A Complete Guide to Building a Facebook Group Replacement App
This blog provides an overview of the steps your company needs to take to design something allowing online community creators to be free of Facebook Groups
Considering the multiple ways Facebook became a massive social media network, none arguably had the impact of its Groups feature. It allowed people with similar interests or residing in the same location to interact by sharing ideas, opinions, and more. The social network originally took a hands-off approach, leaving the moderation of each Group to their respective administrators.
While Facebook provides a free service, it leverages personal information from each user for highly-targeted advertising. Not surprisingly, this ad-based approach led to massive revenue, not unsimilar from other technology giants, most notably Google. However, as users gradually realized their personal information was essentially for sale, data privacy considerations came to the fore.
At the same time, Facebook began to crackdown and moderate a few of the controversial topics discussed in some Groups on their service. When combined with the data privacy issues, this moderation led administrators of a few Groups with large followings to consider alternatives to Facebook. Migrating off the social network allows for more control as well as a potential source of their own advertising revenue. The most relevant option for these admins involves leveraging a Facebook Group replacement app.
Needless to say, crafting a mobile app that allows users to essentially build a replacement for a large social media network requires an extensive technical project. This blog provides an overview of the steps your company needs to take to design something allowing online community creators to be free of Facebook, Meta, and Mark Zuckerberg’s latest foibles. So let’s take a closer look at the effort involved to provide your organization with a roadmap to success.
The Growing Demand For Community Platforms to Replace Facebook Groups
As noted earlier, Facebook Groups with large followings benefit from their own online community, providing additional control and the ability for monetization. Data privacy issues, censorship, overly strong moderation, a limited ability to reach group members in their Feed, and revenue potential remain valid reasons for any group administrator to begin looking for alternatives. So migrating from Facebook provides an opportunity to gain these additional benefits.
A variety of existing community platforms offer a few options for groups looking to leave Facebook. Most provide the ability to monetize the group and control their content, while not being subject to the whims of a massive, publicly-traded corporation. Other benefits abound, including the ability to attract new followers to your community, better publicize your brand, and allow community members to interact and connect with each other.
While most of these advantages also remain available on Facebook, community owners ultimately lose a measure of control as well as the ability to leverage the group as a revenue source, as noted earlier. Of course, the risk exists of Facebook suddenly deplatforming a group for any reason. In that scenario, owners lose access to the user base painstakingly crafted over time. As such, any organization with a robust online presence needs to consider crafting their own community platform accessible from a mobile app.
5 Competitors to Facebook Groups
Let’s look at a few currently popular platform tools to glean insights on the features your potential competition provides to see what makes sense for your organization’s own platform builder app.
The Mighty Networks platform tool provides a full feature set for online communities looking for an alternative to Facebook Groups. Naturally, the mobile app supports both the iOS and Android platforms. In addition to forum-like features, the tool supports online courses, sales pages, and more, allowing users to fully leverage their own brand.
It also offers a robust content management system that supports images, videos, and audio. Other features include private messaging, custom domains, personalized content feeds, analytics as well as public, private, and paid options for community users. The Mighty Networks platform also includes Zapier workflow automation support.
The Tribe Platform
The Tribe platform offers a web-based approach to online communities, although it renders well in both desktop and mobile web browsers. They also support converting a community to a Progressive Web App (PWA). It even allows transforming portions of the community, like news feeds, into widgets embeddable into websites or PWAs.
Tribe’s user interface parallels popular social networks, like Facebook or LinkedIn, with support for rich-media content. It also leverages the Social Login platform, allowing users to use credentials from their other social media accounts. Tribe includes rich SEO support, gamification, and moderation features. Compatibility with a variety of third-party tools and apps is another bonus.
The Discourse Platform
Discourse is another online community platform tool with a full range of features worth considering for your company’s own platform builder app. An older tool, Discourse focuses on providing forum-related functionality, as hinted at by its name. It supports a variety of plugins to extend the basic forum capabilities.
Other features include support for single sign-on and mobile responsiveness. The powerful open source API provides some measure of extensibility, but its feature set isn’t as robust as Mighty Networks or Tribe. Still, since the forum remains arguably the most critical feature of any online community, Discourse still warrants a look.
Vanilla Forums provides users with a mature tool for creating an online community. It offers the option for either an open source version or a version fully managed by Vanilla for a price. Other features include support for moderation and gamification, social and single sign-in, integration with WordPress as well as a question and answer system. Vanilla also seamlessly integrates with Zendesk and Salesforce.
Users are able to leverage their community branding with Vanilla’s themes functionality. It also provides support for events, as well as groups and sub-communities. While many of its features also exist in other online community tools, the Salesforce integration feature is worthy of further exploration.
Some tech pundits feel Thinkific is the best tool for building an online community. As such, it warrants a look to see what features also make sense for your organization’s app. It supports the publishing of a wide array of content types, including online courses, videos, and articles. Thinkific also seamlessly integrates with a wide array of third-party tools and services.
Notably, Thinkific provides robust support for eCommerce; check out their implementation to see if it’s relevant to your own app. Other features include detailed course management support and strong data analytics. Its friendly user interface for designing communities also deserves mention.
Ultimately, these five examples of popular online community tools offer some inspiration of what features to include in your organization’s app for building online communities. At the same time, other functionality may or may not be relevant. It all depends on the type of app you want to build.
What Features to Include in Your Online Community Construction App?
Of course, building any digital venture requires planning, determining the requirements, and a robust design. All of this effort needs to happen before any line of code gets written. Do you want to build an app specifically for your own company, or do you want to provide a platform for other organizations to use to craft their own communities?
The answer to this and other questions greatly informs the requirements and design of the app. For our purposes, let's focus on building an app for other organizations to forge their own private online communities. So what features need to be included in any online community construction app?
Provide Support For Branding and Monetization
Most importantly, the app needs to allow organizations to customize the community’s look and feel, while allowing them to leverage their branding. Crafting an intuitive user interface for its design functionality becomes critical. As such, consider providing support for drag and drop screen design.
Additionally, you must provide organizations with the ability to monetize their community. This remains a leading reason many are currently abandoning Facebook Groups. Support for premium content, like online courses, is critical, as well as providing a variety of eCommerce payment options.
Offer Robust User Management, Moderation, and Content Creation Features
Community management functionality is also critical. When online groups grow to over thousands of users or more, it becomes difficult to manage that user base. Facebook Groups remains an obvious example of this lack of scalability. As such, include robust moderation and user management features.
Supporting a variety of content types is important and helps users monetize their communities. Allow for rich-media content, including audio, video, online courses, and a flexible article structure. Letting community users host their own live streams is another feature worthy of inclusion. You don’t need to reinvent WordPress, but provide your users and their community with a robust interface for creating meaningful content.
Data Analytics, Reporting, and SEO
Once an online community begins to go viral, it helps to provide strong data analytics and reporting functionality to help owners dive into the details on what truly makes the community tick. This information helps leadership determine what content provides the best bang for the buck. It’s this analysis that goes hand and hand with the app’s monetization features, especially when offering paid online courses.
Support for SEO also helps the community grow their user base by making it easier to find information about it on popular search engines. Again, this ties into including strong data analytics and reporting to vet the efficacy of any online marketing effort for the community. In short, your users want an app that helps their community go viral.
Other features worthy of consideration include an API to provide extensibility to communities with programming resources. Support for third-party integration with tools like Salesforce or Slack is another nice option. The ability for users to create customized feeds might also serve to attract interest to your app.
Strategies For Crafting Online Community Construction App
Of course, creating an app for users to create their own online communities is a relatively complex software development project. Ensure your company possesses a talented group of programmers and designers with significant experience in mobile app development for iOS and Android. Additionally, using a modern iterative methodology like Agile, Kanban, or Lean Startup is a must.
Expect the project to take a significant amount of time, depending on the resources available to your organization. This includes programmers, designers, QA engineers, a product owner, and a project manager. This collection of technical professionals also requires salaries and a space within to work, unless you follow the remote employment model. Perhaps a partnership with a digital agency makes sense for your technical needs? In either case, significant funding is another crucial requirement, especially when considering the marketing involved to help your app go viral.
Additionally, a thorough requirements and design process needs to determine the app’s feature set. As noted above, a wide array of platforms for building online community platforms already exist, with most also providing a mobile app. In short, your app needs exceptional functionality and a compelling user interface to differentiate it from the rest of the market.
If following the Lean Startup software development methodology, you need to figure out what basic features to include in your minimum viable product (MVP). Also engage a few potential users to help with the QA process. This approach provides the crucial feedback necessary to ensure your team stays on the right track throughout the project. On the other hand, flying blind without any input from your user community just might lead to an app unable to make any impact in the marketplace.
In the end, a mobile app that serves as a construction set for an online community offers a strong potential for success. At the same time, it’s a complex technical effort requiring you and your technical and marketing teams to thread the needle. Don’t short shrift any aspect of this initiative, including design, development, QA, and marketing.
If your company wants a talented and experienced partner for its next complex digital venture, connect with the team at NineTwoThree. We boast a history of significant accomplishments crafting successful mobile apps and digital platforms for both existing businesses and startups. Connect with us to discuss your organization’s next great idea for a mobile app or other digital venture.