People are joining Facebook groups more in 2021 with an astonishing 79 per cent surge in memberships.

That’s the headline stat of a rolling data project I’ve carried out over the past years to look at how one district is embracing the platform.

In October 2021, in Braintree, Essex there are almost 940,000 individual memberships of Facebook groups in the district – up from 521,000 the year before.

In the week where Mark Zuckerburg announced a raft of new tools for Facebook groups this is further evidence of the vitality and importance of groups on then platform.

What is a Facebook group?

A Facebook group is an online community where people with a shared interest can connect. They can be communities of interest that have come together or they can be geographic communities building themselves a space online. Here, a village, town or housing estate can build their own Facebook group.

The trend for groups mirrors an established trend away from the open market of discussion and towards more private walled gardens.

Facebook’s own data from 2020 would suggest that two thirds of all Facebook users use Facebook groups. That figure is likely to have increased.

Admins of Facebook groups are responsible for content and good order and have long been more influential in their community than the local patch newspaper reporter.

What does the data say?

The trend is upwards as the data shows there are more memberships of groups.

For the past five years I’ve collected data from Braintree in Essex a district of 150,000 39 miles from London. Braintree is a new town largely built in the 1960s top house the overspill from the capital. It has the same problems that face other urban areas.

Surrounding the town is a rural district of small towns and villages with the mix of urban and rural making it an ideal mix to study.

Memberships boom in Braintree

In Braintree, Facebook group membership is booming with the 940,000 memberships set against a backdrop of a population of 147,000. That works out as 6.3 memberships per head of population.

Back in 2017, the number of Facebook group memberships was almost half the current number on just less than half a million.

Groups in Braintree can range from the parish noticeboard of the small village group of Little Bardfield Online with 271 members to the 13,000 who belong to the Braintree Hub.

They can also reflect existing networks such as Steeple Bumstead Badminton Club (47 members) or Rayne Neighbourhood Watch (585 members).

They can be self-organised protest groups, such as the Hatfield Peverel Delay and Repay group set-up with 86 frustrated commuters or Parishes Against Incinerator with more than 5,000 members.

Elsewhere, you don’t have to go far to understand the demise of local newspaper small ads. Braintree Sales (4,400 members) is one of dozens of selling sites where people can sell unwanted bikes, pushchairs or guitars. Jobs in Braintree Essex has more than 5,000 members.

Overall, in 2021 the number of groups also rose – by 219 per cent – to 721 across the district.

Pages rise but find it harder to cut through

The study also found that the number of pages had also risen but the 14 per cent increase to 1,128 lags in pace behind groups in the same area.

Facebook data also shows that less page content is being shown in people’s timelines than groups or updates from friends and family. Just 14.3 per cent of your timeline is from pages while 19.3 per cent is from groups and 57 per cent from friends and family.

In short, there are more pages chasing fewer organic slots.

New tools and Facebook groups in the metaverse

A further indication of Facebook’s love affair with groups are the increased number of tools being created for the platform.

Over the past 12-months, the creep of groups has increased as content from groups you don’t follow is being slipped into your timeline if it’s relevant to you and if the group is public.

When I post in the Old Football Grounds group I’m in I end up with related content from other groups.

Facebook announced more tools at the Facebook Communities summit in 2021.

Fundraisers, sponsorship, shops, paid sub-groups and other transactional things have been announced.

But beyond that, groups are also part of the metaverse idea. In a nutshell, this is using technology to share experiences.

“Groups and communities are going to be an important part of the [metaverse] vision. When we can’t be together the metaverse will get us closer.”

Mark Zuckerburg, Facebook Communities Summit 2021

Now, what he metaverse is trying to be and could be is up for discussion but again its a sign of direction of travel that groups are part of the plan.

For me, I can see the functionality making it easier to run events online.

To learn how to better engage with Facebook groups sign-up for the ESSENTIAL COMMS SKILLS BOOSTER programme that shows you this and other skills. More here.

Original source – The Dan Slee Blog » LOCAL SOCIAL: Is it time for a Local localgovcamp?

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