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For many brands, Facebook Pages are seen as a channel through which a community of fans and customers can be built and engaged.

To facilitate engagement, Facebook provides a number of tools, ranging from the Wall to Photos to Discussions.

Discussions, which function like a threaded message board, may not be the most popular tool used on Pages currently, but nearly 22m Facebook users interact with Discussions each month, and nearly 1m interact with Discussions on a daily basis.

That makes it an interesting tool for brands, but brands using Discussions will soon have to find an alternative means of creating a discussion space as Facebook has decided to eliminate the Discussions functionality.

As noted by Inside Facebook, The Facebook Help Center states:

We've found that the best way to encourage conversation and feedback is through posts and comments on your Wall. We've removed these tabs for now as we work on tools to help you moderate and filter content. Our goal is to help you can manage everything from one powerful place. Stay tuned.

While many brands don't make use of this functionality, some, like Tesco, do, and its removal does highlight one of the challenges of building a community on Facebook: Facebook thinks Facebook knows best.

That means that the tools you have today could be gone tomorrow if Facebook decides to ditch them. As Inside Facebook notes, it recently removed its 'Send an Update' functionality for Pages as well.

Needless to say, the removal of functionality is usually frustrating to those who use it. While there's a strong argument to be made that Facebook shouldn't keep functionality that isn't effective simply because it doesn't want to frustrate users, the removal of functionality so crucial to so many online communities over the years (threaded discussions) serves as a reminder that it isn't exactly the easiest platform on which to build a community.

Driving meaningful engagement using Facebook Pages is hard enough without Facebook constantly rethinking what tools it offers. Given that, brands would be wise to consider that for certain kinds of community tools, relying on homegrown and/or hosted platforms may be a better, more reliable approach.

Patricio Robles

Published 3 October, 2011 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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Comments (4)

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Christian Hughes

I take on board your point about a type of engagement being removed and that there are brands (though very much the minority I would think) that will suffer. However, I don't think the situation is nearly as glum as is made out. In fact, on reading your final paragraph all I could think was that this was perhaps the most defeatist article I have read about Facebook in quite a while.

"Driving meaningful engagement using Facebook Pages is hard enough without Facebook constantly rethinking what tools it offers." In my opinion, driving meaningful engagement using Facebook isn't that hard at all. Depending on what you set out to achieve with the time and money you invest in Facebook, it is perhaps the easiest platform to approach, which allows for continued and ongoing conversation and dialogue with fans and customers.

Then to say, "Given that, brands would be wise to consider that for certain kinds of community tools, relying on homegrown and/or hosted platforms may be a better, more reliable approach." it seems like you have missed the entire point of using Facebook. The single biggest advantage and reason to use Facebook is that the audience is already there. With little or no time and investment it is possible to drive huge volumes of visitors (page views), interactions (on-page likes and comments) and opportunities for future contact (page likes). Of course you can set up a community hub on your own site but I would say the cost in driving people there will be significantly higher.

almost 5 years ago

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Erin Feldman

I think the final paragraph in this article is the crucial one. Building a community - in my opinion - shouldn't occur solely on Facebook. What happens when Facebook goes the way of MySpace? That eventuality may not occur, or, if it does, it won't be for years and years to come. I still think, though, that building a community should happen on a property that one owns not on one that is "rented."

almost 5 years ago

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Jonathan

To take it a step further, Erin - not only should it take place on "your property" - but you should also build a backup aka database to weatherproof it.

I'm gonna miss discussions - it was one of the key factors to my facebook page dynamic growth. But we adapt, we're marketers.

almost 5 years ago

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Katie Leaver

Facebook discussions were never the only way in which conversations could take place within a page. Encouraging communities to engage with brands in one place - on the wall - will surely help to build a community quicker than by fragmenting it through different discussion threads. This is what makes Facebook stand apart from the traditional forum.
Katie Leaver, London Loves Jobs

almost 5 years ago

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