Facebook groups - no longer free?

Remember when Facebook was free and every business thought it was a great place to talk to their “fans” for little to no cost? Well that was 2010, and we all know what happened from there. Facebook gradually changed its algorithms and morphed into a completely paid media platform for businesses. In 2012, I spent over 50% of an average work day telling people one way or another that Facebook is not free. Today, I only have those conversations two or three odd times a year.

Over the years Facebook has devised new revenue streams from all corners of its platform and wider family of apps, such as Instagram and Messenger. However, there remained some nooks in the Facebook world that many of us thought would forever be free, forever social. One of those was Facebook Groups. Maybe we were just a little too optimistic.

Over a billion people worldwide use Facebook Groups, using them to find likeminded communities for an array of niche interests from being a first- time parent, to brewing your own craft beer or planting basil in your backyard.  Unfortunately, accessing content on those groups may start costing members as much as their monthly Netflix subscription.

How so?

Facebook has been focusing a lot of their efforts in the last 5 years on competing with YouTube and other platforms to become the video forefront of the internet. They’ve created Facebook TV, Facebook Watch, developed thousands of relationships with content creators around the world and most recently released Instagram TV. One of the key challenges in this endeavour was getting content creators compensated. So, Facebook did what it does best, copied another platform’s way of doing it, namely YouTube. YouTube compensates its content contributors by paying a share of the revenue generated from ads displayed on their content. Today, many long form videos on Facebook will have mid-roll ads, which are a way for Facebook to expand its ad inventory while sharing some of revenue with the creators. However, Facebook needed to go a step further and come up with its own idea, so they started testing an option to allow Group administrators to charge their group members a monthly subscription fee in order to access specific content. The test is still being conducted on a small scale. According to CNET, the subscription price will vary from $4.99 USD to $29.99 USD.

Should you panic?

As a business, you probably should not. Facebook Groups are not a feature that businesses tend to use on Facebook, so you’re not about to have to add yet another item in your annual social budget. One long term possibility could be that such changes will drive more people away from Facebook, and therefore have an incremental impact on the channel’s reach. But, there’s also a valid argument that the opposite might as well be possible. Some would say that by dangling this carrot in front of content creators, they’re likely to enhance the quality of their content substantially and draw more people in who would be happy to pay for it.