It's incredibly quick and easy to create a Facebook group, but do people really understand what they are letting themselves in for? Recently, I have seen the administrators (Admin) struggling desperately to keep a particular group afloat as it rises very quickly in popularity, but, sadly, making some terrible mistakes.
It's really important to understand what a Facebook group is and what it is not and be aware of the pitfalls and limitations of the system. There are a few essential rules that I have drawn up, both for the Admin and the Contributors to enable a harmonious relationship between the two sets of people.
I also want to explain how a Facebook group and a discussion forum could work together as 'sisters' to get the best of both worlds where the one helps the other.
Step 1: What Is a Facebook Group?
Facebook pages started off as a venue for college kids to connect with their friends on a social level and soon developed into the worldwide phenomenon that we now see and use. Nowadays, even businesses have Facebook pages and people can like stuff and chat about stuff to their hearts content. Social media in general works very much 'in the moment' which means that it's immediate and transitory but also that it soon moves on to the next hot topic very quickly leaving everything else behind.
Facebook groups work on the same principles, but are loosely centred around a core subject, for example 'Cider'. So, people interested in cider type 'cider' into the search box and hey presto, the cider group suddenly appears. Before you know it, you're an active member of the group and talking very merrily about your cider interests. Next thing is, you're making friends with other cider fanatics and you're becoming part of an online community who are brought together through their love of that beverage. After a while you want to tell people about your other interests eg. Beer or just talk about current affairs and there's nothing wrong with that because that is what a group of normal friends do.
Facebook groups require the 'owner' to have almost no computer skills, but you do need good people skills to keep it a friendly place. If you don't get on well with other people, or don't want to develop people skills, then do not set up a Facebook group!
Step 2: What Is a Discussion Forum?
A discussion forum is very similar to a Facebook group, except that we are able to organise the data in logical sections. For example, if the forum was set up around the topic of 'cider', you could have a section devoted to 'making cider', another one to 'drinking cider' and another for 'favourite brands of cider'. As time goes on, after people start to make friends you could then have a section titled 'all off topic conversations' for talking about beer and football etc.
In addition to the obvious sections that the public see, there are a myriad of functions available behind the scenes to make the administrator's (Admin) life easier. Firstly there is a hierarchy of admin so that the top honcho boss person can keep control of the most crucial features such as turning the whole thing on and off and deleting other Admins from the system. As you go lower down the hierarchy you have less access to important functions and less opportunity to do harm to the system. This is great if somebody that you don't really know very well volunteers to be an Admin and you want to give them a chance to prove themselves.
Essentially a discussion forum is a piece of software, but it also needs somewhere safe to live. My own forum lives in a large bank of computers in London somewhere and is run by a company called United Hosting. It's crucial that whatever company you use has a good customer support system as discussion forums do break down every now and again and also need to be regularly backed up. Obviously, a good hosting company is going to cost money!
Lastly, somebody will need to set the forum up, protect it from spammers and hackers and repair it when it goes wrong, which all requires fairly good computer skills.
Step 3: Who Owns a Group or Forum?
In theory, Facebook owns all the groups on that platform although it may be more complicated than that and in theory the person who sets up a forum owns that. In practice, the Contributors own the group/forum as without them being there the whole thing is absolutely nothing. It's a big mistake to think that because you started a group you own it you can dictate terms to the group members. Other than a simple set of common sense rules, the Contributors own the space and it is their community.
Step 4: Rules
Very quickly after setting up your group or forum you're going to need to decide on a set of rules and then try and enforce them.
Firstly, there are rules for the admins.
- Never be fooled into thinking that it is YOUR group as essentially it belongs to the community of Contributors
- Never delete posts that criticise the Admin as this will breed resentment and rebellion amongst the Contributors. Remember that you work for them, not the other way round.
- Don't get over enthusiastic about your role policing the group/forum.
- Make sure you appoint enough admins to cope with the work load. Some Admins will have more free time than others.
- Never get embroiled in petty disputes, after all you are GOD and GOD does not do this either.
- If you do for some reason, fail at no.5, never use your admin privileges' to settle the dispute.
Then there are rules for the Contributors:
- Zero tolerance to abusive/racial/sexist etc. behaviour - one warning and then a lifetime ban.
- No incitement to illegal or dangerous activities.
- No spamming or advertising without permission unless stated elsewhere in the rules.
- No slandering of people, companies or their products.
- If a topic is started, it must be started in the correct section.
- No swearing or abusive language.
Step 5: Comparing a Facebook Group to a Discussion Forum
- Quick and easy
- No computer skills required
- 'In the moment', 'Immediate' and soon gone.
- No organisation of the information
- Great for making friends
- Excellent for photos and videos
- Hard to set up
- Costs money to host on a server.
- Good computer skills required
- Extremely well organised information
- Excellent admin tools
- Photos and videos are more complicated to 'upload'.
Step 6: Can Groups and Forums Work Together?
Facebook groups are currently getting very big very quickly which is great in one way, but they soon become a real headache to administer. By the time the group has reached 10,000 people it could well have outgrown it's purpose unless it is about something frivolous like a celebrity, a football club a rock band etc.
Some groups actually have real relevance to people, like for example, 'Cider making', and in this case we'd probably want to be able to organise some of the information so that, for one the experts don't have to keep repeating themselves and secondly that the novices can find the information more easily without being swamped by chit chat.
Once a Facebook community has been established, some of the key Contributors can be directed to the 'sister' discussion forum to create long lasting documentation and discussion of their projects/experiences. Then, as new people come along, asking the same questions, they can also be directed to the same place by other Contributors/Users and Admin alike. In return, much of the chit chat can be kept off the discussion forum although there would be a section for all 'off topic' stuff.
Step 7: The Future
The question is: 'Will Facebook groups ever evolve into proper discussion forums'? Obviously this is possible, but the beauty of the Facebook groups is their simplicity - nothing much can go wrong on a technical level. In contrast, discussion forums are a very complicated piece of software that is much more prone to failures of various kinds. If Facebook, Instagram or whoever went down this route they would need a massive customer support network to sort out the various problems that are bound to occur. Will it happen? I don't know!
Please feel free to contribute to this Instructable in the comments section below as I am sure I have left stuff out. Your comments will then be incorporated into the main text.
Or you can join this Facebook group: Facebook Group Admin Support