Facebook’s hidden treasure: the Secret Group

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Facebook secret groupsI wrote not so long ago about what a turnoff Facebook’s user experience was becoming. Having been a semi-addict, logging in multiple times a day, I’d found my usage dropping to one or two visits a week at best.

Over recent months, however, Facebook’s been exerting its gravitational pull once again. This time, it’s not what’s happening in the News Feed that’s drawing me back, although there’s a welcome reduction in the level of unwanted noise of late.

No, it’s that hidden treasure of the Facebook experience – the Group. Or more particularly, the Secret Group – the ‘dark matter of Facebook’ as Toph Tucker dubbed them.

While Facebook Groups may not be the first option that springs to mind when you think ‘collaboration’ and they’re not the most fully-featured platform out there, they offer a good range of basic functionality.

And having tried out a number of collaboration tools over the years with varying levels of success, I’ve found the liveliest and most active communities within Facebook Secret Groups. They offer two very powerful advantages over other tools: an easy learning curve and a convenient location for users. No need to remember to visit yet another website.

Through Secret Groups, I connect with business colleagues around the world, find out what’s happening, get a quick answer to a question, share knowledge and learn about better ways of doing things.

Within a Group I can do all the usual Facebook things in the usual way: post messages, photos and videos; comment on and like other Group members’ posts; ask questions; and discuss issues. But there are also some nice collaboration features, like the ability to share and edit documents, and set up online chats, either with the whole group or selected members. Plus I can share files from Dropbox.

If I’m really keen, I can join up to 300 groups. While there’s no upper limit on a group’s size, as an admin I lose some functionality if it gains more than 5,000 members, including the ability to send events invites or messages to the whole group.

What are Facebook Secret Groups?

Facebook offers three different styles of groups, with increasing levels of privacy – Open, Closed and Secret.

Open Groups, as the name implies, are public – anyone can join, or be added by another member, and posts and members are visible to everyone.

Closed Groups are slightly more private – people have to ask to join and only members can view posts. While posts are hidden, everyone can still see the Group name, what it’s about, and who’s a member.

Secret Groups are so ninja, you won’t even know they’re there. They don’t appear in search results, and only members can see the name, description, posts and member list. And to become a member? You have to be invited.

Secret Group posts will appear in members’ News Feeds, but the Group symbol shows that it’s protected content.

Facebook secret group newsfeed

How to set up a Facebook Secret Group

Want to set up your own Secret Group? You’ll need a Facebook account, and to be friends on Facebook with at least one of the Group members.

Once signed into Facebook, look for ‘Groups’ listed in the left hand column of the home page, and click on the option to ‘Create Group’.

Choose a name and privacy level. You’ll then need to invite someone with whom you’re already connected on Facebook, and click on ‘Create’.

Creating Facebook secret groups

Once the Group’s been created, additional members can be added if they are already Facebook connections, or invited via email if not.

But before you dive in

A few caveats to consider and questions to ask:

Not everybody loves Facebook

While Secret Group members don’t have to friend you, they’ll still need to sign up to Facebook. Some people are diehard FB haters. They see having an account as akin to standing at their bedroom window naked, with the curtains open. They won’t thank you for inviting them to a Secret Group.

For those who choose not to be on Facebook, what will be the impact on them and the community if they’re not involved, and how will you prevent them from feeling excluded?

Not every business loves Facebook

Equally, some businesses see Facebook as a timewaster and productivity suck, and block access for their employees. If you’re setting up a Secret Group for a community that includes people from different organisations, will anyone be prevented from participating?

When personal and professional collide

For some, Facebook is strictly about friends, family, and fun. If your Secret Group is work-related, they may find the idea of mixing professional with personal an uncomfortable combo.

User beware

Facebook’s made major changes to its Groups feature in the past, and there’s no guarantee it won’t do so again. As with any free product, the risk is on us, the users, if they decide to revamp Groups, alter privacy settings or withdraw the functionality.

The bottom line

Facebook Secret Groups don’t offer all the bells and whistles of a fully-featured collaboration platform. For example, you can’t organise around different projects within a Secret Group, or add tags to shared content. Nevertheless, if you’re looking for a simple forum for bringing people together to share information and ideas easily and conveniently, Facebook has a lot to recommend it.

As with all collaboration tools, though, the technology is no guarantee of success. Having a clear purpose for the group, ideally developed with the agreement of group members, is essential.

And for some, just the fact that it’s Facebook may be too big a barrier.

Do you use Facebook Secret Groups for collaboration? Please share your experiences in the comments!

Photo Credit: NazareneMissionsInternational via Compfight cc

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