Membership Site Community: Private Facebook Group Or A Forum? (7 Reasons For My New Decision)

community

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When you’re setting up your membership site, one of the issues you’ll inevitably need to confront is your member community. Should you have one? And if you do, should you use a forum or go with a private Facebook group?

Here at the Blog Marketing Academy inside The Lab, I have long been using a private Facebook group.

But, I’ve just recently decided to take the plunge and switch to a forum.

What I’m going to share with you in this post is an evolution for me. When I started up The Lab, I was pretty convinced that Facebook was the way to go. But, no more.

So, let’s get into it…

Why I Went With Facebook Originally

The answer is simple: Accessibility and Ease.

bma-group-cover

There are a few MAJOR strengths to using Facebook for your member community:

  • Facebook is very easy to use for people since most are already there anyway and use it every day.
  • Facebook is immensely accessible. The Groups App and the main Facebook App  itself make it super easy to use over mobile.
  • Notifications make casual participation in the member community easier.
  • No technical headaches to getting set up. Facebook is just there and ready, as opposed to a forum which comes with techie headaches.

These days, Facebook is essentially an online utility. It is almost as much a part of our online lives as the electric company is to our home life.

So, it seems like a natural fit.

Truth be told, there are a number of other private communities I know or am a part of which do successfully use Facebook. One of them in my own market is the Digital Marketer Engage group. They have one of the largest online membership communities in this space and they use a private Facebook group to run it. And there are many others. So, if one is playing the game of “follow the leader” here and looking for that social support for the idea of using Facebook for a private member community, you’ll find it.

Why I Began To Change My Mind

At the beginning of the year here (2017), I have done a ton of work here at BMA to streamline everything having to do with the Lab. The new design interface has removed a ton of constraints, made things easier to manage, and make a better member experience all around.

bma-theme-changes

Click to read more about the recent internal changes to this site.

But, The Lab Community remained on Facebook.

Numerically, if I had to guess, I’d say maybe 10% or less of registered Lab members are actually active in the Lab Community on Facebook. We don’t even have a 100% success rate getting new Lab member signups to join the Community. After all, it requires a manual process of request and approval to get members in there. If they don’t request it or the name is completely different, then it never happens.

But, the other big thing that began to get to me bigtime is the sheer volume of NOISE on Facebook. Especially here at the beginning of 2017 while people are so busy wasting their time hooting and hollering over every single thing President Trump does in his beginning days.

facebook noise

Now, I can discuss politics with the best of them. 🙂 Some may know that. However, there is simply no getting around the HIGH volume of distraction that there is. This is most definitely not a new problem. It just happens to be really apparent right now.

One cannot come on to check on the Lab Community without getting notifications for a bunch of useless noise on Facebook. The very interface is DESIGNED to distract you.

And, I can’t blame Facebook for this. This is a social network.

7 Reasons Why I Switched The Private Community To A Forum

There are a number of reasons here, but I’ll give you 7 of them…

#1 – Distraction

distractionFacebook is a cesspool of distraction. Whether it is politics, memes, puppy photos, recipes – whatever – there is a lot to distract you on Facebook.

Facebook is like a drug. It is designed to give you that little dopamine hit… to scratch that little spot where you want easy reward. It is like a crack hit to the brain.

Now, I know that one of the biggest reasons people fail to make progress in their online business is lack of productivity caused by DISTRACTION. What kind of responsibility am I practicing to send my members into a sea of distraction just to utilize one of the major benefits to their Lab membership – the community?

It makes no sense. It is even borderline hypocritical.

In a forum environment, we are free from all that noise. Plus, to even be there, one would need to be in the work mindset. In other words, a person is there for a purpose. I think members will get far more out of it this way, rather than putting this kind of stuff into the same mix with cat memes.

#2 – Facebook Ads

Facebook is a public, for-profit company. They make their money off ads. So, when one is in the Lab Community, they’ll see some ads for other people’s stuff sitting in the sidebar.

But, it is potentially going to get worse…

Facebook is testing and will be ramping up the ability for advertisers to target Facebook groups. This means we will begin to see sponsored posts inside Facebook groups.

Faceboook-Group-Distractions

From what I have read and discussed so far, this does not seem to exclude closed groups, either. If the group is secret, it should be fine since nobody will know it is there anyway. While I have yet to personally see an ad in any closed groups I’m a part of, I have seen screenshots of it from others I know. So, it is happening.

The jury is still out on how this will finalize, but it simply goes to show what every business owner needs to never forget…

This is Facebook’s territory. They own it, not you. That group is their’s, not your’s. And, they will do whatever it takes to increase profits for their shareholders as that is really their only true obligation.

#3 – EdgeRank And Visibility

Organic reach on Facebook has been dwindling. Facebook’s mission (using a system called EdgeRank) is to determine what it is you most engage with and then show you more of that.

The result is that conversations inside your private member community may not actually be seen by your members.

Case in point, I am a member of Digital Marketer Engage and, even though I have notifications turned on, I don’t see hardly ANY of the stuff that gets posted in there. I only see it if I purposely visit the group.

Now, couple this with the fact that Facebook is centered around the News Feed and all the distraction therein. Point is…. your members will not necessarily see any conversations happening in your group.

#4 – Lack of Control

With a Facebook group, I am running it on “rented land”. Actually, it isn’t even rented since I don’t pay them anything for it. So, I’m using a free resource where Facebook’s interests are to show a bunch of ads.

Facebook could change anything they want anytime when it comes to how groups operate. I mean, they change things all the time.

For the same reasons I would never recommend that anybody try to build an online business around a free blog like Blogger or BlogSpot, I would  have to be consistent in saying you shouldn’t build a business community (which a paid membership is) on free hosting either.

#5 – Really Crappy Search Function

Faceook-Group-Search

Facebook groups have a search function, but it sucks. Like, really sucks. All of that user-generated content has very little long-term value because it is so insanely hard to find anything.

If you’re trying to increase the real value

For Groups to be truly useful for a real community, they’d have good search. Maybe the ability to use categories. But, I highly doubt Facebook will ever do that. Groups operate like a NewsFeed, with all the trappings that go with it.

#6 – Lack of Ownership Of Content

Combine this with #4 above and you can see what a risk this is. Something as mission-critical as a member community where people are PAYING to have access shouldn’t be placed in an environment where you don’t own the content and can’t control what they do with it.

#7 – No Automatic Access

Facebook is notoriously an island unto itself. There is no way to automate access control for members.

When people join the Lab, we have to tell them (often many times) to request access to the group manually. Then, we have to approve it manually. If the person cancels later, we have to manually revoke their privileges. This makes additional work for everybody.

The Forum Software I’m Going With

I’m no stranger to forums. In my tech blogging days, I owned and very busy forum powered by vBulletin. Things have changed a lot today. There’s new options out there such as IPBoard, which looks incredibly great.

Thing is, I am hosted with WPEngine. And I truly love these guys. However, one of the drawbacks is that I can’t run something like IPBoard. WPEngine is WordPress-focused.

So, long story short, I decided to go with a much more modern option called Discourse.

Discourse_logo

I am using DiscourseHosting to host the forum, since they take care of all the headaches. I didn’t want to have to deal with it. The Lab Community forum is on a sub-domain and is integrated with the membership as a single-signon.

The end result is that the community is now inside the Lab. The software will already know who they are based on their membership. And it will just be a seamless experience.

The forum comes with things such as email digests, push notifications, ability to reply-by-email. So between all that and me highlighting cool conversations to members on the email list, I don’t think we’re going to have any real issues with engagement.

Sure, it will be different. It will take some getting used to. But, in the long run, this is a move I should have made long ago.


I’d love to see you inside the new Lab Community. Help me kick things off in there!

If you’re a member, you can click here to directly enter the Lab. You’ll need to be logged in, but then you’ll be good to go.

And if you’re not yet a member, you can join us right now. Give it a try, kick the tires. In addition to the Community, we’ve got all the other numerous benefits of The Lab to help you build the business you want for your blog.

Comments on Membership Site Community: Private Facebook Group Or A Forum? (7 Reasons For My New Decision)

  1. Sarah Arrow says:

    Hi David, great insights as usual.
    I moved my community into Facebook 2.5 years ago, and I’m now in the process of moving it to LinkedIn.
    LI groups are better set up for welcoming etc, and yes there’s the ads aspect but to be honet at £3.50 a click few of my audience can afford to advertise there ;).
    I don’t want to have the hassle of passwords, passowrd insecurity and all the grief that comes with a forum.
    Of course, I may change my mind later (again) but right now I’m moving back to LI.

    1. David Risley says:

      Interesting. For me, we already have logins here because of The Lab. So, we’re not adding a new layer. Kinda makes sense in our case.

  2. Rick says:

    Thanks for being so upfront about your decision and choices. I was JUST about to create two new Facebook groups to support two different circles of clients…

    Your points ring home. Particularly the one about access – adding and removing. Just seems like a logistical “no fun at all” which I’m doing already in one group I run. Three? Ugh.

    So when you remove members who expire, they also have their forum access automatically removed?

    1. David Risley says:

      Yes, it would be automatic since it is directly tied in with MemberMouse.

      1. Rick Wilkes says:

        Discourse looks great. What I am seeing from their support forums and the WordPress plugin is that while Membermouse (which I also use) handles creating the user account, and the SSO plugin handles the login to Discourse nicely…

        …It doesn’t seem to allow any kind of other “membership levels” handling in an automatic way. I have three membership levels, and each has different private discussions. And those do not seem to be linked. (sad face)

        1. David Risley says:

          Yeah, I’m sure there would be a little geekiness requires. However, I’ve figured it out.

          If you use the Primetime Discourse plugin to integrate rather than the official one, it has basic MemberMouse integration. This plugin is in the repository, however you need to use this one from GitHub to get the MM functionality:
          https://github.com/PrimeTimeCode/pt-wp-discourse-sso

          Then, if you’re at all handy with PHP, if you open up the /public/class-pt-wp-discourse-sso.php file in that plugin and scroll down to line 404, you’ll see the code for checking if the person has a free member level and will bar them from the forum login. It wouldn’t take much to modify that to allow certain levels only.

          As for different access for different levels, that might be a further matter of customization. Or perhaps use the group functionality. One way or the other, I’m sure it could be done.

          Also, if you’re not on WPEngine, you could explore other forum options.

  3. Michelle S says:

    I am clicking on the link above but it doesn’t bring me to the forum, and I can’t find it on the main page either. Is it not up yet or am I not clicking on the right thing?

    1. David Risley says:

      I just looked up your profile and you don’t appear to be a Lab member. You bought one of the Plans, but that doesn’t come with a Lab membership. Would love to see you join us!

      It should show you a “no access” page, tho. I’ll need to test to see why that may not be happening.

  4. Manxed says:

    I completely agree about avoiding Facebook. If you’re you’re on Facebook then the customers aren’t yours, they’re Facebook’s.

    Whereas if you’ve got your own self-hosted online course or membership site then you have complete control. This does require a bit more effort in terms of initially setting up, but it’s worth the investment in the long run.

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