If you want to start an online community, you may be faced with the decision of which platform to use. A Facebook group is quick and easy to set up and can therefore be a solution for the beginning. Many potential users are already signed up with Facebook, so getting started with a Facebook group is very easy. However, a Facebook group can also have some disadvantages, which we would like to discuss in more detail below.
All data collected through your Facebook group belongs to Facebook. This includes, for example, all messages, pictures, and other user data. Facebook owns this data and will use it to track user behavior, sell data, and serve targeted ads. A Facebook Group doesn't cost the operator any money, but Facebook still earns from the data collected through the Facebook Group.
Since the data belongs to Facebook, there is no way for you to export the data, for example, to import it into another system. Your community is therefore completely dependent on Facebook and at the mercy of changes in Facebook's business policies. For example, Facebook could always monetize groups more through ads and make them completely paid.
At the same time, the Facebook platform is also getting on in years and is struggling with dwindling user numbers. Young people in particular tend to use Instagram, Snapchat or Tiktok these days. Do you remember MySpace, StudiVZ and others? Those were social networks whose user numbers had plummeted and were eventually shut down, along with all the data. After you've worked so hard to build your own community, it's important to be able to back up the data and move it to another location at any time.
With your own forum, e.g. based on a forum software like WoltLab Suite, you own the forum and the data that goes with it. You can backup the data on your own computer, export the data and move your forum to another software if necessary. At the same time you protect your users from tracking and targeted advertising.
You want to monetize your growing community in the future - e.g. through ads? As the operator of a Facebook group, you're left in the cold, because Facebook already does that for you, without you having to pay for it, of course.
If you run your community in your own forum, you are always flexible in terms of monetization. You can advertise on your forum, get sponsors, ask for donations, or charge subscription fees for certain sections or content. Your forum can become a whole new source of recurring revenue.
At some point, you may want to sell your successful project, along with its community, to another person or business. A Facebook group can't be sold this way because you don't own it.
If you already have your own website, having your own forum instead of a Facebook group offers some advantages. You can embed a forum seamlessly into a website. This ensures that users stay on a website and don't switch to a third-party site like Facebook. Giving your users a reason to keep coming back to your website increases your brand awareness and leads to more traffic.
Having your own forum is also great for search engine optimization (SEO). Search engines love user-generated content that all relates to the same topic. Good coverage by search engines ensures more visitors to your website. Content from Facebook groups, on the other hand, is not indexed by search engines at all and can therefore basically not be found via Google and Co.
For the successful establishment of a community, it can be important to design it individually and thus increase the recognition value for the users.
When using a Facebook group, you have no influence on the visual design. You cannot customize logos, colors or typeface. Even your own or additional functions or settings are not possible with a Facebook group. Especially as a company, it should be important to you that your community also matches the corporate identity of your company.
An own forum allows you to adapt all aspects of your community individually to your project. You can configure all functions individually and also add your own functions using plugins. In addition, colors, logos, typeface and layout can be customized as desired.
Facebook groups are a stream of posts and comments on those posts. There is no way to categorize posts using subsections. For this reason, users usually only pay attention to the last few posts.
A forum is usually much better organized and it is often easier for users to find what they are looking for. This makes forums useful in a way that Facebook groups cannot. While you join a Facebook group to get feedback, join a conversation, or because you were invited by a friend, you can use a forum to find out what already exists about what you want to know. Forums can be organized around different topics and questions, which is very helpful. By creating your own forum, you can reach people who are interested in the topic and want to expand their horizons.
Facebook is a smorgasbord of distractions. Whether it's politics, memes, puppy photos, recipes - you name it - there's plenty on Facebook to distract members of your community. On Facebook, you're competing for users' attention with Facebook posts and countless other Facebook groups. Facebook's algorithm decides which posts users get to see. The point is, you have no guarantee that members of your group will see all the discussions that take place in your group.
In a forum, your users are free from all these distractions, subsequently the content of your forum is the focus. People are there for a reason, and they get a lot more out of it that way than if your content is lumped in with cat memes.
A Facebook group can be a quick way to start a community, but in the long run it can also have some disadvantages or limitations. And you should always keep in mind that switching to a different platform later on is always like a complete reboot, since you can't take the existing content with you.
Deciding whether you should create or use Facebook groups or forums ultimately depends on your goals. If you want to invest the time, it may also make sense to use both solutions at the same time to reach a larger audience overall and not become too dependent on one platform.
Which do you prefer, Facebook group or a forum? Share it with us in the comments!