I had this amazing moment of revelation just recently really that I want to share with you. It’s about Facebook.
Yes, I know you know about Facebook. But stick with me. Of course you know Facebook’s numbers are big. In the UK, Ofcom say that 38.9 million adults use the site regularly. That’s a lot of cute cat videos and holiday photos.
You know all this and so do I. But what I hadn’t done was fully realise just how Facebook was being used by people until I started to look at my own doorstep.
Facebook in my own community
I live in Quarry Bank, near Stourbridge in the West Midlands. Locals have a strong Black Country accent. It’s known locally as ‘Quarry Bonk’. It’s an overgrown village that merged more than a century ago into its neighbours but has somehow retained a sense of its own identity. There’s a high school, a High Street with three butchers. There’s two curry houses and a Labour and a Conservative club.
There’s a Facebook page called ‘The Only Way is Quarry Bank and Brierley Hill’ with 4,258 people liking it. There is 26,000 people in the two areas it covers which means around more than one in ten who live here have liked this page.
Using Facebook’s own search tools I found 16 pages and 14 groups for Quarry Bank ranging from the history group (225 likes), scouts (148), buy and sell (4,623) and a comprehensive school old school friends 1974 to 1981 (70 likes.)
Community pages are bigger than the community newspaper
It got me thinking. How does that compare with those who have liked the local daily paper the Express & Star? Just counting the four Black Country boroughs with 1.1 million residents the 100,000 likes the newspaper has accounts for slightly less than 10 per cent. So in my area ‘The Only Way is Quarry Bank and Brierley Hill’ is bigger than the newspaper.
And my community isn’t unique
Running a search for Dudley – the borough where I live – found a pile more. In all 102 groups and 42 pages. In the Amblecote ward of Dudley 54 pages and groups and in Gornal 85. In Stourbridge, there are 79 pages and 237 groups These are serious numbers and it all adds up to a conclusion: People are on Facebook in numbers. They are using pages and groups. If you want to talk to them you need to go to the pages and groups.
Every community is hyperlocal
Where I live is typical. Every community has a patchwork of Facebook groups and pages from community pages to clubs, societies, pubs, parks. The village to the estate, the town and the city.
Much work has been done around hyperlocal news sites. People who live in Stone in Staffordshire, for example, have A Little Bit of Stone with a website, Facebook page and Twitter or a blogger like Brownhills Bob. But not every community has people aggregating and writing local news. What they do have are a network of Facebook pages and groups that is hidden in plain site.
You need to take a look for yourself
Don’t believe me? Go to your Facebook profile. Put a ward, village, town or community in the search box. Then click on pages to see the pages. Then do the same with groups. You may be surprised.
What this means for public sector comms people
If people are on Facebook comms people need to talk to them on Facebook. You’ll know you may need a page. But is chucking your content up onto that page as you produce it really the answer?
Some public sector Facebook pages do work. The Isles of Scilly page grew to 57,000 likes driven by Sgt Colin Taylor’s human voice. Sandwell Council’s pagewith 22,000 is a fine example and the DVSA’s page aimed at learner drivers I Can’t Wait To Pass My Driving Test with 57,000 likes also hits the mark. But if you are honest does yours? Does your council’s? Or fire service? Or housing trust?
Public sector organisations have put a toe in the water with Facebook but they’ve not dived in. They are sat on the side waiting for people to swim over to them when there’s usually more fun to be had elsewhere.
What your 2017 Facebook strategy should look like
Yes, you might need your own page. Organisations are encouraged down this path by a trail of sweets provided by insights, the ability to create adds and post on other pages. But with Facebook reducing the reach of your updates suddenly, this isn’t so attractive.
Yes, you might need your own group. The benefit of this is a greater reach, the ability to create closed groups to limit access. The downside is that you post as an individual.
No, you can’t create a work profile for yourself. Facebook’s terms and conditions are clear that you are only allowed one profile.
So, ideally, people from your organisation should be using their own profile to join groups and pages and add content as themselves. This is a step which some may be reluctant to make. I get this.
But the benefits of using Facebook as yourself is that you become a human being again not a job title and by doing so you can talk to far more people. Back in the day Al Smith pioneered this approach when he was at Newcastle City Council and Tim Lloyd did something similar when he was working in government digital comms. This isn’t new.
Turn off the firehose, turn on your brain
You shouldn’t turn the firehose of your content into spamming pages and groups with your content. Nor should you just chase numbers, either. If a local history group has 50 members with many who all look over 40 they may not object to being told about a flu jab, if that’s your task. Similarly, a community group with 1,000 people may want to know about a plan to change the road layout.
Tips to put this into practice
Make it routine that you make a search on Facebook when you are looking to communicate. Something to say about cycling? Look for a cycling group. Changes to a community? Look for the groups and pages from that community.
Run a review of pages in the area you serve. Log a cross section to show colleagues.
Try and trial posting content as yourself to groups and pages.
None of this is straight forward. It’s messy and it may not work if an admin from a group or page doesn’t want you there. But that’s fine.
But by diving into Facebook and going to where people are you may be surprised.
Dan Slee is co-founder of comms2point0.