Groups and Forums have one thing in common.
They are communities.
So the question of “which should I use” is a common one.
In this post I’ll explain some of the key differences, we’ll discuss the pros and cons.
I will also explain why it is that I think groups are the right choice in most situations.
First let’s explore forums… Believe it or not Forums were first around in the 1970s before the internet as we know it today was invented!
Today there are still thousands of forums on the web, and while they aren’t as popular as they once were they are still play a crucial role in connecting people.
- You have full control
- Better formatting options
- Offers anonymity
- You have full ownership of the community
One of the biggest pros for forums are that you have more control and ownership.
There is also the anonymity factor, though sites like Reddit also offer this for communities or “sub-reddits”.
One thing that Forums do better than Reddit or Facebook Groups though, is formatting. It’s super easy to format a thread or post to be user-friendly and nice to read.
- Self-hosted so costs money
- Requires a degree of technical knowledge
- Requires more marketing ability to get members
- Increasingly becoming “old web”
- It requires effort for someone to join
Setting up a forum, let alone running it, costs both time and money. It also requires some technical knowledge to get started.
There is also the fact that forums require you go out and do a lot of promotion, this marketing also needs to be backed by a solid community that offers immediate value in some way.
This can be a catch-22 as many forums struggle to make it to 100 active members.
Lastly, the decline of forums started around the time that we saw social media sites become more popular in the 00s.
That trend is continuing with the invention of…
Facebook Groups have been around since at least 2005, but it’s in the last 3-4 years that they’ve really become popular.
They are a go-to community building platform for people of all interests. They are used for buying/selling, for teaching/support, for discussion, and much more.
- Inbuilt discovery engine
- Easy to setup
- Doesn’t cost anything to start
- It requires little effort for someone to join
One of the biggest pros I can think of is how easy it is to start a group on Facebook and grow it into a thriving community… It’s easy to find out how to get people to join your facebook group.
This is in part thanks to Facebook having around 2.45 billion users as of the time of my writing this.
The fact that a group is free to start also makes it a useful option for communities to exist where they wouldn’t have otherwise.
- You don’t have full control
- You don’t technically own the community
- Limited formatting options for long-form content
There are two big downsides to groups that also happen to be the biggest pros for forums.
The first is that you don’t have full control, but this shouldn’t matter as you’ll read in a bit…
The other is that it’s hard to format, but again I will counter this in a moment as well.
The worst case scenario with groups is that Facebook might shut down or shut down groups and that would be bad if you don’t take certain steps to safeguard your community.
Why I Recommend You Use Groups…
I built my first forum in 2004 and in that time I’ve run plenty of others, both personally and collectively.
I’ve also run and helped run multiple successful and large groups.
In my experience groups are the way to go if you want to build an active community that will evolve and grow over time.
You can also use a group for pretty much anything with no technical skill required, and that out of the box flexibility is often overlooked or understated.
This is why I recommend groups to online course creators, startups looking for branding opportunities as well as bloggers, vloggers and more.
Building a community is never a bad idea, but doing it with Facebook’s Groups feature actually makes it easy!
FAQs About Groups
What about lacking control & ownership?
Here at GroupHacker, I always recommend members and readers to extend their audience outside of Facebook.
This means connecting people to your socials, a website and most importantly a mailing list.
Today all of those things can be done easily, for free or for cheap.
What about it being hard to format content?
If you follow my advice above then you might decide to setup a website, a podcast, a YouTube account or a blog on a free service such as Medium.
Ideally for long-form content that requires formatting you will be sending members elsewhere to read about it while giving them the TL;DR version in the group.
This is also important because it has a chance to attract more people back to your group via sharing or ranking (also both YouTube and Medium has there own in-built discovery engine).
I made the mistake of sharing content in forums and groups in the past only to have eagle-eyed bloggers post it on their blog… Posting your content elsewhere helps prevent this kind of plagiarism.
What about monetization?
There are constant rumors that Facebook will release a feature to allow groups to monetize their membership.
However, in the meantime there are ample services out there to help you do this.
Since you can make your Facebook Group a closed group that requires invite or an access request it makes it easy to manage who can join.
When it comes to monetizing facebook groups there are other options than just charging for group access.
Some Big Differences To Keep In Mind
One of the main differences to know about is the psychology of your average member is totally different.
Forums are and were known for fierce loyalty and rapt attention from members.
It’s not really that way with groups, and as such your strategy needs to be a bit different.
If you think you can keep peoples attention and compete with other groups by providing more value (in some form) then groups are for you.
On Facebook your group will be competing with both other groups generally, other groups in your niche and the newsfeed.
The good news is that because people don’t pay as much attention and tend to forget things rather quickly is that you can try new things and ideas without the worry that failure will ruin you or your community.
Also, as a final aside, in my experience it is a lot harder to prevent forums from developing into cliques which in my opinion are like a virus in any community.
Which Is Right For You?
Ultimately you have to make this choice for yourself, there is no right or wrong answer as to what you should do.
Hopefully using this article you can compare some of the pros and cons, as well as my own analysis of why I think groups are better to help decide which you’d rather do.