Amid the COVID-19 lockdowns, people have been turning to social media to stay connected, and online groups, in particular, have seen significant increases in engagement as users look to maintain social activity while physically unable to get together.
That's lead to increased reliance on these digital communities and tools, which may set in place new trends and habits that will carry-on, even after the lockdowns are lifted. Which is important to understand, both for marketers and community managers, as it could dictate how to reach people, how to connect, and what people expect from online groups.
To get a better understanding of how online communities have assisted people during the pandemic, Facebook recently conducted a new survey of 15,000 people who are members of online communities, gleaning new insight into how they're using groups, what they're getting from them, and how that's changed during the pandemic.
You can read Facebook's full "Communities Insights Survey" here, but in this post, we'll look at some of the key points.
First off, Facebook notes that online groups have seen a significant rise in engagement in 2020:
"Three quarters (77%) of people surveyed say the most important group they are part of now operates online (44.3% primarily online, plus 32.4% both online and offline). And 70% said digital tools were very important for helping their communities thrive during the pandemic. This increased participation in online community groups is here to stay: over the next 12 months, 86% of people whose most important community group is primarily online say they’ll continue engaging with that group at the same level (48%), or even more frequently (39%)."
Facebook has been promoting the use of groups over the past few years, so it's no surprise to see these growth stats. But it is important to note - as more people spend more time online, digital groups become a more significant social element, which has obviously been exacerbated again by the pandemic.
That, as noted, could lead to new habits, which see online groups become even more relevant in future.
Facebook also says that digital communities have become an essential support tool for many users:
"91% of respondents said they have given some form of support to others during the COVID-19 pandemic through their preferred group/community, whether it’s helping local vulnerable residents with their groceries during lockdown, sharing vital information from health authorities, or providing financial support to local business."
In addition to this, Facebook says that 86% of respondents have received some form of support, while 49% received emotional support from groups during the pandemic.
The value of digital connection, in replacement of in-person community, cannot be overstated in this respect.
Online groups can also help foster a sense of belonging, with 98% of respondents reporting a strong sense of community and kinship within their groups.
One in four people also indicated that their most important primarily online group is built around a similar hobby or activity, while 38% of respondents look to connect with people in their local area.
That's another a key point - with the impacts of COVID-19 forcing the shutdown of many local newspapers and publications, people will increasingly be turning to Facebook and other digital platforms to stay up to date on local happenings. Much of that engagement will occur in Facebook groups, and these stats underline the importance of such communities, which could make them a crucial outreach option for marketers looking to connect with these audiences in future.
Worth noting, too, that Facebook recently launched new sponsored posts for groups.
But while groups are popular, effective moderation is key:
"58% of people agree that one of the top qualities that make a community successful is having effective leaders."
If you want to run a great, engaged, active online group, it takes time and effort - you need to keep out spam, manage the discussion, and ensure that things stay on track, and within the group rules, to maximize participation. Facebook has sought to make this a little easier with the recent addition of auto-moderation tools, but the fact is that you need an active, present admin to manage any large group.
These are some interesting notes, and while many would have expected groups to see a significant boost in 2020, the specifics of that, and the implications for the future, are definitely worthy of note in your strategic planning.
There's a range of other group insights in Facebook's full report, which you can download here.