities for a decade, now, in FORUMS. I haven’t found value in the LinkedIn groups (which many are saying have been copied by Facebook), and I perceive this as just another virtual land grab by Facebook.

    Here’s to true community leaders out there – the forum admins and site teams, who provide the greatest sources of tech and community for their members.

    Cheers.

  • / Scott Gould

    Hey Brian

    Thanks for stopping by and for the comment.

    Thanks for confirming my hypothesis – it’s good to know that across industries, etc, macro/micro communities happen and that in turn provides great insight.

    This is the thing for me – Facebook Groups are light and casual, whereas Forums are heavy and intense work. Facebook has made conversation quick and easy, and that has to be a plus – right?

    Scott

  • http://gearboxmagazine.com Brian Driggs

    Sure thing, Scott. Mr. Blanchard tipped me to your site recently, so I’ve been following along in the trusty feed reader. This was my first occasion to comment, actually.

    Coming from the global Mitsubishi owner community, I’ve seen how people can benefit from being being involved on both the micro and macro levels. On the micro level, one might specialize in a specific model and pursuit, but given the homogeneity of the automotive industry these days, they can also offer insight to members of other communities, as well as gaining insight themselves through exposure to different perspectives.

    I’m trying to inspire a sort of automotive EU, wherein any member is comfortable in traveling to other communities within the union, knowing his credentials and currency (technical knowledge/experience) will be accepted. Could the drag racer in California learn something from the off-roader in Siberia? I like to think so, and vice versa.

    As for Facebook handling so much of our increasingly online experience, I’m reminded of the Franklin quote about those who would trade liberty for safety. The less we are willing to control for ourselves, the more control we give to others – and it’s not like Facebook is going to give anything back.

    People go to Facebook because it’s easy and convenient. Yet, for all its value, how many people, myself included, go there expressly to kill time? If you’ve got time to kill, you’ve got time to participate in a real community; one which is not using your content to add zeros to Zuckerburg’s bank account, imho. :)

  • / Scott Gould

    Brian!

    Apologise for the late reply. I know it was your first comment – we have quite a tight community here so welcome!

    I like the first point about transferring and talking between micro communities. I’ll add this to a post I’m working on about community, groups and tribes. Seth Godin in Tribes talks about the strength of the tribe being in the tribes ability to talk to one another and so this transfer is important for groups within the tribe to connect with each other. The tighter the groups are within themselves, and then with each other, is the tightness of the community.

    On the second point, I’m not quite sure what you’re getting at – although I use Facebook quite decidedly to connect and share content with a particular audience that I have :-)

    Thanks for sharing – looking forward to talking more with you!

    Scott

  • http://gearboxmagazine.com Brian Driggs

    No worries, Scott.

    In retrospect, I guess it’s unfair to lump all Facebook users into the “wasting time” category. (I’m sounding like one of those belligerent fortress economy CEOs!) My point was more to the fact that creating content on the Facebook platform provides additional digital real estate for Facebook to monetize, as opposed to communities being able to create (modest) income streams for the direct benefit of their members.

    It’s not like groups are anything new. Forums have been around for nearly two decades, and it takes about an hour to buy a domain, host it, stick a blog out front, a forum out back, and stand on your own merits, building mutually beneficial relationships with sponsors and whatnot.

    They say you need to go where the people are, but I’d rather maintain a modest embassy in those locations, directing people to the real source. I have a folding table set up on Facebook, where free samples are handed out. People pass by, try a bite, and if they like it, head over to my place to sample the full buffet.

    I’ll let the sycophants fall all over themselves talking about Facebook’s latest “innovation,” transferring all their supplies to the new Facebook pantry. When FB changes the locks or burns to the ground, they’ll go hungry. I won’t.

    Maybe I need a shrink or something. :P

  • http://twitter.com/soenarko Henry Soenarko

    Hi, Scott. Great post and interesting thoughts on macro and micro communities. Sometimes it’s hard to keep up with the overwhelming stream of information that comes to you. So groups is a great way to filter and organize Facebook. And more…We – a small group of bloggers at http://absolutelythehague.com – are using it to notify, chat and collaborate. And are lovin’ it. I somewhere read a blog post where the author said that this is how Google Wave should have been introduced. And although Groups doesn’t have that abundant amount of features (yet), I tend to agree.Henry Soenarko

  • / Scott Gould

    Hey Henry

    I’ve already seen Absolutelythehague.com – it’s a very inspiring project.

    So do you think Facebook Groups could be a useful tool as a filter for curation?

    Scott

  • / Scott Gould

    LOL – you make good points, but there is the issue that already the mass of discussion is taking place on Facebook. It’s foolish to ignore it

  • http://gearboxmagazine.com Brian Driggs

    Thank you, Scott.

    One more point to ponder and I’ll leave you be on this one. :P

    Mass discussions are taking place on Facebook. It *is* foolish to ignore it, BUT mass profit was taking place in real estate in 2006 and look how many people chose not to ignore that.

    Everyone is on Facebook because they perceive everyone else is on Facebook. As more people get involved in Facebook, more people will get sick of it and leave. Once the herd begins leaving for greener pastures (and they always do), the perception will be that everyone is leaving Facebook.

    Allow me to be the first to call it the “Facebook Bubble.” :)

    Good chatting with you, sir. This has been enlightening.

  • / Scott Gould

    Hey Brian

    Sure – hence I don’t just put stuff on Facebook. There’s Twitter, and most of all, this blog. I always want to bring the conversation back here.

    But for the average person, Facebook is undeniably where it is happening.

    Scott

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