Should We Fix our Facebook Communities of Northern BC?

Facebook best practices suggest we shouldn’t use personal profiles for businesses; we should have consistent and clear branding across social channels; we shouldn’t allow employees to act as rogue agents of our organizations on their personal profiles; we should have centralized communication channels run by the brand. The list goes on. 

This list of what not to do is how Northern BC shows up on Facebook. 

We use our personal profiles for our organization and to answer work-related questions. The boundary between my personal space and my role as an employee or entrepreneur are blurred online. There is an expectation in many Northern Communities that employees answer the questions, respond, and be present online – just as they are at work. This expectation is frowned upon by the organizations we work with, but encouraged by our communities. And for many, they will create a profile persona of their work self to force the boundary.

We have scattered and inconsistent communication channels for growing organizations, from abandoned Facebook groups to rogue Facebook profiles. Each one abandoned when the position was turned over and account access denied. Each one given a half hurray in enthusiasm by an already overworked employee trying to respond to the needs of the community

Knowing what’s legit, what’s not, and where to go for current and relevant information is hard.

It is hard for communicators to share impactful brand messages in this highly networked, personal space. We face limitations of what we can communicate, who we share it with, and when, because of the power of this vastly informal network of communicating things. Because the community trusts (and expects) Steven (for example), who works at the Recreation Centre, to share the current happenings, answer the questions about the hours, and still do his job.

We want to write impactful messages and create human connection, but the systems in place are incredibly challenging to work within. We want to answer the questions, but we can’t if you’re not asking us in the right spot.

You don’t know where the right spot is. Because the official Facebook page hasn’t been updated in a year, but you heard Chris updates his profile weekly. But you’re not friends with Chris. There’s a group that shares, but two have been abandoned and one is managed by someone who blocked you because of interpersonal drama last year. The website would be a good idea, but half the links are broken, and every time you call the number, no one answers. So, you’re left feeling excluded, because you don’t know where the right spot to find the information you need is. It’s kept closely guarded by people of power within private social networks.

Because we’re overworked, doing jobs we don’t know how to do, or want to do. This broken system has fallen into place not because of the intention to exclude, but because it was easy. It’s easy to just share everything on your personal page thinking your friends with the whole community. It’s easy to rely on informal sharing networks. It’s easy to forget you have a website – do people even visit those things anyways? It’s 2020, the dawn of social media. It’s easy to say, ‘Well, people show up. so something must be working. No need to make it better.’

We can fix it, but the question lately has become – should we fix it

Just because it looks broken to me, the social media strategist on the outside, doesn’t mean it is. These closely guarded private networks of information sharing provide a sense of place, belonging and identity to the communities of Northern BC as they transition from in place relationships to online communities.

Anything we propose is a disruption to this – a disruption to this small town living that plays out online.

But, what about the newcomers who come to town who don’t know Steven?

How do we blend professional, consistent communication with the culture of Northern BC? Maybe this system is working. Maybe it’s reaching people and making impacts in the lives like we want. Maybe this inconsistent, messy, unofficial network of profiles, pages, and groups is what makes Northern BC run?

Northern BC thrives on close-knit interpersonal communication webs that are formed in real life and continue online. The cliques are even stronger. Many would argue that succeeding comes from knowing the right people, no matter what corner of the North you’re in. 

This means when you show up as an organization online, your brushed aside. Unofficial channels trump official channels – more often than not.

And rightfully so, when we look for a sense of place and belonging in digital spaces, why would we feel safe and welcome in spaces made by organizations and businesses? We don’t. We’re human. We feel safe in casual spaces where we don’t feel threatened by the pursuit to buy something or be heavily moderated.

I understand why an organizations department opted to make a Private Facebook Profile account to represent themselves instead of a Page or Group. This goes against Facebook terms of services, but it represents this innate need for private human connection with each other. It’s this innate need to be human instead of professional. And when we think of the audiences we serve, it does look and feel like the best way to earn their trust and engagement. 

Sometimes I wonder if we should leave it – who am I to say the grass is greener.  Managing algorithms is hard enough in an ever changing world where ad-spend trumps getting people to attend the local basketball tournament.

But illicit Facebook accounts can be shut down. This includes well-meaning accounts and accounts set up under the right pretexts. They can be shut down if someone reports them, or Facebook gets an ant in their shoe. And what happens when the account gets closed, and you lose access to that community? You create another one? Build more confusion? More secrecy? How will you connect with the people you serve?

How do we create warm and human Facebook Pages and Groups for organizations, departments, and programs to create meaningful connections with their people? 

How do we get people to warm up to the idea of personal and professional boundaries? To know that they need to contact the official channel to learn more instead of dropping into someone’s DMs who works there. 

It’s a small town whether your online or not. Everyone knows Mary is responsible for ABC. Why not message her directly? Everyone knows city employees lurk in the unofficial Facebook groups, so why not ask the question there instead of calling them directly?

I think we can start by setting boundaries and developing clear, more consistent communication channels that are responsive and engaged in both our online communities, and in place communities.

The official accounts and spaces we do create need to be active. They can’t be spaces your organization only checks once a week. It needs to be once a day. The comments, tags, and messages in your inbox need to be answered within a timely manner. Yes, set boundaries – I only respond at 2pm on business days. But make sure you stick to that boundary and consistently take the time to make it happen. You don’t need to be on 24/7 to be engaged online. You just need to be friendly, answer from a place of love, and consistently do it.

People don’t want to interact with communication channels that never respond to comments or answer messages. Why would you keep trying? The goal is human connection – to be heard. We need to be present in our official channels and consistent so that those are the spaces to answer and ask these questions.

Official channels can be just as human as Steven’s personal profile, or that unofficial community group. It doesn’t have to be a stuffy corporate message. Organizations can develop warm social media strategies that encourage people to interact with them, instead of avoid them.

Much of the current practice is based off experiences of the past, and trends of the past. But hey. It’s 2020 y’all.

I know you think creating a profile means you beat the algorithm instead of relying on a page. There are risks with doing it this way or that way and you could lose it all – if your account is shut down for being spammy, against Terms of Service, or false.

We can beat the algorithm, and have a page.

Show up authentically and people will listen to your story whether your a profile or an official page. There is room for storytelling, for authenticity, and for communication that connects on official pages, groups, and websites. Shake off that expectation that everything has to be perfectly perfect, and remember we all know it’s just a human on the other side.

Social media is in flux, and that’s not a bad thing.

The changing nature of Facebook means that what worked in 2015, might not work anymore. But that’s good because how we did it then and how we do it now, is an incredible shift in creating safer online spaces. We can create online communities through official Facebook Pages and Groups while preserving the warmth of humanity and the liability of professionalism.

Facebook in the North is a little weird.  

It’s a little different, and I find myself wondering if it needs to be fixed. Or if I should just leave it as it is. But if we leave it, we could lose it all to one disgruntled Facebook Bot.