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:
- 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.
- Do some notification control. Facebook doesn’t make it easy or even intuitive, but you can control the notifications you receive.
- 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.