Groups had been the ugly, red-headed stepchildren of the Facebook ecosystem even before their latest, more useful and robust incarnation was announced. They're not sexy, you can't make them pretty and their limited exposure make them seemingly useless to the big-picture efforts of most brands on the social network.
Yet, for many marketers, Groups may hold the key to creating pockets of deeper interaction among the growing masses of casual "likers" and the unengaged lurkers that swarm our pages.
The problem with Facebook marketing continues to be one of scale. As we reach the million mark (or even the 100,000 mark) of likers, the dynamics of a Facebook page change and feeding the mass-market content beast becomes increasingly necessary.
This is no different than what happens with TV or any other media. When you have a small and fiercely loyal audience, you can't help but elicit strong fan engagement and a sense of belonging and project a coolness factor for their being part of something before it became popular. But strong fan engagement erodes under the burden of mass popularity. As new, less engaged fans enter the picture, early adopters begin to feel disenfranchised.
This sense of disenfranchisement is worsened by the fact that as the audience grows, marketers must evolve the messaging from personal discussion into mass-market style posts. At scale, the promise of "relationship building" gives way to the lowest common denominators of marketing --reach and frequency -- and our content needs to change to what will generate the most likes and discussions. Often brands lose quality engagements with their most loyal fans when they could really use it most.
This is where Facebook Groups come into play. Brands are beginning to use them to segment their audience and provide open or private access to conversations around specific interests. Say someone likes a car brand but only really drives one model. Segmentation would allow that person to have deeper conversations with engineers and other enthusiasts of the car model, without having to wade through the chaff of less-interested mass consumers who just want to know how to turn on their fog lamps.
But even this is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg when it comes to the value of segmenting loyal fans into private groups. An invite to this type of "club" can create a recognition that is desperately needed at a critical time. It tells an early, engaged customer or fan that even though the brand is growing, his or her voice is still valued and that early adoption is recognized.
Further, exclusive access to Groups gives the brand a chance to quietly cultivate leaders for shaping the larger community. Behind the walls of private access, marketers can invite the strongest community members, targeted along any number of interest verticals. Then we slowly empower them with inside knowledge of our plans so they can help us shape a bigger community vision.
Groups may not be the sexiest thing that Facebook ever created, but they clearly offer a potential powerhouse of engagement that many brands are not adequately leveraging. Brands need to realize that not all likers should be valued equally, and Groups offer a convenient way to segment and appropriately value each audience in a Facebook community. The result will be stronger fan-led engagement and the opportunity to create the type of community that yields deeper brand loyalty and awareness.