Should You Move Your Community Off of Facebook?
Updated: Sep 24, 2020
How to decide if your community can make it off of "Big Social"
This year, I moved a community of almost 40k members off of Facebook and onto a private community platform called Circle. I run the brand community for members of Teachable, the online course creation SaaS company I work for. After three years of managing this community, which predated me by an additional three years, I spent almost six months re-evaluating the community strategy I inherited. (You can learn more about building a community strategy here).
I’ve learned a lot throughout the process of moving my community off of Facebook, and often hear community managers sharing perceptions, fears, and questions about how to make this decision effectively. Here, I’ll share what I learned with you. If you've already decided to move your community off of Facebook, check out my follow-up post here to learn more about making sure your migration is met with support.
Should you move your community off of Facebook?
The exodus off of Facebook is something we’re all acutely aware of—especially community professionals. It doesn’t feel great to rely on a tool that’s famous for privacy concerns. For many, that might be enough of a reason to stop using Facebook altogether. But, for community managers, especially ones operating within an organization, it’s important to get clear on why you’re considering moving your community off of Facebook so that you can explain your decision to stakeholders, and most importantly, ensure it's really the right move. You’ll need to take some time to interrogate your own assumptions about how Facebook is or isn’t serving your community, and get some qualitative and quantitative data to back up your instincts.
“For community managers, it's important to get clear on why you're considering moving your community off of Facebook."”
My most trusted way to start evaluating a big decision like this is to go through a strategic questioning exercise. In this post, I’ll go into detail on the questions I relied on to help validate moving my community off of Facebook. The questions I recommend asking yourself fall into three major categories: goals, member perception, and pain points.
I’ve also put together a worksheet that condenses this post into a digestible format, so that you can go through this exercise on your own and share the results with your team. You can download that worksheet for free here:
Big question #1: “What are the goals of my community program?”
Not surprisingly, the most important question to ask yourself as you consider moving your community off of Facebook is “What are the goals of my community program?” This may seem simple, and you may already know the answers. But, many community programs are created by team members for whom running a community is not their specialty—and sometimes communities are established without the care that a full-time community manager would put into launching a new community.
(Psst—to learn more about why I say “community program” and not just “community,” check out my post on redefining what it means to be a community manager.)
Maybe you are that team member who is managing a community, even though it’s outside your wheelhouse, or maybe you’re a community manager who inherited a program that was put together without a lot of intention. In either case, if you haven’t already, take some time to deeply consider the goals of your program. Go deeper than “a place to connect” or “something to add value for my members.” Think about what your community will and will not accomplish for both your organization and your members.
For example, one important dimension of determining the goals of your program, particularly when evaluating if Facebook is a good tool for you, is understanding if your community is intended to be a tool for acquisition. Are you expecting to utilize your community to find new customers? Or, is your community something only your existing members will be able to access? One of the biggest pros of utilizing Facebook is discoverability—if your potential members might be finding your community by searching on Facebook, be aware you might be missing this opportunity if you move off of Facebook. Another important dimension of determining your goals is giving yourself space to think without the boundaries of pragmatism that can often constrain creative work. I like to ask myself—what would I create if I had absolutely no limitations? This was a helpful question in the context of moving my community off of Facebook, because it allowed me to think outside the box of what was typically expected of communities hosted on Facebook. Did I want my community program to rely on forums and discussions, or did I want to run other programs, like product betas, gifting programs, challenges, and exclusive content series? When I actually evaluated the goals of my community, I determined that they were threefold: customer retention, high-quality content creation, and brand-building. From a retention perspective, the goal was to provide experiences that would drive paying members to continue to engage with Teachable’s product, and stay customers for longer. It was not an acquisition tool. For that reason, I knew I didn’t need to rely on Facebook in order to meet that goal. From a content creation perspective, I planned to use the community as a proving ground for new content packages, to surface member stories, and leverage user-generated content. When I considered this in the context of Facebook, I didn’t feel that the atmosphere and culture of Facebook encouraged high-quality content creation by members. In fact, I felt that the casual environment of Facebook as a whole would detract from my goal.
Lastly, I wanted to use my community to build affinity and personal identification with Teachable’s brand. I’ll touch on this a bit more later when discussing member perception, but since brand-building was such an important goal for my community, I felt the negative associations with Facebook hindered that goal rather than supporting it.
Big question #2: “How do I want my members to perceive my community?”
The second important line of questioning in this decision has to do with how your members perceive your community now, and how you want them to perceive your community going forward. It’s important to remember that as a community manager, part of your job is to shape perception and make informed decisions for your community based on the birds-eye-view that only you have. This category of questioning isn’t about hearing your members concerns and fears and following them without justification. It’s about making sure that your members current and desired perceptions are at the top of your mind when you build your new community, and making your decisions with knowledge and purpose.
“It's important to remember that as a community manager, part of your job is to shape perception and make informed decisions for your community based on the birds-eye-view that only you have.”
When thinking about member perception, consider the role your community plays in your organization as a whole. For example, many communities, including the one I built for Teachable, are a supplementary experience for paid members only. If that’s the case, you may wish for your community offering to be perceived by your members as a premium product. Consider if that’s the case for you, and if so, consider if your Facebook group is currently being perceived that way. Is using Facebook supporting your goals for member perception, or undermining them? Another important dimension to consider is whether or not your members have a general openness to (or even appetite for) moving off of Facebook. Perhaps your members have already shared these opinions with you, and if not: solicit them. Their opinions probably have to do with two things: how they feel about Facebook, and how they feel about their own technical skills. If you are a community manager, it’s likely you’re comfortable learning to use new platforms, but your community members may not be. Friction over learning a new platform is not a good enough reason in itself to discount moving off of Facebook, but it is important that you move into this decision empowered with information about where your members objections and fears might be.
When I spoke with members of my community prior to making my decision to move off of Facebook, I learned that my members cared a lot about privacy, and they didn’t trust Facebook to deliver that. I also learned they were open to, but apprehensive about, moving off a platform they use habitually. That information helped me design a community launch that took into account that my members would need help learning and getting used to my new community, and helped me proactively address objections upfront.
Big question #3: “What pain points are Facebook Groups presenting for me now?”
Lastly, consider any pain points you are running into in utilizing Facebook Groups as the software that powers your community. Chances are if you’ve sought out this post, you have a few in mind already. In my Facebook community, I had two big pain points. One was that as my community scaled, I knew Facebook couldn’t support me to integrate, automate, and analyze the community efforts I wanted to run. I had to manage some of my moderation processes manually that I knew other tools on the market could handle automatically, and connecting who was a member in my Facebook group to who was a member of my organization’s software was virtually impossible. Plus, there was little to no flexibility in setting up the format of my community to support the structure I had in mind.
The second was that I felt I couldn’t control the culture of my community as long as it was on Facebook. Since my members were having other (sometimes fraught) conversations, elsewhere in their Facebook feeds, the tone they embodied when they arrived in my community was influenced by that. Your pain points with Facebook may be the same, different, or non-existent. But in any case, considering what’s holding you back will help you choose a software to replace Facebook that suits all of your needs.
Thank you for reading!
If you enjoyed this post and are looking to evaluate a migration off of Facebook on your own, I’ve put together a worksheet that outlines these questions in an easily digestible and interactive format. You can download that here:
If you decide you’re interested in continuing to explore moving your community off of Facebook, stay tuned for future posts here—I'll continue to dive into questions about how software can support the healthiest communities here on the blog. To be notified of future posts and special offers, make sure to subscribe to my email list below. Thanks again!