Originally published at Harvard Business Review
Facebook Groups have been called "Google Wave for Humans" by some and "spam" by others. They have the potential to benefit your business, brand, and organization in ways that are probably slightly ahead of our time. In the mean time, what does it mean? I've taken a deep dive, and here are a few ideas for how I think Facebook Groups are the latest evolution in the gradual socialization of business.
Power To The People. If your organization, business, or brand wants to set up and staff a "digital embassy" on Facebook, then your primary vehicle is an official page. In Groups, the power shifts from the official organization to the unofficial "ambassadors," the individuals. People, not companies, start groups. But these people can be employees, subject matter experts, influencers, anyone. Facebook Groups have always been built on this, but the latest iteration puts the feature front and center, includes viral loops (members in a group can invite other members in), and empowers administrators of groups to share the power with others in it.
The Micro Collective Is Your Focus Group. It's likely that advocates of your organization can and will form groups around subject matter that's relevant to your business. For example if an influential mom organizes a group around parenting and your company manufactures parent products, you'll want to get invited to the group. But it will still be the decision of individuals, not the company to invite a company rep in. If you have employees who are trusted and part of these communities naturally, you have the opportunity to gather opinions, ask questions, participate and perhaps gain intelligence that makes your products better. Small, high-quality groups would be ideal for this, and the group chat feature could become an interesting tool. It's critical for organizations to realize that any deployment of "ambassadors" would require meaningful participation and respect for the organic rules of any group. Try pushing too hard or using the group for something the group doesn't want it used for, and you'll be out.
The Social Press Briefing. Uber-influential former Microsoft (client) employee Robert Scoble created a group titled "Tech Leaders & Influencers" which quickly scaled to more than 500 members. The group is already at risk of losing its exclusivity as it scales, however other groups may likely be created using the "secret" function which hides more activity. Groups possess the the potential to gather a high signal to noise ratio of individuals where you have all the right people in a virtual room. In these scenarios, a spokesperson or "ambassador" for an organization has the option to communicate first to a self-selected group of people.
The Collaboratory. From Wikipedia: "A collaboratory, as defined by William Wulf in 1989, is a "center without walls, in which the nation's researchers can perform their research without regard to physical location, interacting with colleagues, accessing instrumentation, sharing data and computational resources, [and] accessing information in digital libraries." Facebook Groups is not designed to be a collaboration tool, and functionality such as shared docs has vast room for improvement. That said, don't be surprised if your employees start using it to do work or your customers use it to help and/or potentially harm your organization. For example, this article was originally written on Facebook Docs with the help of several colleagues who edited.
Hyper Targeted Advertising. I created a very small group called "Social Business Architects" which I plan (and hope) to keep very small and exclusive. I've already noticed that Facebook ads are targeting more specifically to this group. Again, this isn't entirely new, however if groups with especially high signal to noise ratios are established and maintained, it presents Facebook with the opportunity to "hyper target" prospects. I would not be surprised to see additional tools introduced which allow advertisers to do this. The concept of getting an ad out to a small, highly engaged and niche group is appealing to marketers who are finding less success with mass, less targeted techniques.
How quickly Facebook refines (which they have a history of doing) and how communities will organize and police themselves will determine how quickly these trends pan out (or don't). Either way, the new Groups presents interesting opportunities which bring the often unpredictable human factor into the core of how we communicate, interact and engage.