Should you be using Facebook Groups to supplement your online course?
Recently one of the more common questions I have seen asked of us is whether there are any alternatives to using Facebook Groups for the community portion of an online course.
I suspect that the increase in this inquiry is the result of the recent events of Facebook and Cambridge Analytica. It is a completely reasonable response for people to look for other options – fortunately there are a number of alternatives available worth considering.
Why do we use Facebook Groups for course community building?
Before jumping into the popular alternatives I think it is important to recognize why it is so many people and business use Facebook Groups. In recent years groups have become a big part of brand building in part because it makes businesses more accessible to their users. Businesses get more insight into the conversations around their brand, service and/or product. At one time Facebook Pages acted as this outlet, but it still felt like there was a “wall” between the company and the customers. The Facebook Groups feature has eliminated that wall.
What’s more is that nearly everyone has a Facebook account already. This means that there is no need to log into another system. It also means that there is zero learning curve.
I know this to be true because we have seen increasing popularity in our own Facebook Group. And while I consider the group to be net positive for us and our customers, it does have inherent challenges.
There is a rather important case for moving away from Facebook Groups.
As a business owner I like to minimize risk. One way to do this is to have control over the systems that you use in your business. This naturally is not the case with Facebook. I cannot control the platform. Facebook could change a policy that eliminates groups altogether and I wouldn’t be able to do anything about it. Or as we have seen recently, the platform could damage their reputation and therefore the trust of its users.
This is the same reason why course creators need to think twice before using a hosted platform for creating and selling courses. The risks are rather high.
If for some reason the Facebook Group was a major part of our value proposition, then we would be in trouble as we wouldn’t control that critical component. This is exactly why it makes sense for you as a course creator to investigate other options for creating communities – something that gives you more control.
Look to WordPress for creating your course community.
I have often talked about the value in owning your course creation platform. Having complete control over every aspect of your course business is a major reason why people choose WordPress and LearnDash. The same is true with the community platform that you use.
With this in mind, you can consider the following:
bbPress has been around for a very long time. It’s stable, reliable, and is the forum solution that WordPress.org uses for support (so you know that it can scale). The LearnDash-bbPress integration makes it possible to grant access to forums based on course enrollment.
If you want your learners to have “Facebook-like” profiles then BuddyPress is the solution for you. You can even create BuddyPress Groups which are very much like Facebook Groups in the way that they function. There are also some really impressive WordPress themes that tie LearnDash, BuddyPress, and even bbPress together.
If BuddyPress isn’t something you want to use then a viable alternative is UltimateMember. It too comes with community profiles for your users and offers many of the same social features as BuddyPress. There is a paid add-on offered by a third party that connects UltimateMember to LearnDash.
Not as known as the options above, PeepSo is a community building option for WordPress with a UI that most closely resembles Facebook. I will admit that I don’t have much experience but they have some raving fans. They have a free version but the paid version gives you the features that you need. Last I heard they are currently working on a LearnDash integration.
Facebook replacements are not going to be exactly like Facebook.
I think this is probably obvious but it is worth pointing out that these replacements aren’t going to be exactly like Facebook. They will emulate some features for sure but not one-for-one.
In the end the decision on which community tool you use in conjunction with your courses comes down to your personal preference. If you really like Facebook Groups and it’s a perfect match for what you are trying to accomplish then perhaps it makes sense to just use Facebook. Yes, you don’t own the platform and inherent some risk. The worst case scenario is that you would need to transition the community elsewhere at some point.