January 2020 – Lauriane Lebrun, Marketing & Communications Coordinator

As the Membership Guys have explained, “When it comes to membership sites, you’ll often find that people will come for the content, but they’ll stay for the community.  An active community is the glue which holds a successful membership together.”  But where is the best place to build your community?  Popular options include Facebook groups and on-site forums, and there are pros and cons to both.  Let’s see how they compare.

Easiest to Use: Facebook.  You don’t need extensive tech knowledge to set up a Facebook group, whereas a website forum will likely require some code-writing skill.  In addition, chances are that many of your members are already on Facebook and know how to use it (you can know for sure that this is true if your organization already has a Facebook page with high engagement rates).  A website forum, on the other hand, will entail at least a small learning curve for most users.

Best Organized: Forums.  Facebook groups have a search function, but it’s much easier to find your way around a forum if you’re looking for a specific topic.  While forums are typically organized into neat categories and sub-categories, the content in Facebook groups is formatted like a Facebook News Feed.

Most Focused: Forums.  It’s extraordinarily easy to get distracted on Facebook: You login to check out photos of a friend’s wedding, and before you know it, you’re sharing a movie star’s video of his puppy riding a skateboard.  A web forum runs no such risks – if people come to interact in your forum, they are likely to stay on your website.

Friendliest: Facebook.  When choosing between forums and Facebook, it is important to consider your target audience.  While the technologically, scientifically, or academically-minded might feel at home interacting on a forum, others may prefer the more relaxed, friendly feel of a Facebook group.  While Facebook is a perfect place for photos and videos, forums are often best suited to text-driven conversations. 

SEO Champion: Forums.  According to Website Toolbox, building a public forum on your website is “extremely beneficial for search engine optimization (SEO).  Search engines love user-generated content that is all related to the same topic.  It ranks high in search engines and helps drive more new traffic to your website and forum.”

Most Convenient: Facebook.  While participating in an on-site forum requires members to consciously seek out and log into your website, many are already checking Facebook on a regular basis.  According to the Membership Guys, “members have to purposefully go to your site” to access forums, “which, when there’s so much vying for their attention when they hit the internet, can easily slip down the priority list.”  Facebook gives you the opportunity to meet your members in the same place they are already spending their screen time.  It is also easy to access Facebook groups on-the-go from a mobile phone or tablet, whereas some forums are only designed for desktop use.  Additionally, Facebook notifications make it quick and easy to know when another group member has interacted with your post/comment.  You may be able to set up notifications for a forum, as well; however, if this is not an option with your system, you’ll likely need to do some additional marketing to drive members to the forum.

A+ for Automation: Forums.  Members of a private Facebook group must be manually admitted and excluded by administrators (that is, by your staff, board, or volunteers).  A web forum, on the other hand, can be built into your website so that only members automatically have access when they login to an active account.

Optimal Ownership: Forums.  When you build an online community on Facebook, you’re working on rented land, which means you are at the mercy of Facebook’s rules.  In a web forum, however, you are the owner, in charge of everything from updates to branding to data collection. 

Here are some other responses to the Facebook vs. Forums question:

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