I was wrapping up a normal evening of checking through my newsroom’s content before bed when I noticed I had been invited to a Facebook group. This was about seven hours after Mark Zuckerberg and his team introduced a number of changes to groups. The change that most piqued my interest was the new groups process. So when I noticed the invite, I decided to stay up a little longer.

Two hours later, I was hooked and looking for ways to engage with this new and improved groups tool for my newsroom.

Along with joining a group created for social media journalists, I decided to launch new groups for my newsroom, my neighborhood, and for my digital media class (fondly known as #jenclass). I wanted to see what types of engagement I could find.

There are three different types of new Facebook groups:

  • Public
  • Closed
  • Secret

I have used each setting with my groups. Below is a look at what I’ve done, along with some initial reaction and results.

My Groups

Newsroom community – KOMU8 News – Public setting
I created an open group and invited members of our station’s Facebook fan page to see what kind of engagement I could get. It grew quickly at first. Members said hello in posts, while others played with the new chat function. What is most interesting is how a few members have turned it into a chat room for their own conversations. I have jumped in to try to encourage others to join in, but two men tend to the chat more than anyone else.

In order to increase engagement, I’ve posted fun questions and hard news topics to the group. The biggest topics that have engaged members so far include a discussion of where to spot the best fall colors outside, and a member-driven conversation about taxing fast food and cigarettes.

I’ve found most people join in on the group when they see the alerts I post on the KOMU8 Facebook page. I’ve sent notes with specific times when I was available to add new members and take part in a conversation. I also take the time to warn new members to change their settings so they don’t get constant email alerts about new activity on the page. I also offer a chance to share story ideas. So far I’ve taken at least three stories that emerged from the conversations within the group and brought them to the newsroom.

One challenge is that the group is not gaining new members outside of my daily appointment engagement. Once members join the group, they don’t seem inclined to invite others. I can’t decide if this is because most people do not know how to invite a new member, or if it’s because they don’t want to bring a new person into the group.

Students and alumni – #jenclass – Closed group
I wanted my students to see how this new Facebook group feature works. After my social journalism interaction test with our station, I didn’t want to miss the chance to chat with my students outside of class. I figured we could geek out in a similar way I have geeked out with other journalists. And since I have a new set of students every semester, I decided many of my former students would be very curious about new Facebook tweaks. So I started inviting current students and alumni. Once again, very few members invited other people. But students and alumni have contributed comments and links. So far, most conversations have started thanks to my prompts, but I don’t think that will be the case forever.

Neighbors – Jen’s Neighborhood – Secret group
My final group is for my neighbors. I invited all of my current Facebook friends who live near my house. Not everyone knows each other personally. In this early stage, each person who’s commented said they were really excited to have an easy way to connect all of our busy families together. One neighbor saw me walking on the street and told me the group has encouraged her husband to start figuring out a way to formally create a neighborhood watch program in our area. I love the fact that a virtual group has the potential to foster even better relationships in person.

Conclusion

My experience with groups may not be the same as everyone, but I’m really glad I’ve taken the time to explore them in order to engage with different sets of people. The conversations in some groups are very Twitter-like, but they’re now taking place inside Facebook. So far, I don’t see groups growing past Facebook fan pages. They do seem like a chance to expand the pages and take conversations beyond a static page.

Just like anything else in social media, this new community opportunity requires attention. If I ignore my news group, a member could easily take over and use the space as a venue to push their own interests. I need to peek in on a regular basis and encourage diverse conversations.

My student/alumni page is mainly driven by my conversations — but it is also focused on a class I run. Hopefully its members will soon feel more comfortable to share more of their own thoughts and opinions. My students probably don’t realize the number of connections they could start if they start talking to members of the group who are working in different industries.

As for my neighborhood group, I do not plan to push that community. I will chat with each member face-to-face as I see them and we’ll talk about what we want the group to become. I envision it as a place to warn about wandering dogs and upcoming vacations, and to search for trustworthy babysitters.

My three groups have different focuses, but all have the potential to grow new and existing communities based on common interests.

Jennifer Reeves worked in television news for the majority of her career. In the last six years, she has moved from traditional journalist to non-traditional thinker about journalism and education. Jen is currently the New Media Director at KOMU-TV and komu.com. At the same time, she is an associate professor at the Missouri School of Journalism and was a part of the inaugural class of Reynolds Journalism Institute fellows (2008-09).

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