An owned community vs social media groups - it’s about a lot more than upfront costs

Building a community using Facebook or LinkedIn Groups might seem like the easy, cheap option. But could it cost more than you think?
An owned community vs social media groups - it’s about a lot more than upfront costs

We’re an expert community platform, so it probably comes as no surprise that one of the questions we’re often asked is, “couldn’t we build a community on LinkedIn Groups?” The short answer, of course, is yes, you could (at least in a rudimentary fashion). But the real question is whether or not you should.

You need to think carefully about what your long-term goals are when building a community. While you may think that you’re not paying when you use LinkedIn or Facebook, the reality is that in the long term you could be paying big time. And here’s why…

You have no control

You will find you’re paying with your own wasted time and effort when Facebook or LinkedIn decide to make arbitrary changes and don’t tell you until they’re live. You’ve spent hours, days, months, even years, building and nurturing a community, which you suddenly can’t reach in the same way - because the platform has decided not to let you. And at the same time it may be riddled with spam users that you didn’t have a chance to moderate.

You’ll also realise you’re paying in wasted effort when you can’t design your community to support what your audience actually needs. The administration and member controls are incredibly limited on Facebook and LinkedIn, as are the branding options.

You don’t own the data

When you’re trying to grow your business, data is gold dust. You need to know who is part of your community, who your experts and most regular contributors are, how else they interact with your company. The list goes on.

Yet the truth is that if you set up a community on LinkedIn or Facebook, you don’t own any of that data. They do. And yes, there are some limited analytics options in the group functionality, but the platforms could take those away, or change them entirely, any time they want.

You can’t grow and nurture relationships between people or promote expertise

There’s so much functionality missing from LinkedIn and Facebook Groups. Particularly for the customers we serve, promoting expertise and thought leadership is high on the agenda, and those platforms just aren’t about that.

You can’t create content within the groups themselves, only share it. You can’t easily identify and promote the experts within your community. You can’t create different levels of membership easily. There isn’t any way to create closed and open conversations within the groups. The whole group is either open or closed.

There’s also no way for members to follow other members’ contributions within the community. And if they want to find out who the other members are by looking at their profiles, they’re taken away from your group and back into other areas of the social platform.

You’re taking a risk with your own reputation

While we’re on the subject of data, let’s not forget the bashing Facebook has taken for data breaches over the last year. While LinkedIn seems to have escaped relatively unscathed so far, there’s no guarantee it’ll stay that way.

Your community and your brand’s reputation will always be at risk when you put your data into someone else’s hands.

You’ll get lost in the noise

You only have to look at your own LinkedIn home feed to see that groups are hardly prominent. Meanwhile, how Facebook shows content to your members is entirely down to their own algorithms.

In other words, when you build a community on LinkedIn or Facebook, not only is there a chance your members won’t see any of the content anyway, but they also have lots of other distractions to take them off on tangents away from your community. They might pop in there when they remember, but you’re not their only destination.

The SEO sucks

Search traffic is a key component for sustaining most long-term communities, but the SEO for groups on social media platforms is poor. There’s not really much more to be said here.

There’s no support

While I’m not writing this to blow Zapnito’s trumpet (or at least not too loudly), when we work with customers we’re hands on. We care about making their community successful - obviously.

That support is likely to be non-existent if you choose to build on LinkedIn or Facebook. There may be videos showing you how to use functionality. But there’s certainly no expertise there helping you to make the community thrive. That’s up to you, and only you.

Once you’re there, you’re a bit stuck

Not long ago I was talking to a Managing Director about building a branded expert community around their exclusive CEO club. This was a high-end brand holding events for time-poor people.

He was excited about using Zapnito to create a community that was highly focused on thought leadership. So he took the idea to the CPO and the CPO said “no, first test the concept on LinkedIn”.

Testing the concept of a high-end expert community on LinkedIn doesn’t work, because you’re testing a platform that isn’t designed for that. If it doesn’t work on LinkedIn, it could be for all the reasons above, not because the idea of an expert community doesn’t work.

But also, on the off-chance it did work, then what do you do if you decide down the line that you want to own the data and brand?

As I said at the start, it’s so important to think about why you’re building the community in the first place, and which platform is the right fit. Otherwise you’re setting yourself up to fail.

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