Member Spotlight: Suzi Barnes talks Facebook Based Communities

(Sarah Hawk) #1

One of the most FAQs here over the last year or so is “Should I launch my community on Facebook or on a dedicated forum platform?”.

We’ve discussed it many times from a philosophical perspective (see related reading at the end of the interview) but I decided to get the perspective of someone that has had great success with building a community in a Facebook Group. That person is DigitalMarketer’s @Suzi_Nelson and here is what she had to say:

The Interview

Hawk: Can you give us a brief rundown of your history as a community practitioner and about the community that you currently manage?

Suzi: This is my first position in community management. I actually applied for a different job at DigitalMarketer and didn’t get it… but they called me a few weeks later and offered me a position as community manager. I’ve been here about two years and love it!

My background in marketing, customer care, and a brief stint as a volunteer coordinator really prepared me for an official role in community, and the position fit my skill set like a glove.

DigitalMarketer has several communities that are product-centric; they are made of customers who have purchased specific products and are looking for the peer-to-peer support. The biggest is called DM Engage. It’s a private Facebook group for customers who have purchased a monthly membership to digital marketing training resources.

**_Hawk: You’re digital marketing specialists – given that building a community on Facebook’s real estate means that you don’t see any of the SEO or content benefits, can you explain what drove that decision?_**

Suzi: The decision to move to a Facebook group was made before my time – there was a forum that preceded the group, but no one ever used it. Once the community was moved to Facebook, the engagement was immediate!

One of the drivers for moving to Facebook was people already knew how to use it and visited the site often. Many studies have shown that users visit 5 to 7 websites on a regular basis. It made sense to take advantage of Facebook’s popularity and ease of use, without having to train our community to visit and learn to use a new site.

When I came on as community manager in late 2014, there were about 2,000 members in the group. Today, we have almost 10,000.

Secondly, our community is made up of marketers – specifically, digital marketers. This group is visiting Facebook daily to check up on ads and participate in a variety of similar mastermind groups that exist on the platform. It’s an easy transition for many of our community members to stop by Engage as well and participate in the conversation.

Third, our main focus is peer-to-peer support. The nature of our product inspires many niche-specific questions that our customer care team is not equipped to handle. Our members get a much better experience with our product if they can discuss these types of questions with others who work in a similar space.

If our main goal was content creation or SEO, we would certainly not go with a Facebook group – these are secondary benefits of our community that are taking a back seat at the moment. If we were using our community as an acquisition tool rather than a retention/ascension strategy, SEO and content would also rise in importance. Not to say we won’t get there eventually!

Hawk: What do you perceive to be the biggest benefits of building a community on Facebook as opposed to a dedicated platform?

Suzi: Ease of use and popularity of the platform were the main drivers of this decision. And since we make digital products, like video training and templates, our development team had very limited bandwidth to dedicate to a community platform – their priority is always developing and optimizing our products and website.

General activity and engagement has never been a consistent struggle in our group – everything from welcome posts to theme weeks to requesting community feedback has gotten lots of response. The group is highly active every day of the week with community-created content, so we know that we have a special group of people who love what they do and love to share their knowledge. It’s wonderful to see, and we don’t have to worry about that ghost-town community anymore.

**_Hawk: And what about the challenges or limitations? Are there times when you wish you had the control that other platforms offer?_**

Suzi: The more I dive into the scope of community management as a discipline, the more I see the limitations of Facebook groups as community platforms. For starters, Facebook does not make it easy for community managers. Tracking and metrics are impossible without third-party tools (who themselves are reliant on Facebook’s ever-changing API).

Community managers have little control over content organization, which is often a pain point for community members looking to contribute to specific subtopics.

The biggest limitation is our entire community is at the mercy of Facebook’s algorithm. The majority of our members do not visit the group page directly – they wait until they see a post from the group pop up on their newsfeed. It makes it difficult to get out important news (or keep it top of mind).

Once we hit 9K members, the average contribution per member started to decline and required more intervention. We have a feeling this is because there are so many posts in the group, Facebook is having trouble optimizing all the content for newsfeeds – members just aren’t seeing as many posts as they used to.

Other community strategies, like gamification features or super user programs, are complicated to implement on Facebook groups as well.

**_Hawk: We get a lot of new members agonizing over whether to launch on Facebook or to jump straight in the deep end. What would your advice to them be?_**

Suzi: I think Facebook Groups can be great for smaller groups (under 9K) or for proof of concept. If you really want to scale, however, I do believe you’ll eventually get to the point where Facebook Groups are no longer the best option.

Hawk: And for those people that do go down the Facebook route, are there any specific tips or tactics that you can share?

Suzi: There are core concepts that can be applied to any community. Remember the main purpose is building those peer-to-peer relationships – find ways of fulfilling those social needs as quickly as possible after someone joins the group.

Inspire conversations and programming that will get people excited about the tribe they’ve joined and reinforce that emotional connection. Give them a reason to come back – a reason to check their notifications, to click on your group above pictures of their friend’s vacation, posts from family members, memes, shared blog posts, videos, and many other posts that can distract.

Your community gives you something so much more valuable than their money – they are giving you their time. Make them feel like it was a great decision.

**_Hawk: Is pulling reporting data from Facebook a challenge? What tools do you use?_**

Suzi: Facebook doesn’t offer any native reporting on Groups, which is a shame – considering Insights on Pages can be so useful. I went the first eight months or so as community manager without any way to measure whatsoever – I relied solely on anecdotal evidence that things were going smoothly.

Today, I use a tool called Grytics. It’s an analytics platform for private groups on Facebook and LinkedIn, and provides some extremely helpful data on engagement levels, posts, comments, top contributors, and more.

They are, however, reliant on Facebook’s policies… so I’m always painfully aware that Grytics’ ability to pull information can change at any time. But for the time being, this tool has been invaluable for measuring community growth and health.

Related Reading

Can forum communities survive?
Can forum communities compete with Facebook?
Using Facebook Groups as a community hub
Facebook vs forums
Boxing against a tidal wave