Have you ever e-mailed a bunch of photos to your family? Or written an e-mail to all of your best friends trying to plan a trip? Or have you done the same thing on Facebook, trying to carry on a discussion in a message to a dozen recipients? Facebook has a fix for that – Facebook Groups – explicitly designed to let a small set of people communicate with one another either in public, or in private. Groups are meant to replace mailing lists for people planning weddings, parties or team events.
The way people connect digitally.
Yet even some heavy Facebook users have trouble figuring out how to set up and use a group. (This, of course, is one of the key selling points of Google+. Groups are created at the outset, so there isn’t the need for this reverse engineering.)
With that in mind, a helpful Facebook employee assisted me in preparing a basic guide to getting started with groups.
Creating a Group
Look at the upper left corner of your Facebook home page. Just below News Feed, Messages, Events and Friends, you’ll see a list of any groups to which you belong. At the bottom (you may need to click More to see it) is an option labeled Create Group. Click that.
You’ll be presented with a dialog box with three sections. The first prompts you to create a name for the group, and includes a menu of optional icons to be displayed next to the group name. The second lets you type in the names of Facebook friends to add to the group. It will autocomplete names as you type. The third lets you set the group’s privacy. By default, it’s set to Closed, which means other people on Facebook can see that the group exists, and who belongs to it, but they can’t read posts to the group. Setting the privacy to Open allows other Facebook users to read posts. Setting it to Secret prevents anyone outside the group from seeing that it even exists – it won’t come up in a search, and trying to open the group’s URL will send them back to their own page.
By default, other members of the group can add their own friends to it, unless you check the option to restrict that.
Using A Group
Once you’ve created a group, you can use it just as you do your own Wall. Post updates and links, ask questions and comment on other members’ posts. On the right-hand side of the page are some useful functions specific to groups. Go Online to Chat lets you start a chat with only the group, although you can add other Facebook users to the session. Create Doc lets you edit and share a text document with the group that they can edit. It’s similar to a wiki or Google Docs – you can click Recent Changes to see previous revisions of the document. Create Event does just that – it creates an event that can be private to the group, or public to anyone on Facebook, and offers to invite everyone in the group to the event.
From the right-hand side, you can also create and view photo albums that are shared with the group rather than with all your friends.
If you find you’re getting too many notifications from Facebook about a group’s latest activities, go to the group page and click Edit Settings to restrict the type of Facebook or e-mail notifications you get.
One letdown: There’s still no way to create a calendar for a group. It would be great to be able to see the entire month of August at a glance to see all of the group’s scheduled private meetings and public appearances, rather than sifting through all the events on your personal page.
If you tire of the group, or if you get added to a group you don’t want to join—it happens to me regularly—just click Leave Group in the same right-hand set of controls.
Group, Page or Both?
One more thing: Groups were designed to let small numbers of people collaborate and interact. If you’re looking to share a group activity with a large number of followers – a sports team, a theater troupe, a classic rock cover band or a political movement — create a Facebook Page instead. Post your announcements, events, videos and other material there.
You can even add the third-party Social Calendar app to a page, so followers can check up on your schedule instead of nagging you all the time. Then set up a separate group, either closed or secret, for your behind-the-scenes cabal to hold their private discussions. Your fans need never know.