Whether you run an existing community like a discussion forum or are taking tentative first steps into setting up an online forum around your brand, an important choice you need to make is between social networks like Facebook, Google+ or Linkedin or having a community you own and control.
Let’s take a look at the benefits of an owned community versus a Facebook group – as well as how you can still use Facebook (and other social media platforms) to your advantage.
With an owned community, the rewards of your hard work belong to you and your business alone.
You own your data
The biggest point to consider when using Facebook groups is that you do not own your own data. Facebook owns it and does not even allow you direct access to it.
If you decide later to move to a different platform, need to run reports to extract meaningful insights, or otherwise work with your community data: you are out of luck.
In contrast, with an owned Community, your data (profile details, contact details, posts, messages etc) is your data. You can use it in any way that makes sense for your goals; be it analyzing trends, sending promotions to users, or generating reports and statistics.
Beyond owning the data, you also control how it’s used and presented. Facebook is notorious for changing algorithms for when (or even if) people see your posts. When you run your own community the experience for you and your users is in your control.
This is a big one. An owned community gives you the tools you need to make your community a seamless part of your user’s interaction with your business. This naturally includes your brand styles (your logo, colors, site navigation and so on) but also your community web address (URL).
With an owned community, your URL will be easy to find – customers normally opt for something like forum.yourname.com or community.yourname.com.
Users will have more confidence that they’re in the right place, and more closely associate your community and your message with your brand. Emails sent out by your owned community can also carry your branding, consistently reinforcing that connection between your business and your community.
And, of course, when users share content from your community to Facebook and other social networks, they’re sending users directly to your website where you have the opportunity to lead with your most important call to actions.
More control over user experience
All Facebook groups are, essentially, the same experience and yet your business needs almost certainly aren’t the same as every other. One size doesn’t necessarily fit all when it comes to the community!
When you control your own community, you have the ability to control your user’s experience. Need to show specific types of data in specific places? You can do it. Need to create a custom community application to serve as a resource center for product support? You can do that too.
Another huge benefit of this control is that, unlike a Facebook Group, users won’t be seeing ads and ‘recommended content’ from competing businesses and communities. With user attention being pulled in so many directions these days, the last thing your community needs is for users to leave because Facebook has suggested a competitor!
Fine-grained permission controls
Facebook groups struggle to reflect the real-world roles that staff members play in your organization, limiting your choices to ‘administrator’ or ‘moderator’. And the same is true of users, too – your options for recognizing different levels of user (such as VIPs, or brand ambassadors) are limited.
With an owned community, since you are creating and configuring each member group, you can precisely control who can see what, and how they are recognized within the community.
For staff groups, you can limit access to key community functions based on roles or responsibilities, ensuring access is granted on an as-needed basis only.
For users, you can get creative and find a group structure that works best for your specific needs. For example, support communities often find that recognizing the most knowledgeable and helpful members with a new member group (complete with elevated permissions) is a great way of engaging users.
And finally, with this control over access, it’s very easy to create restricted areas of the community. Whether you want to create a private subforum that staff can use to coordinate tasks or a file repository that’s only available to subscribers, you can achieve it.
No barriers to monetization
Not all communities require a monetization strategy. In many cases, the community is part of a larger customer relationship strategy rather than a revenue-generating destination in its own right.
But for those communities that do plan to monetize, options with a Facebook group are at best difficult to act upon, and at worst practically non-existent.
In contrast, an owned community gives you the opportunity to explore monetization strategies that work for you. These might include paid subscription plans (a particularly attractive option for fan club communities), traditional advertising through Google AdSense and other networks, or sponsorship deals with other businesses that might be relevant to your members.
You can still reap the Facebook benefits
Setting up your community within Facebook’s walls might not be the best approach for you. That doesn’t mean you should ignore Facebook, however. On the contrary, it’s an influential platform and there’s a very good chance your users are already using it.
Most of the nowadays community platforms like Invision Community features social sign-in options, enabling users to register and log in using their existing social media accounts, substantially reducing onboarding friction.
automatically embed a wide number of social networks (and other services), allowing users to share their favorite Facebook and Twitter posts and spark a whole new conversation – but this time in your community.
Content can promoted by staff back to your social network pages, automatically and on a schedule you decide.
When you are creating an online community for your business or hobby it is important to think about your goals and future growth by choosing a platform that is there to work for your needs.
When you establish your community on Facebook, you’re helping to grow someone else’s business (including, potentially, your competitors!) and hoping that some of those spoils fall to you. With an owned community, the rewards of your hard work belong to you and your business alone.