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Facebook has made many changes to its Groups feature over the past few years. Many of those updates have made it easier for existing friends, family, or communities to focus their conversations on the network. However, most of the changes have made it more and more challenging for businesses to use the feature. Groups are not ideal for small businesses looking to engage with customers.

There are some small ways you can use Groups to reach people, but Pages are tailor-made for brands and companies that want to use the network and should be your primary engagement tool. It’s worth understanding the ins-and-outs of Groups so your business can make an informed decision about building your social media profile on Facebook.

1. Groups Are Created By the Public, Not You

Groups are intended to emerge organically out of existing social relationships. People add their friends, colleagues or family members to groups like “Johnson Family,” “Class of ‘92,” or “Entrepreneurs.” As such, they’re only rarely created around a brand, and most Facebook users would write off any Group created under that pretense.

Facebook did this to make its social network better mirror the informal and largely unspoken social networks of the real world. It’s a departure from the old Groups system, which has long since been deprecated.

2. You Have Limited Control Over Groups

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Being on any social media network requires some moderation. With most channels available for brands, including Facebook Pages, the company is in charge of all content being posted from the profile. Wall posts from fans do appear, but they can be limited to a small box at the top of the Page rather than appearing amid the Page’s own posts.

Groups don’t have that same hierarchy. They can be set to allow any members to post or to only allow administrator posts. The former opens up brands to potential abuse and spam, while the latter may discourage people from joining. They are designed to foster open conversation among equal voices. It’s the right tool for many social interactions, but not necessarily the ideal situation for a brand to share its message.

3. Interface and Layout

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The layout of Facebook Groups is a single, wide column of posts. Information appears in chronological order, with the most recently active posts appearing first. This means that Group owners have little control over how information is presented in this format. Admins have the option to pin a post to the top of the feed, but otherwise it’s all based on activity.

This interface also doesn’t have a prominent way to showcase any related material. Where Pages have buttons for third-party apps or internal Facebook tools, the navigation system for Groups is a simple, text-only bar. The About section is very small and almost blends in with the advertising on the right side of the browser. This is less conducive to browsing, so your customers would most likely spend less time interacting with your content. They may not even realize that there are other tabs in a Group page.

4. There’s No Analytics Tool for Groups

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Since Groups are more focused on individuals who are on Facebook for personal reasons, there are no analytics tools built-in. This is a serious issue if you want to be able to crunch numbers on fans and engagement, which are crucial when you want to use the network for marketing or sales. Calculating the performance of posts in a Group would require tracking Likes, Shares, and comments by hand. That’s a lengthy task, and that time would be better spent crafting strategy or preparing content.

You need good data to drive your social media marketing decisions. When you can’t get that intel, then you need to seek out a better option that will allow for analysis.

5. Fewer Options For Visuals

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Sharing images in a Group may not give you the results you want. When posted to a Page, single photos appear with a generous preview and album updates show a teaser of six thumbnails. This keeps visual interest in the Page and may spark enough interest that someone browsing casually will look closer.

In a Group, there is no option to highlight large or important photos or to see large thumbnails. There aren’t as many ways to create a strong visual tone across a Facebook Group, especially when your brand’s content gets interspersed with member posts. You can choose to add a cover photo, as you would with a Page, but that is the only way to add visual branding to a Group.

First impressions count on social, so you’ll want to put your best face forward in your Facebook presence. The challenges to presenting a compelling brand story on Groups make it a less desirable option.

Pages: The Best Choice for Facebook Engagement

Even though Groups won’t meet your needs, Facebook has something that will. Pages are designed specifically for brand promotion, with built-in analytics, customization options and advanced controls for presenting your case to customers and clients.

Users can “Like” a page to receive updates about it and place it on their profiles for all their friends to see. Their decision to Like the page is immediately broadcast to all their friends, though they can choose to remove that update after it’s been sent out.

That broadcast exposes you to their friends; consider it a sort of endorsement. It’s automated word of mouth. That doesn’t happen when a Facebook user is added to one of the new Groups.

You can upload videos, photos and applications, host discussions with online forums, and even host events in the Page’s name and account — all things you can’t do with Groups.

Does your business use Facebook Groups? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

[Image credits: John MorganMarshall AstorThisisbossiRed Rose ExileAnssi Koskinen]