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Groups: A Review of Five Platforms to Build Community

If your organization is focused on building community among your activists and donors you’ve probably had to choose an online group tool. But which platform is best for your group?

Some nonprofits like the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation are using platforms like the new Facebook Groups to foster ongoing discussions with their members. Here’s a list of the different types of popular platforms that offer group functionality that your nonprofit should consider if you’re thinking of going down this route. Which tool is best for your group will depend on your goals, your members level of engagement, and the group’s comfort level with social technologies.

Facebook Groups:

The new Facebook Groups, while still buggy at times, is fast becoming a popular platform for nonprofits looking to create a hub for discussion among active members and stakeholders. The most successful groups on Facebook are those whose members are passionate about the group’s focus and goals. If your group would make for an active and participatory email listserv, it will probably work as a group too. That said, I recommend capping membership numbers and I would avoid putting thousands of people in a Facebook Group. It could get unwieldy quickly.

Can building a Facebook Group impact advocacy? The Juvenile Diabetes Foundation formed a Facebook Group in December but Director of Grassroots Advocacy Mike Kondratick feels that “the group is too new for us to track back to the impact on advocacy”.

“We started in December with just a few times per week given that our agenda was light. Our goal is to pick up the pace this month, especially since we're launching a campaign to meet w/new members of Congress. This campaign should give us a much better idea of advocacy impact from the group…

Also, since we've set-up our group off of our advocacy program's personal profile, we've had people going thru the process of friending us and then joining. Folks willing to go thru that process begin by self-selecting as more interested people, by and large.”

While active Facebook groups can be filled with lively discussion and information, it can be easy to miss threads. Popular discussions with the most “Likes” and user comments rise to the top, while less popular threads get buried. As of this post, Facebook Groups are still missing a search feature for users to search keywords based on their interests or refer back to past threads.

LinkedIn Groups:

Members of LinkedIn Groups can post discussion topics related to that group. Groups also feature separate job boards, a promotions area, and a search feature. NTEN’s LinkedIn Group has over 1400 members. On a recent thread where Executive Director Holly Ross asked the group “do we need more leaders or more managers,” she received only four thoughtful responses. This minimal response rate, is one of my biggest complaints about LinkedIn Groups. While many groups seems to have some members that actively participate in discussions, I feel LinkedIn Groups have become more a space to promote and share articles or resources than a place for substantive discussion.


Posterous just launched a groups feature to address what the company feels is broken about platforms that offer groups.  

“Sharing privately with groups is broken right now - the default option remains the same as it was 10 years ago: Multi-attachment, inbox-cluttering emails. Other groups services have cropped up, but they are too complicated to set-up, handle rich media poorly and fall way short in the privacy department.”

How are they different from the other group platforms?

Email Integration - Users don’t need a Posterous account to engage in Posterous groups (unlike Facebook and LinkedIn). Just add a person’s email address and they’re in your group. Every time someone posts to the group, they receive the full content as an email. They can reply directly to emails and everyone in the group gets their update.

Group members can share photos, video, or audio files by attaching them to an email. According to the Posterous site “photos are displayed in your emails without attachments and the group’s threaded web view will automatically host and embed videos, audio files  . . . any file that you send”. 

As a bonus, the group default is set to private, so that group admins have full control over who can see photos and who can participate in each group. This setting is the exact opposite of Facebook Groups, which by default are set to public.


BuddyPress, or WordPress Multi User, provides a range of features that work out of the box. BuddyPress was built to bring people together and enable people with similar interests to connect and communicate with each other. Nonprofits and associations can use this as:

  • A social network for your organization.
  • An internal communication tool for your nonprofit or super-activists.
  • A niche social network for your interest topic.

BuddyPress might be overkill for some nonprofits, (do your users really need another social network?) but if your nonprofit uses WordPress and you’ve decided that an in-house social network would benefit your members, BuddyPress could be a viable option.

Google Groups:

The old school Google Groups is a great listserv option if you are planning an event and looking for a simple way to brainstorm and discuss logistics online. Google Groups can also be used as a simple discussion group. Another nice thing about Google Groups is that you can view past email threads online so new members can easily catch up with the discussion. Also, being a Google product, Google Groups naturally has a good search function, and integrates nicely with email.

What are some of your favorite platforms for groups?

Reader Comments (3)

Nice round-up, Allyson. I know a quite a few folks who were relying on Ning but their move to a pay per month service had them scrambling.
January 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAnne Dougherty
Thanks Anne. I didn't mention Ning, because I know many nonprofits have moved away from Ning in favor of other platforms.
January 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAllyson Kapin
As a result of my own search for a quality free hosted social networking site, I created a site where everyone can share their own reviews of those available. Non-profits especially may find this list useful as well as take advantage of the opportunity to share their experiences with each. Most of these platforms are similar to Ning and most of them still provide a free option: http://www.social-networkreviews.com I hope you'll find the information there useful as well as contribute your own experiences.
January 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRob Reinhardt

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