What Are Social Media Groups?
About a year ago, a friend of mine started a LinkedIn group to discuss sales and marketing issues. Just recently he emailed his tribe to let them know that this group experiment didn't work and that he was going to try it again... this time on Facebook.
I hope it works for him this time. But I wouldn't hold my breath. While participation in social media groups can be one of the most engaging and valuable activities online, it is not without challenges.
What is an Online Social Media Group?
Social media platforms such as Facebook and LinkedIn offer members the opportunity to establish and join groups of people online. Here are examples of the factors that could cause people to want to join together in groups on social media:
- Common Background: Family groups, ethnic heritage, former classmates.
- Qualifications: Job function or title, alumni status.
- Interests or Hobbies: Sports, causes, hobbies, pets, political affiliation, religion, work related topics.
Membership in groups is voluntary and may be subject to approval by the group's administrator. Some groups may require invitation by a current member or the group administrator. Groups may also vary by their visibility online. Some are public, while others are private and only visible to members.
See each social media platform's documentation for current policies, visibility and procedures for groups.
Special Note about Twitter. On Twitter, hashtag communities are groups of people who use a specified keyword after a number or hash sign (#) in their tweets. Like groups on other platforms, participation is voluntary and centers around a common interest or affiliation. But there is no official administrative control available for group leaders on the platform. Any Twitter user can use hashtags! Plus, all publicly posted tweets using the hashtag are visible to the world.
While these hashtag communities could be considered groups, they are more ad hoc and essentially have no group structure. One could consider these more as "conversations." However, thriving hashtag communities have even hosted conventions and conferences!
Because of their unique nature, social media groups on Twitter will not be addressed in the following discussion. What follows applies to more structured group platforms such as Facebook and LinkedIn.
What Do Social Media Groups Do?
The main function of social media groups is fostering conversation and connection among members. If a group has limited or no public visibility, it can provide an environment where members may feel more comfortable expressing themselves and sharing.
Groups will usually limit posts to those that are relevant to the group's members or topic. Self promoting is typically frowned upon and members who do it may face removal from the group.
Who Runs Social Media Groups?
The group administrator, or "admin," is essentially the leader of the group. There are advantages to being the admin. It can help establish the admin as an expert or leader in a community he or she serves.
This role can be time consuming with continuous management of membership and monitoring group conversations. Additional group members can often be designated as admins to help with the load. But that may bring the challenge of being the admin of the admins!
The admin may also need to serve as referee and virtual bouncer if a conversation gets out of hand or a member doesn't play by the rules. To help control conversations, the admin may wish to be the only one allowed to post to the group, with members only being allowed to make comments on posts. In other groups, all members may be able to post anything at any time.
When a group is set up for a business or other organization, it gets more complicated. What happens when the person who serves as admin resigns, gets fired, retires or dies? Groups can be left abandoned or be controlled by a potentially hostile outside force. Multiple admins for organization and business groups is one way some have handled this; however, there needs to be a way to prohibit access to inactive or hostile admins and someone needs to be responsible for these decisions. Seek legal advice when setting up admins for business and organizational social media groups.
Who "Owns" a Social Media Group?
While most platforms will allow any user to establish a group and set himself up as the admin or leader, that doesn't necessarily imply "ownership." The social media platform technically "owns" the group since they own the platform. What the platform gives, the platform can take away at any time.
Social Media Group Challenges
Loose Virtual Lips. On Facebook, an alert pops up when you attempt to share information posted in a secret group. That reminds members that a secret group is secret. But remember that there's no guarantee that members will behave and refrain from sharing "secret" information from a group anywhere and everywhere. Screenshots, selecting and copying text, etc. can still be done. Leaks of members-only information can cause members to leave groups or even report unacceptable activity, damaging the group's reputation or evoking action by the platform. Monitoring this can be one of the toughest challenges for admins.
TL;DR. The "TL;DR" texting abbreviation stands for "Too long; didn't read." Sadly, this is one of the main reasons that group activity is low. Even in groups where members have voluntarily chosen to participate and get information, their level of information overload—often due to too much group chatter—can reduce their activity, sometimes to the point of totally ignoring it.
The Rules Change. Again, social media groups are on platforms owned by others. The owners for Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. can instantly and arbitrarily change how groups can be used or managed. As well, they can decide what priority group communications will receive in members' news feeds. While platform-generated automatic email notifications on group activity can help keep members engaged, members can easily ignore those, too, due to too much email.
Group Junkies. Especially on the business side of social media, there are group junkies who join every imaginable group in the hopes that it will create a connection for job or sales opportunities. One person I knew boasted being a member of 400 or so groups. Wow! It is almost humanly impossible to keep up with that many groups and conversations on a regular basis. So what happens is that groups can sometimes have large numbers of members, but only a few genuinely active ones. The challenge for admins is deciding what to do with these deadwood members. Keep them in so the group "looks" popular to potential members? Or remove them so that the group retains some exclusivity?
Tips for Keeping Social Media Groups Alive and Going
Consistency. Being consistent in terms of topics discussed and frequency of posting activity can go a long way toward keeping groups engaged by setting standards and expectations. A disciplined approach helps build trust.
Patience and Persistence. Groups can take a long time to gain traction for all the reasons discussed above. How long should a group be allowed to exist with meager participation before an admin gets too discouraged and decides to disband it? Unless the purpose of the group dictates a shorter term, it would be difficult to make any assessment of success in less than 12 months. Activity and interest will ebb and flow throughout that time. Having at least a year's worth of data to review will provide more valuable insight.
Overwhelm Avoidance. Part of the TL;DR problem discussed earlier is that groups can post way too frequently, overwhelming members who eventually will just tune out. But it's also necessary for admins to keep their own posting and monitoring activity at a manageable level so they avoid overwhelm and burnout for themselves, too.
Leadership. An admin who establishes a protocol and culture, and manages it effectively and equitably for members, can do a lot for keeping a group on purpose and on task.
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© 2017 Heidi Thorne