Why groups rule the social media landscape

Rather than post updates visible to everyone it’s becoming all the more common for people to interact in groups on social media. In Sweden, the national study “The Swedes and the Internet 2018” (Svenskarna och Internet 2018) shows that Groups are the second most common reason why we choose to be active on Facebook today. I’m therefore not surprised that Facebook has chosen to launch their ‘Community Leadership Circle’ initiative to help local group admins come together to create a positive impact on society.

Why I’m active in Facebook Groups

On a personal level, I’m active in several Facebook groups where I almost feel like I have ‘online colleagues’ that I can interact  with and get help from on a daily basis. Something that’s especially appreciated seeing as I’m a freelancer who often work by myself. I’m part of groups for creatives, social media experts, digital strategist, journalists and of course digital nomads – one of which I’m one of the admins of, Svenska Digitala Nomader. Many of these groups have become my go-to-places to get advice related to my work, like learning about new digital tools or discussing feasible consultancy fees, but also to find like-minded people to discuss travel, food or everyday life with.


Facebook Community Leadership Circles

Facebook groups have grown in importance during the past couple of years, and it’s apparent for anyone using the platform that group discussions appear all the more frequently on your timeline. As the use of groups has increased, Facebook has also rolled out new features to support conversations and interactions within these groups. For example by launching the ‘buy and sell‘ feature a few years back.

During the past year, Facebook has even started introducing a new group admin program called ‘Community Leadership Circles‘. These circles are open for group admins within different regions, and Facebook encourage members to come together and meet in person on a regular basis. They also offer training and support to the local Lead of each group.

Facebook explains the initiative as follows: “The goal of the program is to build stronger communities by supporting local leaders both online and off and empower local community leaders across the world. These forums give highly-engaged admins the opportunity to share their best practices and participate in leadership development sessions.

I am myself part of the Facebook Community Leadership Circle in Stockholm as of the beginning of the year, and was invited because I am an admin of the group Svenska Digitala Nomader – Sweden’s largest Facebook group for digital nomads and aspiring digital nomads.

Last night, I had the chance to attend my first offline meetup with the group in Stockholm, to meet with other admins and discuss how to manage Facebook groups in the best way possible; how to create engagement, how to moderate, how to help group members better interact with and find each other, etc.

Natalie Ericsson is admin of the Community Leadership Circles from Facebook in Stockholm. She also runs the groups Sociala media gäris and ickebineräs as well as Aktier för nybörjare - tjejer.
Natalie Eriksson is the Lead of the Facebook Community Leadership Circle in Stockholm. She is also the admin of the groups Sociala media gäris and ickebineräs as well as Aktier för nybörjare – tjejer.

Natalie Eriksson is the Lead of the Facebook Community Leadership Circle in Stockholm and responsible for both the Facebook group that connects all of these active group admins from the local area, but also for putting together offline meetups on a regular basis. The meetup that took place last night was the third one so far, and focused on the theme of finding paid collaborations between Facebook groups and brands / organization.

Natalie advised anyone interested in the future development of groups on Facebook to tune in to the live stream of the F8 conference on April 30th – May 1st, as Facebook have hinted that they’ll announce new group features during the conference.


Groups on LinkedIn, Instagram and Twitter

Online groups are of course not exclusive to Facebook. However, I feel that out of the mayor platforms Facebook has reached furthest in developing a positive group experience.

LinkedIn has spoken a lot about improving the LinkedIn Group experience, and made an announcement on new group feature updates in September of last year. In the announcement they wrote that the first step has been to make groups available right in the main LinkedIn website and app. They also promise that this is just the beginning:

“This is just the beginning of the new LinkedIn Groups experience, and we’re looking forward to adding even more features in the coming months, such as new moderation tools for admins. We’d also love to hear more about how your groups have helped you connect with other professionals to give and get help.”

I personally believe that LinkedIn has a lot to gain from improving their group features further, as they are the biggest professional social media network out there and there are bound to be many interesting discussions to be had within a more professional group setting. However, as the user experience has not come as far as that of Facebook groups, I believe that for professional online group conversations – Facebook has actually taken the lead, even though the platform in itself is of a more personal level.

On Instagram, people are also using a kind of group through the direct messaging feature. A growth hacking strategy across many industries has been to engage in ‘direct messaging groups’ on Instagram together with a selected group of other people. When someone posts a new post, they simply share it to the group, and the other group members go in and like and comment on the original post. This way, the Instagram post will most probably be favored by Instagram’s algorithm and appear higher up in followers’ feeds and also on hashtag pages. This has become a common used strategy to grow engagement and followers on Instagram. Seeing as Instagram is Facebook owned, it wouldn’t surprise me if we see more features being integrated into Instagram’s group feature within short.

When it comes to Twitter, the platform used to be my go to place to ask questions and get help on social media. But at least in Sweden the channel is not half as active today as it was a few years ago. I haven’t seen anything close to a ‘group feature’ on Twitter yet, even though one could claim that their ‘list’ function, where you get to select what accounts you want to see in a specific list, is one way of curating content you receive on the platform. However, it’s more of a one-way relationship rather than a conversation-starter, so I’m not sure Twitter is quite part of this trend today.

Other platforms take on a more traditional forum format and engage people in conversation on certain topics, for example Reddit. I think we might see a further growth in platforms like this going forward as well.


From a business point of view

Groups create engaging communities where members trust and learn from each other. For a business, a marketing strategy could be to set up your own group on a specific topic. The group should add a value to its members and not only serve as a pure marketing channel. For instance a grocery store might set up a group focused on different recipes, and then occasionally maybe send out discount codes to group members. A fashion brand might set up a group on sustainable fashion, where members add tips on how to reuse and re-purpose old clothes, or maybe swap between each other. A flower company might set up a group focused on how to care for plants, and let members add tips and tricks and ask questions. The group needs to add real value to its members if it is to grow into an active community.

On Facebook, it is possible to link your group directly to your page – and also to interact as your page within the group. I’ve also seen several examples of companies that have created LinkedIn groups for more professional discussions, sharing business insights to group members.

It is also possible to collaborate with already existing groups, for example by sponsoring a post or by hosting an event for group members. I think many businesses could benefit from learning what groups their target groups are active in, and then brainstorm ideas to engage in these. But remember that you also need to have a dialog with the admins of the group; they’ve most probably worked hard and spent endless hours creating an active community. Tapping into that comes at a cost.


Facebook winning the social media group game

I’d say that as of now, Facebook is winning the social media group game – having the most active and developed groups of the larger social media platforms. The launch of the ‘Community Leadership Circles’ initiative also shows that the company is looking into how to further expand the importance of groups on the platform. I look forward to seeing how the community I’m now part of in Stockholm will continue to grow this year. And I am also convinced that the importance of online groups will continue to grow, especially as we are part of a networked society and people need to find good ways to connect, interact and collaborate together online.

Emelie Fågelstedt

Independent communications strategist supporting organizations with their digital business and communications strategy since 2010. Founder of digital agency Fågelstedt Kommunikation and co-founder of Svenska Nomader, Sweden's largest platform for digital nomads. Public speaker on tech, social media, e-commerce and the future of work.

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