Facebook is not designed for government community engagement, it is designed to make its owners lots and lots of money. It pays to remember this.
As the publicly listed monolith that is Facebook evolves, it seems to move further and further away from providing a platform for useful community engagement. Here’s why:
1. It’s not a neutral space.
Facebook as a listed entity must return increasing profits to its shareholders. It only has one asset to work with to generate these profits – us. Facebook itself is increasingly becoming an issue both politically and socially. It is an organisation that is controlling our access to information and, through its algorithm, is seeking to influence and shape our wants and decisions. Hardly the neutral space you need to host discussions with your community. Consider the issues that might arise if you are engaging the community using Facebook about a planning issue – might the developer also be targeting your community with paid advertisements on the same platform? Would the community understand the difference between your messages and theirs? Might the developer pay extra to give prominence to their messages over yours? Facebook as Community Engagement Tool
2. We don’t trust Facebook anymore.
I’m sure I’m not the only person who has discovered that I’m supposed to have endorsed a product that I’ve never heard of. You may also have run into the market for fake likes and endorsements. None of this really matters in the world of ‘check out my latest selfie’ and ‘aren’t my kids cute’. However, bring it into an environment where people expect some rigour in results and will be asked to trust those results and it can present a problem.
3. Facebook favours simplistic, cute and quick content – this article struck a chord with me and may do with you.
Our Facebook feeds are just filling up with ads, clutter and crap. To engage your community on Facebook you have to compete with all of this. If you have 100 friends or more and log in every couple of days you really have to search hard to find an individual post. Do you really want your relationship with the community on a complex and nuanced issue to have to compete with ‘click like if you love your mum’ and ‘like this to win a free car wash’? Sure, you can reduce this issue by actively curating posts, but how many of your community do you think actually do this?
4. There are some privacy issues with Facebook.
All Facebook data is subject to the US Patriot Act. Your Facebook community is not just sharing data with you but also with the US Government. This may have implications for your privacy policies. This is also a reason why some people will never take out a Facebook account.
5. How can you really know that your target audience is alert to your project updates?
When I follow your Facebook page I expect to get updates in my feed. It’s unlikely that I will check back to your page regularly. Facebook is designed to alert people to things of interest to them in their feed, via the ever-changing Facebook algorithm. However, we also know that when you update your Page only around a third of your users, if that, are alerted to your posts in their feed; unless that is you pay Facebook to tell more of them. This ‘rationing’ of information is a core part of the Facebook revenue strategy. What opportunities to have their say might your community be missing?
6. Loads of people don’t use it – forget “everyone is on Facebook” that’s just not true.
In Australia, the latest social media stats show that there are 13,800,000 monthly Facebook users. That is certainly lots of people and more than those using any other social media platform. But what of those who are not there? The latest population statistics (2015) from the World Population Review show that there are 23.9 million people living in Australia. That means over 10 million people are not logging into Facebook. As access to the Internet steadily increases – at the moment 83% of Australian homes have internet – this group becomes very significant.
Motivation is very important here. These people who are online but not using Facebook are, presumably, making an explicit choice to not use Facebook. They don’t want an account. They are not likely to change their minds and set up a Facebook page so they can participate in your community. By demanding that they log into Facebook to talk to you, you are effectively excluding them from online deliberation. Facebook Political Participation
7. We are seeing significant moves in who uses Facebook.
Anecdotal evidence abounds that younger people are moving away from Facebook as their parents move in. This Tech Crunch article is quite informative on the issue. Facebook may not be the best platform for reaching the younger generation any longer.
To be clear, I am not recommending that you ditch your organisation’s Facebook page. There is no harm in providing updates on Facebook or in using the platform to humanise your organisation. What I am warning against is using Facebook as the only online engagement portal for your community to discuss important issues requiring reportable and measurable outcomes.
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