Traditionally, a social network consisted of users and groups. A user was an a individual, a group was a collection of individuals who shared a common interests. Then Facebook happened and they introduced pages. Google+ introduced circles, Facebook retaliated with ‘lists’ and the question has to be asked now “Are Facebook groups really necessary?”…
Customer -v- Business
Social networking has evolved in to a place where businesses now exist, along with customers. To refer to them as ‘businesses’ and ‘customers’ will immediately ‘red flag’ the whole experience for users, because users do not socialise online with the intention of buying stuff from businesses. Users do not see themselves as customers and the second they do is the second social networking dies, because users will have lost their identity and sense of self-importance.
Instead, we have ‘brands’ and ‘users’. Same thing just in undercover clothes. A brand is something that may be cool, funny or fashionable, therefore it’s ‘accepted’ by users who may very well be customers but don’t like to think brands view them as customers. However it’s these brands that in my opinion have killed the traditional ‘group’.
A group is on paper a pretty valuable target for any advertiser. Penetrate the group and your message gets seen or heard by a whole bunch of people. The problem is though, a business can’t create a profile on Facebook, or Google+ – it’s against policy. Therefore, a business can’t add themselves to a group or join a group, because they’re not allowed to. Groups are a ‘no business’ zone. That’s one reason why they’re dying out.
It’s interesting to note that Google+ didn’t launch with groups. The one big feature they didn’t copy from Facebook. Why? Well, i’m guessing because they think groups are redundant today. People have friends and they ‘like’ pages. Joining groups is just complicating the social experience.
What would we lose if we didn’t have groups?
Facebook claims you can do the following with groups;
- Create a private space
- Share different things with different people
- Control who sees your group
- Schedule group events
- Chat with the group
- Get notified about new posts so you never miss an update
- Connect off Facebook using the group’s shared email address.
But do you really need a group to do all that? Well, no, you don’t. A page will do most of that stuff apart from the chat feature and the ability to connect offline with email. Neither are all that important. These days, you chat with friends in real time, not strangers. You’ll leave comments or debate with strangers on walls etc… but a real time conversation with group members who aren’t your friends? I don’t do that myself and i don’t know anyone else who does. Status updates on a wall are basically the same thing without the ‘pressure’ on having to respond instantly. Plus, what pages won’t do, friend ‘lists’ will.
If Facebook were created today it wouldn’t have groups
I’m pretty sure if Facebook were created today, it wouldn’t have groups, just like Google+ doesn’t have groups. Groups are a ‘legacy’ social communication tool which still exist mainly because Facebook won’t want to burn the connections people have built up using them. No doubt there are plenty of avid group users, but if i step back and pretend i’m joining a social network for the first time, groups is the one feature i won’t ‘get’. Especially now that Facebook have ‘lists’ which helps categorise friends. The concept of a group is much easier to understand than a ‘page’, simply because we’re used to being part of groups in real life, but on Facebook, ‘likes’ are a currency… they’re that common.
Let’s say i love picasso art. There’ll be a ‘Picasso’ page, no doubt. I’ll ‘like’ it. Then i may find a Picasso group. I’ll join it. Chances are if i really like Picasso art i’m already friends with people who also like it, so i might create a list called ‘picasso friends’. Is there redundancy there somewhere? Absolutely, it’s confusing as hell and information overload. Either groups or pages need to be removed and it’s certainly not going to be pages because that’s where the money is for Facebook.
Plus it’s much quicker and easier to ‘like’ something than to ‘join’ a group. The word ‘join’ implies a much bigger commitment than ‘like’, which is of course why the ‘like’ was created. ‘Join’ or ‘Become a fan’ suggests stuff is limited to hardcore fans only.
So simply to cut down on clutter & redundancy, i don’t think Facebook today would launch with groups. It was a no brainer feature back in the early 00’s when social networks first came on the scene, but these days ‘groups’ are old skool. Will they be discontinued? Doubt it, certainly not any time soon, but it’ll be interesting to see whether Facebook kill off ‘groups’ at any stage to simplify social networking for users.