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What Happened to Facebook Groups Last Week - and Why That's Important For You

I don’t know if anyone noticed, but about a week ago Facebook Groups across the planet were savaged. But this turned out to be a good thing.

Numbers suddenly plummeted without explanation, and it only became apparent over a couple of days what had actually happened: Facebook had ‘corrected’ those groups whose numbers had grown from people who had been added to the group without their explicit permission.

There’s a button in the top right corner of a group page which permits admins, or, in some groups, members, to add anyone they like to the group without asking that person first. This can result in groups growing from a membership base which often remains ignorant that it has been added. I can see why Facebook thought it needed to step in and take out those names who had not directly asked to be there - though I think the fact that it was done so suddenly and without explanation left something to be desired. What happened to the Inner Circle Writers’ Group, for example, was that the group had reached 3,800 members but I woke up one morning to find that it had dropped to 3,747 overnight, without warning. A message from Facebook asking for admins to delete uninvited members, or at least an alert that this was going to be done would have been nice. But it was a good thing that the names removed were people who had somehow ended up in the group without any real desire to be there.

Within a few days the ICWG was back in the 3,800 range again, as new members are accepted by invitation only these days and have to meet certain criteria to be permitted entry - not everyone who applies gets in. Once I knew what had been done, I wasn’t too worried - in fact, it is a positive step to remove anyone from a group who doesn’t really want to be there.

Why positive?

Because a group is, or should be, made up of people who have a certain level of commitment as members. If you think that the idea of groups is to get as many members as possible, with the aim of growing larger and larger all the time, you have probably fallen for one of the biggest lies that there is in so-called ‘marketing’: that bigger = better. The truth is that size has almost nothing to do with success. Of course, you want a large enough membership for your group to be both viable and manageable, but, if you are trying to sell things through a group, size can actually be counter-productive.

If you are adding people to a group without their permission for the sake of having a bigger membership, you are in effect ‘contaminating’ a potentially engaged and active membership with people who may even be resentful of being there. At the very least, those people may act as a deadweight, not getting involved and creating an illusion of a thriving group when the truth might be quite different; at worst, some of them will complain and create a ‘bad press’ for you and your group.

As I’ve said before - and will no doubt say again - marketing is not about numbers. It’s about affinity. Instead of working on more and more people, it’s better to work on more and more engagement from the people already there. That engagement and activity will draw to itself more really interested people of like mind, and the group will grow organically and naturally from those who want to be there and who will add value to the group by joining it.

The Inner Circle Writers’ Group has been growing gradually since 2017, when it first appeared on Facebook. The graph looks like a slowly ascending hillside. The only slight dip is when Facebook judged that about fifty of those people hadn’t asked to be there. Good - they are gone. What’s left is a tremendously interested and engaged membership. I could easily turn that slowly ascending hill into a steep curve upwards by allowing into the group everyone who applies, without checking to see if they have any kind of interest in or passion about the kinds of things the group discusses. We could have thousands more members - but at the cost of the affinity between those members, as things became weighed down and dispersed with people who weren’t really that bothered about being there. Instead, by carefully selecting who gets in, we end up with a passionate, entertaining and enlightening group full of talented people.

Whether or not you have a group on Facebook, the same principle applies. It might do you some good to look through your database and separate out those who don’t really belong there. You don’t have to be rude - as I think Facebook was when it jumped in unannounced and made its adjustments. In some cases, you might not have to even let anyone know: just quietly remove some names. You’ll be doing them a favour by extracting them from something that they weren’t suited to anyway, and everyone else a favour by creating a base of true followers or friends, where ‘friend’ is defined as someone with shared interests.

Work on numbers? Affinity will fall. Work on affinity. Numbers will grow.

It’s one of those mysteries in Life which is obvious when seen, but which relatively few act upon.

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The Inner Circle Writers' Group is all about fiction: what it is all about, how it works, helping you to write and publish it. You can keep up to date with live contributions from members, upload your own fiction, enter competitions and so on:
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