There are 1.5 billion daily active users on Facebook. These are people who log in to Facebook at least once, every day. Going by that number, starting a Facebook group centred around your idea, product or service seems like a logical step. For example, you might want to start a corporate alumni group in order to keep ex-employees engaged, and maybe even rehire them sometime in the future.
The same goes for Linkedin, with its impressive numbers. However, despite the huge reach of these major social platforms, it is a better idea to use an online community platform to run a community. There is more than one reason for that.
Why an Online Community Platform is a Better Idea Than Facebook Groups
To start with, Facebook’s (and other social media platforms) huge reach means that everyone else is also there. It is inundated with user-generated content already (including cute cat videos), which is a major distraction. Getting engagement rates in such a cluttered environment can be really, really difficult. Only 1% of Linkedin’s monthly active users actually share content on the platform. However, the noise is only a small part of the problem.
1. Lack of Flexibility and Scalability
When you run a community on a social media platform, such as Facebook, you are limited by the features of the platform. The limitation can become a roadblock as your community grows. For instance, as more users join your community, you might need features such as badges, email notifications for personalized content, personalized suggestions based on past user activity, leaderboards, and customer profile pages for users.
You might even need to integrate your community with third-party platforms, such as Salesforce, through API calls, to mine data. With Facebook, all you get is basic content moderation features, which are not enough to give a good user experience to community members.
2. Missed SEO Opportunity
Any community thrives on user-generated content (UGC). And that content can help you fetch organic leads through search engine optimization. When your community has in-depth posts on a topic and tons of helpful information for people, Google will prioritize that content in its search results. While Google does throw up Facebook results in its search results, it is impossible to rank your group’s content high-enough, given the tons of content on the platform.
Using an online community platform instead allows you to fetch inbound leads and even nurture them over a period of time.
3. Valuable Data is Wasted
Talking about nurturing leads, there is invaluable data that can be mined from interactions within a community. Think about demographics, event attendees, even major topics of interest within the community. All of that is lost in social media silos. Sure, you can mine that data manually when the community is small. However, as it grows, manual labour can become tedious and time-consuming.
An online community platform, on the other hand, can be integrated with third-party solutions that can mine the data and give you valuable insights.
4. Missed Revenue Opportunity
Ads can lead to bad user experience. However, let’s say your community members are ok with seeing ads on the group. When you run your community on Facebook (or Linkedin), you are letting go of all the (potential) ad revenue to these giants. Moreover, you have no control over what kind of ads are shown to your users, since you don’t own the platform.
With a dedicated online community platform, you get to decide whether you want to serve ads or not. More importantly, you get to decide the monetization strategy, which isn’t possible on social media platforms. Maybe you decide to charge users for premium content once you reach critical mass, or maybe you take requests for sponsored posts on your community from brands that identify with its ethos.
Other than that, there is the issue of having no control over your users’ experience, which can really make or break a community. But what’s wrong with building your own website-based forum with the help of WordPress plugins?
Building Your Own Membership Site on Facebook is a Bad Idea, Too
WordPress is an incredibly powerful tool for building engaging websites. It is entirely possible to create a custom community platform using WordPress. However, that would not only require technical expertise (and a lot of hours and resources), but also a lot of A/B testing. Thanks to Web 2.0, people are familiar with features such as one-on-one messaging, discussion threads, and posting on forums. They have certain expectations from UI and UX in terms of features and accessibility.
Most good online community platforms have Web 2.0 features built-in. They are designed such that they can be used right out of the box. It saves you precious time and resources, which can be dedicated to strategizing, and generating content for users.
Email, SMS, and WhatsApp Groups Don’t Cut It, Either
Getting high engagement rates on email can be tough. And even since Gmail launched the Promotions and Social tab, it has gotten tougher. Unless people willingly move conversations to their Primary Tab, your community conversations end up in either of those tabs or worse, the Spam folder.
Moreover, as mentioned earlier, there is the issue of user experience with email, and the same goes for SMS and WhatsApp groups. If moderating content on Facebook groups can be tough, WhatsApp can be tougher. Conversations can get lost in the clutter, especially as the size of the group increases. The same goes for SMS. In fact, in the case of the latter, you also have to fight against spam to get noticed, which is not an easy task.
If you are serious about building a community that is useful for you as well as its members, a dedicated online community platform is your best bet.