In 2010 Facebook rolled out the ability for users to create private groups where they can share information and updates with a select audience of friends and followers.
For some, this is a place to post family photos and recipes, or dissect an episode of Game of Thrones. But to savvy organizers, Facebook private groups offer much more.
We sat down with three organizations with active private groups to learn how they use the platform to engage and mobilize their members.
Parkinson’s Action Network
Since starting its Facebook private group a few months ago, Parkinson’s Action Network has built a platform for its more than 150 grassroots leaders to share success stories, post and answer questions, and brainstorm on ideas.
The group’s privacy setting makes it a perfect place to discuss the nuances of contacting hard-to-reach members of Congress. Grassroots leaders share tips on what worked with certain staff members, and support each other in overcoming advocacy roadblocks.
The biggest advantage for organizers is the ability to be more causal and efficient in their communications, said Hayley Carpenter, Parkinson’s Action Network deputy CEO. Instead of setting up an email newsletter praising advocates for their hard work, Carpenter can tag their Facebook profiles in the private group and call out their successes.
Compared to other platforms for organizing, the biggest benefit to using Facebook for advocacy is that the majority of their grassroots leaders were already using the site.
“That’s why we went this route,” Carpenter said. “They don’t have to log into a new platform or set up a new password. People were already there.”
Center for Community Change
The Center for Community Change uses private Facebook groups as part of its Manufactured Housing Action project, whose stated mission is in part to help manufactured home owners engage in public policy. Fire up your supporters to take action in minutes!
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MHAction has since helped several communities create private Facebook groups where members feel more comfortable having strategic conversations about their landlords and property managers.
It also helps the advocates foster a greater sense of community among each other. In addition to policy analysis, you can see invitations to upcoming cookouts, neighborhood stories and the occasional photo of grandkids.
“I feel like that’s what people are hungry for,” said Kevin Borden, senior organizer at Center for Community Change. “Facebook can play a role in facilitating personal connections.”
One of the biggest advantages to private Facebook groups is the efficiency it creates for MHAction. Rather than build a mailing list for each community and assign a staffer to manage the communications, MHAction is empowering local advocates to create their own online action groups.
“Without Facebook, the administrative overhead would crush the organization,” Borden said. “Private groups make it significantly easier for us.” Struggling to improve your content program? Get our tips and templates to catch up fast. Download now.
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The American Farm Bureau Federation was a fairly early adopter of Facebook’s private groups. The bureau started using them several years ago to share research, campaign talking points, and legislation analysis with members and grassroots advocates.
“The private groups give you the ability to have some discussions behind the scenes and share information that’s more confidential in nature,” said Mace Thornton, executive director of communications at the American Farm Bureau Federation.
The group also allows the bureau to participate in a two-way conversation with members. Unlike email, which Thornton jokingly refers to as a “necessary evil”, private groups are more of an ongoing conversation than a one-way communication channel. Members can communicate directly with the bureau and each other in the same platform.
“That’s been the most valuable aspect of establishing these,” said Thornton. “The ability to have a two-way conversation and get direct feedback.”
The fact that most of its members and advocates were already on Facebook made it a no-brainer for the bureau to set up its private groups.
“Everyone seems to be able to find time in their day to engage with Facebook,” Thornton said. “It’s pretty much a new water cooler for this generation.”