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Facebook’s New Groups Feature: Is Opting In Really the Problem?


It’s been a few days since Facebook announced their groups feature upgrades and bloggers are still buzzing about it. What I’m hearing most from people is the sentiment that your friends shouldn’t be allowed to just add you to a group willy-nilly. You should have to opt in – agree to become a part of whatever group they’re creating.

Let’s back up a second though, and first think about who this groups feature was really created to help. Says Mari Smith, Social Media Thought Leader and coauthor of Facebook Marketing: An Hour A Day:

Frankly, the New Groups have clearly been designed for Facebook’s “average” user. That is, he/she has around 130 friends and predominantly uses the platform for personal/social connecting, playing games, sharing photos, etc. I can actually see some reasonable benefits for the more personal users to connect with small groups of known Facebook friends and, of course, family.

Mari goes on to talk about why groups has caused such a hulla-baloo in the blogging world:

Those of us who have chosen to optimize our personal profiles with thousands of friends for professional networking purposes and the likes are the anomaly. However, we are the ones at the forefront of any major Facebook change like this, and we feel the brunt of suddenly being “force joined” to Groups we have little or no interest in… that dump a barrage of emails into our already crowded inbox and cram up our Facebook notifications. That is, until such time as we turn off these settings (which I always do; I only have three Facebook email notifications turned on – Page stats, email, and birthdays.)

Sure, we can adjust our notifications and we can just quietly remove ourselves from any Groups we don’t care to belong to. But, we cannot turn off the “option” to be added to Groups.

I was shocked to read on Facebook’s official announcement that we could “use Groups as a replacement for mailing lists.” A forced opt-in mailing list? I don’t think so!

But the question I have is this: Is a forced opt-in really the root of the problem with the new feature?

If you know someone and they share their contact information with you, you have the right to categorize them. Twitter already has this feature  – you can create lists for people. Granted, Twitter does not have a way for you to mass-tweet to this list, but there’s also no opt-in/out going on. People can add you to whatever list they want, so you might show up on some list called “hates-women” even if you do not, in fact, hate women.

When someone becomes your friend on Facebook, they are opting in to be contacted by you. The groups have a lot of functionality problems, which I’ll talk about in a moment, but this isn’t about opting in. If you don’t want a specific person to contact you, don’t be their friend on Facebook.

There is the argument that you want to keep in touch with someone but not be on some kind of mailing list for their business. That’s where the “remove” feature comes in handy, in my opinion. You can very well decide that you don’t want to be a part of a person’s specific group, and once you do that, you can’t be added by someone else again. It’s like if someone has your email and is sending you personal notes, business communications, and funny chain letters. You shared your contact information with that person, so you can’t be upset when they contact you. What you can do is email the person and say, “Hey Alli, your funny chain letter forwards* are clogging up my inbox and I’m not really interested in them. Can you stop sending them to me?”What Facebook does is even better – it forces the user to not email you in a specific way any longer. You’re guaranteed not to get my forwards with the Facebook system, whereas with email, I might forget and keep sending them to you anyway.

Opting in is not the problem here, in my opinion. The problems lie with how the groups function. As it stands, they’re nothing more than pages that a current member has to invite you to like. That’s…well…stupid.

Social media expert Lewis Howes has also weighed in with his opinion, which has highlighted some of the core problems with the groups feature:

To be completely honest with you, I was about to take off for a flight to Vegas yesterday and opened up Facebook and saw the new groups. I created one for sports professionals and one for social media and realized that people were active in them immediately. It wasn’t until I landed 6 hours later that even more people were commenting on them, everyone was trying to join them, and I was getting notifications like crazy from people (even some who said they removed themselves from the group because they were getting too many notifications).

I’m still in testing mode, but agree with Mari that it should be opt in/accept instead of automatically putting people in groups without them accepting that request.

Let’s note some of the things Lewis said and why this groups thing wasn’t thought through:

1. Facebook doesn’t have proper easy-to-use documentation on how to use groups, especially for Internet marketing professionals. We have to play around with the settings and see what happens. That’s just not smart. I’m sure someone will come out with an ebook that costs $97 and teaches you how to best use Facebook’s groups settings. More power to you, future ebook writer. But Facebook should have that already. When you company introduces a new feature, it should also release a report that covers the basics of working with it.

2. People get a million notifications. Maybe there’s a setting where you can turn that off, but in general, it just shouldn’t happen. You should only get a notification when the person who created the group wants to contact you. If you’re interested in a thread, there should be a box you can check, like with comments on a blog. Yes, I want to receive further notifications when someone else comments on one of my opinions. No, I do not want to receive further notifications when I say “cute picture!” and a million other people do too.

3. Correct me if I’m wrong (because again, there’s not a lot of documentation on this), but it’s set up so that a member of the group can add other people to it, right? You have to be invited to be a member of a group, but not by the person who created the group. Furthermore, you can request to be a member of a group. Lewis talked about the fact that he landed to find that a bunch of people were trying to become members. It shouldn’t work that way. A group should be for the PERSON WHO CREATED IT. It should be a way for that person to categorize his/her friends. As an Internet marketer, you likely want people to add others to the group because really, the more the merrier, but what if you’ve created a group for…I don’t like, let’s say your work friends. Then someone adds your boss. Sure, your boss works at the same place, but you created the group for your friends, not everyone in the world who could possibly be categorized that way. It should be set up more like events – you can make it public for guests to invite others, but the default is that only an administrator can add people.

Like Mari, Lewis notes that groups should be opt-in. That’s where I disagree. Facebook needs to rethink how they do notifications and how people are permitted to join a group. This whole project was just not organized in a logical way. I already have pages. I don’t want my groups to be made up of the same people so that I basically have to spam two groups when I have something to say. Facebook needs to ask themselves, “What makes groups different for pages? How will users make use of groups? How can it meet the needs of both business owners and for-pleasure users?”

For now, a few things are apparent to me:

  1. Don’t be friends with someone if you’re going to be mad when they contact you. That’s your level 1 opt-in right there.
  2. Do some notification control. Facebook doesn’t make it easy or even intuitive, but you can control the notifications you receive.
  3. Opt out of the groups you don’t want to be a part of. It only takes a second.

If opt-in was the problem, people would have been mad about Twitter lists. If opt-in was the problem, people would have been mad about someone being able to invite them to an event and for you to show up on the page as an invited guest (even if you say no). The problem is the group function itself. Opting in, in my opinion, is just the scapegoat.

Also, clearly Facebook should hire me to be quality control for features they roll out. :-p

Some more opinions on the new groups features of Facebook:

*Note: I hate funny chain forwards and don’t send them; this is just an example.


  • Mari Smith

    Hey Alli – great article, many thanks for the props/quote. What you say makes sense – maybe the opt-in feature is a scapegoat. I will say these New Groups are making me rethink my entire friending strategy/policy for the first time in my 3.5 year history as a Facebook member… that’s what may be unsettling to me as well. 😉

    My 5k Facebook friends are a mix of people I really do know IRL, of course, but they’re also people I would like to get to know better and would welcome meeting them in person some day. However, people have diverse interests and even though I might be real friends with someone in real life, I may not gel with their particular special interest group. Yes, that’s where the Leave Group option comes in handy. But, for some strange reason, I’m left with this odd feeling that I breached some kind of “social etiquette.” As if someone I know picked me up and dropped me into a “party” and I quietly left without a word. Hmm.

    • Lucretia Pruitt

      The thing is, if you remove yourself from a group, the person who added you can no longer add you to any group. http://techcrunch.com/2010/10/07/conspiracies-privacy-spam-and-nambla-facebook-groups-are-fun/ — so it’s kind of like you saying “no thank you, I don’t want to attend this party” and the reply coming out as “Ew. No!! I don’t *ever* want to be invited to your parties!”

      The all-or-nothing approach is a little extreme.

      • Mari Smith

        Great point, Lucretia — that is such an odd setting. The whole product really needs to be better fleshed out specifically for those of us who use Facebook for more business related reasons vs. personal.

        • Lucretia Pruitt

          You know Mari, I was thinking about this, and I think I’ve identified part of the problem: the folks who are developing the new apps for FB view *Facebook* as the business and the users as as part of their equation (Platform + Apps + Users = Product) rather than viewing their users as a mix of what I call “Socializers”, small business people, brands and organizations.
          It would explain a lot of their defaults, including this one.

          • Mari Smith

            Guess what? Despite that TechCrunch article and ensuing comments, I cannot find confirmation anywhere that when a person removes themselves from one of your groups, you can no longer add them to ANY group.

            The way Facebook portray it in all their FAQ/Help Center, the departed member cannot be added to THAT group by anyone, ever. If the departed member wanted to rejoin the group at a later date, they’d have request to join.

            It is not evident at all – other than the test Arrington did with Zuckerberg – that a departed member can never be invited to any group, ever, by the original inviter.

            I gotta continue running my own tests now, darnit. 😉 I’m pushing the limits with my one test secret group (with one member – my own EA!), and I disabled the Groups App from publishing to my stream while I’m in stealth mode here. Lol!

  • Lewis Howes

    Thanks again for including me in this article… I think there is potential for huge opportunity with this new roll out… just wish they would have done it a little differently that’s all.

  • George Manlangit

    Alli, questions that I’m still trying to figure are:
    1) Is it a close group or open group?
    2) Is there a way to make it only single tier or make it multi level?
    3) Is there an admin?

    If there was an admin, then the admin should define parameters. As it is right now, I may be wrong, but I don’t see any admin privilege like in Pages. So any members could basically add their friends to the group.

    It’s almost like a town hall meeting kind of group. Let’s assemble as a group and if you know someone, you can join them in.

    I could only guess that the idea behind this is more of message collaboration a la Google Wave.

    As Nick of Allfacebook said, it’s a way to segment our real friends from the befriended ones. So I could have Family-Friend-Groups and Office-Friend-Groups, and pretty much filter the noise coming in from several directions.

    The group could probably define its own leader or admin that will define the character of the group so that no other friends could be added. That way, the opt-in feature would not be required. But the creator should define it upfront.

    Also, if someone sends an email to the group email, it gets posted on the group’s wall. But there’s no way to delete it. You could report it as abuse or spam, but how about just deleting it? As it is because there’s no administrative function, once posted, it can’t be deleted.

    • Mari Smith

      @George — answers to your questions:

      1) When you set up a group, the default is Closed but you can easily select the Open or Secret options at time of creating the group or retroactively. http://www.facebook.com/groups/

      2) I’m not quite sure what you mean by single tier vs. multi level. I’m assuming you mean insofar as only the Admin(s) can invite their friends to join? If so, this option is not available. All members can invite their friends to join any group, regardless of the type of group.

      3) Whoever creates the group is the original Admin. That person can then assign any member as an Admin. Admin rights are: the ability to edit group settings (e.g. change the group name, type of group – closed/open/secret, description, change the group’s profile picture), remove members, and give other members admin status. [Yikes on this last one – one inappropriate Admin, added by you or another Admin, could mess up a perfectly good group!]

      Regards deleting content, it is possible for any Admin to do so. Just mouseover the post/comment and click the “X” in the top right corner.

      To me, the new group product is actually *adding* to the noise. I’m already cool with filtering/curating via Friend Lists and other methods… and I just prefer to do all my connecting out front on my profile and fan page wall (and blogs and blog comments!) where others can benefit from the content.

      Hope these answers help!

  • Lucretia Pruitt

    You’re missing an element… if I remove myself from a group you add me to? You can no longer add me to *any* groups.
    So Mari adds me to a group I’m not interested in being a part of – I remove myself – and Mari can’t add me to the really awesome group she creates later. On top of that? When Mari realizes that she can’t add me to her new UberGroup? She knows that I have at one point rejected her – but not why or at what point.

    That said when I followed your Facebook did I opt-in to your life? Sure. But being part of your life doesn’t mean that you can give my phone number to whomever you want. It doesn’t mean that you can just bring 20 of your closest friends over to my house.

    Yes, it takes just a second (if you know where) to Opt Out. But automatically opting people in has been considered rude by Internet etiquette standards since day one. Just because it’s Facebook doesn’t make it okay.

    • Mari Smith

      Amen! Well said. I’ve left about five groups now — and each time I hover over that Leave Group button I think about what message it might send to my friend who invited me. It brings up all kinds of potential uncomfortable social etiquette ramifications – not wanting to offend people who add you to yet another group about social media, for instance.

      I want to be respectful; maybe there should be a field we could add in “reason for leaving?” Lol. Seriously, being actually INVITED to join a group and being able to CHOOSE to accept the invitation or not, of our own volition, is sorely missing. And not being penalized for leaving a group/ignoring an invite from each friend.

      I’ve chosen to stay in two groups for now. In the more recent one, it has an interesting topic and of the 24 members so far, only 3 of them are my friends. There’s almost no activity just yet – the owner set it up with good intent for now. I thought about a relevant question I wanted to post…. but stopped and hesitated because I have NO clue who the over 21 members are.

      How do I know a) they’re even the right ones to be posing my question to/sharing content with and b) I basically turn myself into a “spammer” by suddenly appearing in their email inbox assuming they haven’t turned off email notifications. So, I chose not to post. Hmmm.

      • Lucretia Pruitt

        See, the groups I’ve been included in so far vary *widely* so I’m right there with you – it’s like trying to cold present to a room of people that you know nothing about. If it’s a social event, then I’m seldom talking business and usually talking passions. If it’s a business event, then I feel no problems with talking shop. But if it’s just a bunch of people I don’t know and I don’t know if they are going to be annoyed it causes me to be silent too.
        I’ve been added to one group with 2 dozen people none of whom have posted anything that wasn’t a response to the welcome from the creator. I think we’re not alone in this. 😛

        • Mari Smith

          Ahhhh, very interesting!! Yes, and now on back of Brian Solis’ thoughtful post today, I just LOVE this beautiful nugget:

          “What is the impact of this action on my relationship with this individual?” …as well as, “Does adding them to this Group or checking them into this location hurt or help the stature and value of my position?”

          Very much in keeping with my own internal mantra with all I do: “What is my deepest intent?”


  • Linda Sherman

    Thanks for this post Alli. The first place I went when New Facebook Groups hit was Mari Smith’s Facebook Page. I always know she’ll have checked out new moves on Facebook – even if she’s in the midst of a Summit – tough timing!

    I was buried myself in the last touches of a new website launch and just got to reacting on line yesterday:


    In the haste of my reaction – I did something rude (there are so many rude possibilities with this new feature) – which I quickly rectified as soon as I saw comments come in on my blog post.

    Looking forward to BWE10!

  • Nikki

    I must have an odd group of friends because I haven’t been attached to a single group yet. I’m only at 400, but still. Seems interesting to see who is using groups, and who isn’t.

    • Linda Sherman

      I believe the last folks to start doing Facebook Groups will be the “average users”. It is the friend laden social media/internet marketing crowd that will jump on this first to see where they can push the envelope to. Obviously, the more friends you have, the more chance there is that someone will put you in a group. In the article I posted in my first comment – in the last paragraph – I link to a great article by Danny Sullivan at Social Engine Land that points out the extent of shenanigans that have already happened.

  • Pauline

    I didn’t know someone can automatically add you to a group without your consent? As far as Facebook groups go, I know that your friends can send you a group invitation(s) and it is up to you to confirm or ignore. When you choose to ignore, they cannot re-invite you to the same group again. As for notifications, that can get pretty annoying when you get too many of them at once. You are left torn about whether to turn it off or on. I think FB needs to come up with the feature that allows only maybe there creator of the group or post you liked to notify you.

  • manu007

    Exactly i totally agree with you.There are few groups that are of no use to us and sometimes we get frustrated because of them.you can just get out or unfreind from that group.
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