Much has been written about the differences between Facebook Pages and Groups. When I needed to decide which to use for a project, I looked online and found lots of sites listing the features of each, yet I felt they missed the essence of which to use in actual practice. Furthermore, much of the info online was outdated (even from Facebook itself). After doing some experimentation on my own, I decided to publish my results and conclusions here. I hope this will help you decide whether you should create a Page or Group for your organization (or both).
The Quick Answer
For those of you who don’t want to wade through the details, let me try to sum up the essence of a Facebook Page vs. a Facebook Group in as few words as possible:
Facebook Pages are ideal for two-way communication: from you to your members and from your members to you (if you allow it), but not so much between members. They are good for companies and organizations who want to make announcements to large groups of people.
Facebook Groups allow equal communication between all members of the group: they are good for friends or enthusiasts who want to talk between themselves with no one person or organization dominating. They promote online community.
Having said this, neither is quite ideal and each has major disadvantages. In practice, I wish I could take the best of both, but we can’t, so read on to see the details.
Visitors of a Page become members simply by “liking” the Page. No interaction from you is required.
Visitors of a Group become members by “joining” the group and waiting for approval from a Group administrator. Groups can be “open”, meaning anyone can ask to join, or “closed”, meaning only people who are invited can join. (By the way, with Groups, you can “force” Friends to join by adding them yourself, whereas you can’t force anyone to “like” your Page).
There are two really huge implications of this. Groups require action from your organization before people can join, even for “open” groups. You’ll need to make sure that someone can spare the time to do this, or else you’ll have members in limbo.
Second, visitors to Groups can’t post to the Group wall until they become members (i.e., after an administrator has approved them), even in “open” groups. This makes it impossible for new visitors to immediately post on the Group wall. Let’s say someone has a question about your product or service. Are they really going to click “join”, wait for you to approve their membership, then come back and post their question? Probably not. This can be a big disadvantage of Groups, depending on what your goals are.
For this reason and others, Groups are good for long-term repeated interactions between members but lousy for immediate spontaneous interactions from the general public (i.e., non-members).
Visibility of Members’ Posts
The visibility of members’ posts is really one of the most important core differences between Pages and Groups.
As I mentioned, Pages are fine for two-way communication: Members are only notified (through a post to their newsfeed) only when the Page administrator posts and the Page administrator is notified when anyone posts. Groups are ideal for all-way communication: everyone is notified when anyone posts.
Let’s talk about Pages a bit more. With Pages, your posts show up on members’ newsfeeds, but visitors’ and members’ posts do not. Members don’t get any notification when other members or visitors post.
Instead, members’ posts end up squished into a box on the side of the Page in condensed form. You can move them to your main timeline, but you must manually (yes, manually!) do it for each and every post. You can’t make members’ posts automatically appear on the timeline. Thus, Pages are pretty handicapped when it comes to member-to-member communication and are not so great for promoting community among members.
However, this can be a pro or a con, depending on your situation.
It can be a good thing for a company or organization that wants to tightly control the message on the Page. This minimizes the effect of disgruntled visitors who post bad things. Posts can be disallowed individually or altogether, if you want pure one-way communication only.
With Groups, on the other hand, any posts to the Group will be sent as an email to all members (until they get annoyed and turn this feature off), and will show up as a Notification in the top bar of the members’ Facebook pages. Thus with Groups, all members have an equal ability to communicate with everyone else in the Group.
Even if Group members shut off email notification, they will still be informed of posts to the Group by a number flag that shows up on the “globe” icon at the top of members’ pages. If they click on it, it will show a condensed version of the post. Thus, as long as they check this area, Group members will never “miss” a post, whereas with Pages, members can miss postings if they don’t happen to check their newsfeed after you’ve posted.
These are really the most important differences between Pages and Groups. If you want inter-member communication, go with a Group. If you don’t, go with a Page.
Neither is perfect however. I wish we could take the best aspects of each! For example, it would be great if postings appeared on members’ newsfeeds AND in the globe icon. But, we have to take what Facebook provides.
People who’ve “liked” you Page cannot see who else has “liked” the Page. Members of Groups, on the other hand, can see who else is in the Group and click on their profiles to learn more about other members.
Once a visitor has either “liked” your Page or “joined” your Group, what if they want to visit your Page or Group again?
With Pages, there is no easy link to your Page unless you make a post which they happen to see in their newsfeed. If you don’t post, members are unlikely to return to your Page. This is a BIG minus of Pages! You have to keep posting to maintain members’ attention.
With Groups, there is a link on the sidebar of members’ newsfeeds at all times. They can simply click on the name of the Group to see the latest happenings.
I really wish there was an easier way for people to return to Pages they’ve liked!
Here’s one really important fact that could force you to a Page: Facebook Pages will show up in Google searches. Facebook Groups will not show up in Google searches, even if they are “open”.
Groups can be self-sustaining. It is possible for you to setup a Group, add a bunch of friends to it, and have it thrive from member postings, even if you never lay a finger on it again.
This is unlikely with Pages. If you stop posting, people are unlikely to return to your Page a second time because there’s no link to get there. You might get first-time visitors through Google, but they won’t ever see a link to your page in Facebook unless you post.
If you create a Page, you can post and do other activities on Facebook as if you were the Page. For example, when you comment as the Page, a profile photo of the page will show up, not your personal profile photo. This is nice to decouple the organization from any one individual.
Furthermore, Pages can have “apps”, a feature which I honestly haven’t found a use for yet, but it’s there if you want to look into it some more.
When you post to the Group, you post as yourself. You can’t “become” the Group like you can with a Page.
Facebook has really put a damper on the visibility of posts by Pages in people’s newsfeeds. Posts to Groups, in general, will have greater visibility on members’ walls Moz SEO did a fascinating study by posting the same link on a Page and Group with the same number of members. The post on the Group got 15 times the traffic! Read the Moz SEO story here.
So for reach, Groups win!
Pages provide you with analytics on number of likes, shares, etc. Groups provide no analytics.
These are the core differences between Pages and Groups. As you can see, there is no clear winner; both have advantages and disadvantages.
I hope this has helped you decide which is best for your organization (or perhaps you need both, as some organizations have!) Please let me know your thoughts and experiences! – Brian