How to deal with unofficial Facebook groups? (And how do they evolve?)

So you’re the one to advise an institution (a company, a school, an NGO etc.) on social media. Part of the process is, of course, to establish one or a number of blogs, maybe an old-school forum, a Facebook group. After a little while you notice that there is another group about the exact same institution you’re consulting with. So what do you do? What are the things you should keep in mind when deciding how to react to this parallel group?

Allow me to use an example from my personal experience just to clarify what I mean: I’ve spent some very enjoyable time in two so-called “International Houses”. International Houses, if you’re not familiar with them, are some kind of (dorm-like) living arrangement with a strong focus on community and international exchange. I’ve lived in International House Sydney for about a year while studying abroad, and a few months in International Student House Washington, DC, while interning at the German Embassy there. So much for the background.

Both of these houses have Facebook groups these days.

For the house in Washington (ISH DC for short), there’s two open groups (1, 2), as well as one private group. (I also remember starting a group on Friendster – the way to go back in 2004. Actually, that wasn’t even a group, we had to use a simple hack and just start a user profile for the house itself.)

For IH Sydney, as far as I can tell, there’s just one Facebook group we opened while I lived there, and which is still thriving. Interesting, though, is how there are several groups for the DC house, none of which appear to be official – but it’s hard to tell, really.

So how come there’s one joint group in one house, but not in the other? What’s the difference between these two case studies? Both have quite very similar demographic (highly diverse, high level of education), only that in DC there seems to be a higher average age (more people doing masters degrees and PhDs or internships). Also, in DC there’s a higher turnover of residents as the move on after their internships, while in Sydney people stay for at least one, often several semesters. Also, I’m sure there were some differences in the house culture, both related to age and sheer number of residents (DC about half the size of Sydney, i.e. very roughly 100 instead of 200).

Do these groups have different agendas, goals, or demographics? Is it just a generational change, i.e. one community turned from residents to alumni, and the current residents don’t feel connected to the old group? Did one group not know about the other? Is one for organizing events, the other for staying in touch, a third for gossip?

This kind of question is something more and more businesses, NGOs, schools and other organizations will have to think about as soon as they adapt social media and join their communities online.

So there’s two questions I’m curious about here:

  1. What makes the difference that decides if there’s one group for all, or a number of parallel groups, and what’s good or bad about it?
  2. What’s the best way to approach parallely evolving groups: Would you recommend to ignore, embrace, involve them? Maybe even foster them or merge yours into theirs?

1 Comment

Certainly the turnover or the fluctuation of inhabitants is the reason for the differences between the group behavior of the two cities. With more time to spend together, there’s a significant stronger identification with the whole place and more chance to pass around information. In the case of Washington the groups probably have been started by different groups of people who don’t know each other but have a significant network to stay in touch with.

As how to deal with the different groups is concerned: look for members that are in several groups and talk to the administrators. It will not be easy to merge, for sure. Ignorance is not an option at all.

In any case you can start an “official IH group” and invite everybody else who then have to decide what their focus is, e.g. IH Sidney 2005-2006 or sth. In the end, the organization who owns the name has the right to decide, I think.