Facebook: Group or Page?

A common question I’ve received since my Facebook webinar two weeks ago is: “What is the difference between a group and a page on Facebook? And which should my parish use?” (OK, that’s two questions, but work with me here.)

It’s a fair question; on the surface the two seem to be very similar. Both allow you to

  • publish information to a select group of Facebook members;
  • post information that will appear on members’ News Feeds;
  • and assign multiple administrators.

That having been said, I think there are five good reasons for a parish to choose a page instead of a group:

  1. Original Purpose – Pages were originally designed to accommodate businesses, celebrities, non-profits, and other entities who wanted a presence on Facebook. Pages provide a way for these groups to share their message in the Facebook environment. Groups are designed for more detailed conversations with a smaller audience; they contain more tools for collaborative interaction (such as the ability to work on the same document and engage in group chats) that don’t work for broad message delivery.
  2. Sharing Items – One major difference is in what people can do with the information on your page. In groups, the information stays in the group; there is no way for someone to easily re-publish a link, picture, or event from the group to their own friends. With a page, however, information posted to the page comes with a “Share” link. (see image) When clicked, users can re-post the link, picture or event onto their page, effectively increasing your audience.
  3. Linking and Analytical Tools – Facebook offers pages many more tools for tracking the interactions between your fans and your page. If you have a campaign in place to increase the number of fans on your Facebook page, these tools can be invaluable for measuring your success. Facebook also offers “widgets” that you can add to your regular web site directing users to your Facebook page; no such widgets currently exist for groups. (Groups also don’t get custom URLs or photo galleries.)
  4. User Expectations – When people click the Facebook icon on your web site they expect to go to a page, not a group. I also think that, because of the terminology used, there is a lower psychological barrier to someone choosing to “like” your page as opposed to “joining” your group. “Join” implies a greater level of commitment and approval than “like”; if your goal is to reach as many people as possible, then a page is the way to go.
  5. FBML – Facebook Markup Language allows advanced users to insert HTML code directly into a tab on your page. This lets you create all sorts of tricks. For one example, go to the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois’ Facebook page and click the “Parishes” tab. This list of parish links could not be placed in a group. Now, imagine a similar list of your parish’s outreach ministries on your page, with links to their pages on your web site.

That’s not to say that there isn’t a place for Facebook groups in your parish. I think they are well-suited for smaller ministries. For instance, a Facebook group set up for the parish youth group can provide a place where the youth minister can interact with young people without having to friend them directly and (assuming the group is an “open” group, which I recommend) where anyone can monitor the activity going on. But for the wider parish community, I definitely recommend a page.

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Author:Jonathan F. Sullivan

Jonathan F. Sullivan is the director of catechetical services for the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois. You can follow him on Twitter @sullijo; he also blogs on catechetical topics at www.JonathanFSullivan.com.
  • Anonymous

    Thanks Jonathan for posting this.

    I’m curious to see how the ‘New and Improved’ Facebook Groups does:
    http://mashable.com/2010/10/06/facebook-groups-2/

    I’ve only looked at it briefly, but it appears that the advice you’ve given here still holds up. The new FB Groups seems to be aiming at users who have something in common, e.g. workplace, school, etc., whereas the ‘Page’ allows for a more casual connection.

    Also, I think that the new groups is going to have a hard time shaking the stigma it received from power-users who found it less attractive than pages.

    • http://www.jonathanfsullivan.com/ Jonathan F. Sullivan

      Agreed. My big complaint about the old group system was that postings didn’t appear in the news feed; group members had to click into the group page to see what was going on there, which in my mind defeats the whole purpose of the news feed!

      At least that has been fixed. But I think it’s too late, even for the new groups system; pages have many more useful features and, I suspect, will for the foreseeable future.

  • http://marccardaronella.com Marc Cardaronella

    Great summary Jonathan. Definitely brought up some stuff I never considered. I like the recommendation of group pages for youth groups. I definitely don’t want to friend all the high school kids but that’s a great workaround for keeping in contact with them.

    • http://www.jonathanfsullivan.com/ Jonathan F. Sullivan

      That’s one of the issues we’ll be addressing as we write our diocesan social media policies. I’m not a fan of catechists/youth ministers friending minors (even though I know that a lot do) — there’s just too much risk involved.

      • Anonymous

        Hmmm…hadn’t thought of that before…I agree, not a good idea for them to be friending each other.

        Would you be willing to share a copy of your diocesan social media policies once they’re complete? I’ll create a document section on the site.

        • http://www.jonathanfsullivan.com/ Jonathan F. Sullivan

          I’m not sure the powers that be would allow the document to be hosted on a third-party site, but hopefully we’ll post them to our diocesan site where I can link to them.

          • Anonymous

            Understandable…even a link would be great.

            So far, the only ‘viable’ documentation I’ve seen is the USCCB guidelines.

  • Brad

    You ‘hit the nail on the head’ with the fact that both can be used but for different purposes. Facebook groups I agree work better for small collaborative groups such as ministries. For the overall parish . . . definitely a Facebook page.

    • http://www.jonathanfsullivan.com/ Jonathan F. Sullivan

      Thanks, Brad! Hopefully this will help people understand the difference between the two so they can use them appropriately!

  • Anonymous

    BTW…just checked out the ‘parishes’ tab in that FB page. Nice! I can see many potential uses for that.

  • Caroline Cerveny

    Hi Jonathan! A wonderful post! As we consider the types of social media guidelines for our parishes and dioceses I find it helpful to pay attention to how this is being handled in other organizations. I’ve discovered a great link at – Online Database of Social Media Policies – http://socialmediagovernance.com/policies.php

    Also, I find it helpful to understand how non-church organizations are using Facebook! Could you point us to some interesting FB websites of various organizations?