Groups have been around since the early days of social media, providing a place for like-minded people to be part of a community, hanging out and discussing their shared interest.

They went through a period of getting some bad press, but according to an interesting article I’ve just read by Ryan Holmes, CEO at Hootsuite, groups are back in vogue and expanding rapidly.

Lets consider Facebook & LinkedIn groups, starting with the latter:

LinkedIn groups – the ‘comeback kings’

In years gone by I always preached the virtues of sharing content through LinkedIn groups. “Great for driving traffic and engagement,” I used to say, “a way to tap into communities of professionals who shared common interests and put your content under their eyeballs at just the right time”.

Then there was a notable downturn in engagement. Likes, shares and comments dropped off the face of a cliff. Some of this was due to technical reasons – LinkedIn removed groups from its core features and made them harder to find.

But I also think there was an element of backlash against content overload generally across LinkedIn. I don’t know about you, but there was a very marked point in time when, almost overnight, my feed started looking like my Twitter feeds, prompting me to regularly startle everyone in the office by shouting abuse at my screen as yet another ‘inspirational’ quote, political rant, or productivity tip which will ‘literally change your life’ wasted my valuable screen space.

And groups were no different. They were being abused and poorly moderated, allowing poor quality and shamelessly promotional content to clutter the discussions and dilute the value of the group.

As a result, both users and group owners abandoned many groups, with very little activity and even less real engagement. This prompted a rash of ‘LinkedIn groups are dead’ articles. But it seems these may have been a little premature.

Earlier in 2018, LinkedIn started sending messages to group owners announcing that groups would be given more focus again and incorporated back into the core experience during the year. Groups would also be made easier to find and content shared in groups would come back into the main news feed.
Other features would include the ability to @mention other members in conversations and expanded content formats would also become available, including video.

As I mentioned at the outset, in the past I’ve always found LinkedIn groups to be a great way of getting our content in front of the right audience with reach far beyond actual 1st connections, driving quality traffic back to our website. And as someone who publishes their fair share of content, I would say that engagement is definitely back on the up again, but it’s early days.

What it does bring to the fore is my pet subject of personal brand. Most people don’t engage with brands on the platform, favouring peer-to-peer interaction and a brand profile can’t join a group anyway. So if your audience is B2B and you want to maximise the benefits of LinkedIn you have to dedicate some serious effort into building and then leveraging your personal brand.

What about Facebook?

According to the aforementioned article, Facebook Group membership is up 40% in the last year, with more than half of Facebook’s users now using groups every month!

Of those, 200 million people are part of so-called “meaningful groups”, in other words groups that are considered a vital part of their daily lives. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has set a target of one billion people in “meaningful” groups within five years, so it seems to have been identified as one of the next key areas for Facebook.

So, what’s really driving the resurgence of groups?

Some of this growth can be explained by algorithm shifts and technical tweaks. Facebook adjusted its algorithms to prioritise content from friends, family and groups.

As a result, we’re all seeing a lot more posts from groups in our feeds and less content from brands, so it’s been getting increasingly difficult for brands to achieve organic reach. At the same time, the day-to-day functionality of groups has been improved by the platforms, making it easer to build, manage, and grow groups.

But probably more important is the general crisis of trust, which has reared its head and gathered momentum in 2018. I don’t think you can deny the rumblings of a backlash against influencer marketing and its perceived lack of authenticity. This has lead to some high-profile brands (P&G, for example) taking a stand against social profiles that have bent the rules or cheat the system, and quite rightly so as this undermines everything that’s so great about influencer marketing in the first place.

When social media first burst into our lives, most interactions were with real people, mainly friends and family, and that was basically the beauty of it. But you could argue that it’s fallen foul of its own success.

Clickbait, spam, misuse of personal data, the proliferation of ads and retargeting technology has grown increasingly invasive. All of which makes a group much more appealing. Closed groups which require approval to join, have clear posting guidelines, filter spam and moderate content are especially welcome.

If you’re a brand, you should just pile in…right?

So, if you’re a brand who relies on social media and you’re seeing engagement with your customers dip, groups must be the magic formula, no?

Well, as always, it’s never quite that simple.

As highlighted already, rebuilding the trust and authenticity that made social platforms such a powerful tool to begin with is critical, and groups will only help if they’re done right.

Spam and self-promotion by group members are always a problem, if you don’t keep on top of things. And if you overdo your own promotional content, even slightly, it can undermine the whole group and send people running for the hills.

Brands who do it well have struck a balance, creating a community where users can feel valued and involved, with genuinely valuable content that enriches their lives, while working hard behind the scenes to maintain focus and quality. And alongside all of this, they make sure they protect ROI by reinforcing brand values and messages.

Has anyone else seen an improvement in interaction from groups? And what’s working best?

Do you have any examples of brands using groups well that you’d like to share?

Ben Hollom

December 18, 2018