Facebook’s newest priority isn’t a shiny new technology or a funky new predictive algorithm. It’s Groups, one of the earliest features on TheFacebook.com.
These aren’t your sophomore year of college Groups though. Facebook is pointing to a series of highly-engaged collectives that highlight why they believe that Groups will play an important part in the future of Facebook—and fulfill CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s goal to “bring the world closer together.”
It comes down to a particular word: “meaningful.”
Facebook’s representatives keep coming back to this word when discussing Groups. Maybe that’s because the feature initially lent it self to jokes like “Bring Back The Jello Bears,” which I championed back in 2007.
This all happened somewhat off of Facebook’s radar. Groups like Pantsuit Nation amassed hundreds of thousands of engaged members. Many Groups have developed important use cases which even top Facebook executives were unaware of until they began traveling the world and interviewing users about why they use the site.
“A lot of Groups came and went,” said Facebook Chief Product Officer Chris Cox earlier this year in an interview. “If you just looked at the average Facebook Group you maybe wouldn’t find it something that’s deeply meaningful. But if you go and study, just asking people all around the world what the most meaningful experience you have with Facebook, you started discovering these Groups.”
But just what Groups are “meaningful” on Facebook? We can gleam some insight from the list of people—all administrators of Facebook Group—the company invited to its first-ever Facebook Communities Summit in June.
A Facebook representative shared with Mashable a list of seven different Groups:
FIN (Female IN): a private, women-only group described as a “no-judgment support group for women” and includes personal stories from women of African culture around marriage, sex, health issues, beauty tips, parenting, domestic violence, mental health, work challenges, and loss
Black Fathers: a private men-only group described as “dads doing our thing” and includes men asking each other questions about raising teen girls and custody disputes
Keep Austin Fishing!: an open group described as a “fishing family” where people in the area are invited to chat about fishing
Lady Bikers of California: an open group for women who ride motorcycles, with meet-ups in real life and planning of group rides
Affected by Addiction Support Group: a private group for people recovering from addiction and their friends and family to offer support and share stories
Moms of Beverly: an open group for moms in Beverly, Illinois to meet up and ask for advice
Bethel Original Free Will Baptist Church: an open group for members of the Bethel Church in Decatur, Georgia, includes announcements about events, meetings time and also uses Facebook Live to share sermons
These Facebook Groups are all over America and include people of all different demographics. What they have in common is being deeply personal but not necessarily inclusive of people already within a Facebook’ user’s social network. They bring real world interests and activities online, connecting users to people who they may have never met in real life.
It’s a goal that has drawn comparisons to Reddit, which has subgroups that serve a similar use case by connecting people over topics of discussion. But unlike Reddit, Facebook is not anonymized. The social network prides itself on a real name policy, where even drag queens and sexual assault survivors who wish to use different names are forced to oblige with the rules.
Facebook’s Groups are meant to be safe spaces, where trolling is more difficult in an online environment that does not allow users to hide behind a made-up username like on Reddit, Tumblr, or Twitter.
Facebook also has a bit of overlap between Groups and Pages. While the former is focused on interest-based communities, the latter can be dedicated to a person or an organization. For example, Mashable has a Facebook Page where we share our stories. But now, as part of this new Groups push, Page owners can promote Groups. For example, The New Yorker has a Facebook Group for its Movie Club.
This new emphasis on meaningful communities can be a good service for people, as Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg emphasized in his 6,000-word manifesto titled “Building Global Community” earlier this year.
It’s also a smart business strategy. Facebook is trying to address its other big problem—declining engagement among its users. Facebook makes money when people spend time on its platform, so it needs people putting up stuff and liking/commenting on that stuff.
Groups, it seems, is key to creating a better world through Facebook, which inevitably means spending more time on Facebook. More people spending more time means more money for Facebook.
Facebook follows the money, just like any successful business. How does a social network make money? Advertising.
To capture ad budgets, you need engagement. Facebook has 2 billion monthly active users, and yet, advertisers still say “Snapchat” when you ask where to find a younger audience. There’s the fear that Facebook is becoming “old news” combined with the bad public image of being a distributor of “fake news.”
But people will always have passions and if Facebook can provide the best place to dive deep into those passions, they have your attention, and therefore, they have money.
Whether Groups are good or bad isn’t really the question. They’re engaging, or “meaningful,” in Facebook parlance.