Using Facebook to Build a Connected Community

Debra Askanase

Facebook has so much promise as a platform for community engagement. While individual Facebook profiles have always been designed to share content easily, connect, and find new friends, Facebook pages seem to have been designed as a broadcasting mechanism. What any organization wants, however, is the opposite: to connect with its stakeholders, deepen engagement, and create a relationship with its stakeholders. The good news? Facebook has recently revamped its groups design to facilitate the development of real communities and community engagement on Facebook.

Though every organization uses pages, the native pages interface puts a distance between the organization and its stakeholders. Facebook pages are designed to be an “official organizational space” on Facebook, which usually includes company branding and messaging. While there’s nothing wrong with this, the very act of creating an “organizational space” means that it is not a “community space.” Most day school Facebook pages that I have viewed are “broadcast” spaces devoted to sending information out one way to Facebook fans. I have yet to visit any organizational Facebook page that is wholly devoted to and encouraging of fan updates, fan news, or driven by fans. (I think this could be a fascinating experiment in organizational community-building, however!)

The new page design is counter-intuitive (two columns to view at the same time? And which side is more important?), awkward and clunky. Fan “Posts by Others” are hidden within pages, comments often take place within individual newsfeeds (which hinders community-building within a page), and administrators have tremendous control over what can be posted by a fan to a page. Page administrators have to work very hard to overcome the distance set up by Facebook in order to create a sense of community. Waiting for fans to post may mean waiting a long, long time!

In addition, pages are at the mercy of the Facebook news feed algorithm. Posting an update to a page doesn’t mean fans will see it. The average post by a brand only reaches 16-17% of fans. If that update is shared, commented upon, and liked by more than a few, then Facebook will optimize that post to show more prominently in certain fans’ news feeds. One of the reasons pages struggle so much with engagement: most people don’t see the updates. Compounding this, most fans don’t visit the page once they’ve liked it, so the opportunity to create a community space is limited by Facebook’s own newsfeed algorithm.

How to make your Facebook page a community-based Facebook page

From the page Timeline intended to tell the story, to the page updates intended to encourage conversation, however, page admins do have the opportunity to faciliate conversation within a page. The first question to ask is: what do the Facebook page fans want to talk about? Where is the intersection between what the fans want to talk about and what the organization represents and cares about?

The second set of questions to ask yourself is around content. What content do the people engage with most: photos? videos? blog posts? About what? What gets the most likes, shares, and comments? Take a look at the page Insights to find out more about the content that fans want more of, and optimize that content for engagement. Paying attention to the posts that have great reach, “Talking About This” numbers (numbers of likes, comments, and shares per post) and virality will point you towards your most engaging content.

Invite the community in. Ask questions around the content they want. Invite answers, photos and content submissions related to “the conversation.” Commit to a 50-50 rule: no more than 50% of the page content comes from you (Picture 1).

Or hold a weekly content contribution theme and ask for submissions (Picture 2).

Create a group of community content creators and curators from your biggest fans. Identify your most frequent contributors and invite them into a private online group to think about and curate the community’s Facebook content.

Message them personally through Facebook asking them to become contributors. (When I was the Digital Engagement Manager at FirstGiving, we asked our two most engaged members of a Facebook group whether or not they’d be willing to be guest blog contributors for three months. They both happily accepted.)

Lastly, tell a story using the Timeline milestone dates on the right-hand side. Add relevant photos to milestone events and place them on the timeline: founding of the school, opening of the middle school, new head of school, etc. Invite alumni to submit their photos for Timeline milestones and use those. This is the opportunity to include the community in telling the school’s story, and share the story of the school through photos and narrative.

Experience the real community on Facebook: Facebook groups

While I have consistently counseled that page owners can use Facebook pages to create community and deepen commitment, that trust and commitment can never compare to what happens in a group. Facebook groups were designed to facilitate online community-building. The mere fact that admins must post to the group as people changes the internal dynamic of the group. Groups become personal places. Group members are notified when anyone posts, as opposed to relying on it to appear in a newsfeed. The conversations in groups tend to focus on issues, experiences and connections.

I am a member of several Facebook groups that were created by organizations in order to launch and discuss either an online campaign or an issue. Within these, I’ve seen friendships build, investment in the group and organization deepen, and member-to-member connections move people to action. There’s a bit of magic that happens when a group begins to feel and act like a connected community. I’ve witnessed great, even magical ideas generated from within the group. The organization is just the facilitator, and the momentum is generated from within the members of the group.

Facebook groups offer Jewish day schools the opportunity to create a real community partnership amongst organizational stakeholders through Facebook groups. Whether or not your school has a Facebook page, consider the value that a group might add to your school: listening to what the community cares about, community-sourced content and conversation that adds value to the community (and might inform curricula), and creating lifetime relationship with alumni and parents.

Many day schools use Yahoo groups and Google groups for parent communication and inter-parent communication, but these are lists. Lists by their nature do not encourage conversation. Facebook groups encourage group conversation through its features: members’ photos who participate appear in the header, members can upload and discuss files and photos, members can add their friends to any closed or open group (facilitating group ties), and conversations flow more intuitively on the page when there are no logos talking at us.

Ideas for creating community with Facebook groups

Consider first “the conversation” that your stakeholders most often want to have, whether in the hallways or on a listserv. Do they care most about what is happening right now in the school, or what will happen in two years? Is the most liked content on the page related to education, Judaics, va’ad (parents’ association) activities, mitzvah projects, school policy, or something else? From there, consider whether or not there is sufficient interest in a particular conversation topic to warrant its own group, or whether starting a broad Facebook group is the right choice.

Facebook groups that are natural fits for a Jewish day school might include a Torah study group or va’ad-sponsored regular Torah study, a young alumni group (see Picture 3) and/or general alumni group, a mitzvah project group, or a group for discussing greater community activities.

If you consider creating a broader Facebook group, have a clear focus on the purpose of the group, and what you think the conversations should be. Recruit a few trusted supporters to support the conversations until conversation begins to develop naturally. These types of Facebook groups could supplant the Yahoo and Google listservs. They could easily serve as the water cooler for all school-related conversation, as well as those other conversations that knit community together: challah recipes, plumber recommendations, where to go on vacation, and advice for planning a simchah.

Lastly, consider how the Facebook group ties back to the school’s Facebook page. Groups serve a great role in creating and strengthening connections between those in the group. Connect group members back to the page with regular updates to the group from the page. Continue select conversations from the page to the group (and vice versa) so that the two Facebook presences do not operate independent of each other. Be sure to remind both page fans and group members of the role of each Facebook place.

Whether groups or pages, Facebook isn’t just for broadcasting news. Ideally, your school’s Facebook presence should connect the organization with its stakeholders, deepen engagement, and create a relationship with its stakeholders. In order to be effective, you have to invite the community into your space on Facebook, allow the connections to happen, and encourage conversation and content about what your community wants.♦

Debra Askanase is a Boston-based digital engagement strategist who works with nonprofit organizations worldwide. She may be contacted at She blogs on social media, technology and nonprofits at, and her Twitter name is @askdebra.

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HaYidion Networking Autumn 2012
Fall 2012