Once you have been using Facebook for any length of time you will quickly find yourself growing your list of contacts, and as a result developing a news feed that gets richer and more interesting over time. But that’s just the start of it, there is so much more you can do as you get deeper in to using Facebook.
One powerful feature you need to check out is Facebook Groups. Groups are designed for group conversations… obviously! They are a great way to interact with a wider range of people, those you don’t want to connect and become friends with, but with whom you share something in common. Some groups are ‘open’ and anyone can join and start posting, others are ‘closed’ to a specific membership. You can even set up a completely ‘secret’ invitation-only group, that will not show up in search results – I used this feature to plan a surprise birthday party for my other half last year.
Facebook groups are designed to bring people together, and the way the social web works this can have many meanings. Very useful for expats are the local area networks that spring up, such as groups about your local town – like the Javea Connect group – or services for expats, such the Auction Your Stuff Spaingroup. Groups can have thousands of members, like a fan club for an international rockstar (the rockstar themselves will have a brand page but that’s next week!), or they might be tiny – such as a Facebook group for all the parents in your kid’s class, to plan outings and birthday parties. Groups might connect people locally, such as a group for expats in a town inSpain, or they might connect people across the globe – such as those rock fans, or people with a rare illness, or a craft enthusiasm, or… anything else you can think of.
You can find groups that might interest you via the search bar at the top of your Facebook feed. If you type something like ‘Costa Blanca’ into the bar, Facebook will start showing you a load of stuff, but at the bottom of the results you can select ‘see more results for ‘Costa Blanca’ (or whatever), and you will end up with a whole page of results, a mixture of different types of content. In the list in the left margin just click ‘Groups’ to show the list of groups with your search term in the name, then click on the name of the group that interests you to take a look at it. Apart from the rare ‘secret’ groups, anyone can see any content in groups, but in closed groups only members can post – in the top right you will see an option to either ‘join group’ if it’s an open group or ‘request invite’ if it’s closed.
Once you are a member of the group you can post as though it were a normal Facebook wall, or comment and join in the discussions already going on. You can access the groups you are a member of at any time via the menu in your left column, and the number next to the group will show you how many new items there are since you last checked things out. Once you are a member, you can opt to change the default of receiving an alert every time something happens in the group – definitely change this on an active group or your inbox will go crazy! Directly under your name in the top right corner, click on ‘notifications’ and switch to off. You will still get alerts about items you have posted, and people who comment after you, and you can chose to ‘follow’ any other specific threads you like.
If you don’t find the group you need, then it’s very easy to create one for yourself. Under the list of groups you are a member of, you’ll see a menu item ‘create group’… guess what, to create a group, just click that!
You’ll get to choose the name and settings for your group, and you have to add at least one member at this point (otherwise I suppose it’s just you, and by definition not a group..!) You can add whoever you like, though they can remove themselves just as fast. You will need a unique name for your group, and if it’s an open group you want new people to join then think about what they will be searching for on Facebook to find you, and why they would want to join. Something very specific like ‘School Book Exchange Marina Alta’ tells people immediately what the group is about and helps them decide easily whether it’s relevant to them or not.
Then that’s it, you have a Facebook Group! So, what can you do with it? Well, you can upload a photo – click on the blank image on the group page and it will offer you the chance to upload something suitable (with Facebook’s usual conditions regarding decency, copyright, etc). You can add a description to your group, by clicking on the blue link that appears under the ‘members’ list near the top of the right column – again this shows in search results and helps people decide to join you or not, so make it clear, descriptive and helpful. Right under that you will see an option to add people you know to the group, people who might be interested – just start typing their name, and Facebook will take care of the rest.
As the creator of the group you are the default group administrator – you have The Power! Power to add or remove people, and to delete postings or comments… Why would you wish to do this? Well, Facebook is a public forum and as such a lot of groups attract the occasional ‘troll’ who has nothing better to do than wind people up, and heated debates can break out amongst the most reasonable group members. As your group grows you might need to add some ‘rules’ to your group description, such as remaining on-topic, or not posting irrelevant commercial messages. If staying on top of the violations gets too much, you might need to promote some additional administrators to keep things in line. The Sell Your StuffSpaingroup has nearly 4000 members now and over a hundred postings a day, so moderating that could easily be a full time job!
Facebook Groups are about the easiest and quickest way to get a bunch of people connected and talking. We are trying to curate a list of the best local relevant ones at http://costaconnected.com/facebook-groups-for-expats-spain/ – please tell me your favourites if I’ve missed any – @casslar, or firstname.lastname@example.org
Published in Costa Blanca News, Friday 9th March 2012