Facebook Groups, With 1 Billion Users, Charts Path to Add More

  • Facebook team adding functionality to make Groups more useful
  • 10 billion-plus comments were posted in Groups in December

There’s a Facebook feature with more than 1 billion users, and it’s not Instagram, Messenger or WhatsApp.

Groups is Facebook’s first major product to reach that threshold, although most people might not consider it a separate tool -- even if they’re in one or use it every day.

That’s what executives at Facebook Inc. are grappling with, even as they touted a major milestone for the feature, which lets users create and join communities within the social network, be it a a book club, a hobby group or any other subset of individuals with shared interests. By encouraging more users to embrace Groups, Facebook will give people more reasons to spend time on the application, helping to boost ad revenue.

“We could do a better job making sure people understand Groups,” said Will Cathcart, Facebook’s vice president of product.

Within Facebook’s headquarters in Menlo Park, California, Groups is considered an under-appreciated product, often forgotten by users. While the team in charge of the feature is celebrating the big number -- which pales in comparison only to Facebook’s total number of 1.59 billion users -- they’re trying to come up with better ways to entice people to create more groups while adding tools to make them more effective, such as to-do lists and polls.

Group Communication

While the vast majority of people are members of one group or another on Facebook, the feature’s potential is untapped, given that it’s a key part of Facebook’s goal to own the whole range of communication between people, according to Chris Cox, Facebook’s chief product officer.

Groups and its sister product, Events, occupy a space between two main communication features within Facebook -- the posts that people share with a wide group of friends via News Feed, and the one-one-one chats within Messenger -- with plenty of potential for growth. By its nature, Groups require more active involvement, and companies such as Slack Technologies Inc. and LinkedIn Corp. have worked hard to capture this arena of communication, especially among corporate and professional users.

“We’re doing a ton of development to make Groups and Events very solid, especially for the people who are organizing them,” Cox said.

Some of those changes have started to deliver results. Facebook made it easier to share files within groups, and introduced some features that made it easier for users to create groups (such as an option to invite new members via e-mail). In December, more than 1 billion people left about 10 billion comments in Groups, and stamped 25 billion-plus likes on Group posts, according to the company. Most of that interaction happened on Facebook’s website itself, rather than the separate Groups mobile app, which only has tens of millions of users.

Within Facebook itself, the Group feature is used for collaboration, letting employees communicate within their teams and working with other areas of the company. Facebook is looking to add more professional tools to the product, including tools to post tasks or share meeting notes -- all part of a broader push by the social network into workplaces, Cathcart said.

“As widely used as Groups is, if you think about it through the view of any individual person, I think people have tons of groups in their lives that they don’t actually use,” Cathcart said. “If you think of every team you’re involved in -- groups of people at work, social clubs you have -- my bet is that for 9 out of 10 of them you don’t have a Facebook group.”

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