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Facebook Groups: connecting blind and partially sighted people

26 September 2017

At the beginning of 2017, few people foresaw the changes and improvements to a long standing, often forgotten weapon in the expanding Facebook arsenal – Groups.

In recent years, Groups has been a feature of Facebook used by people planning events, sharing family photos or organising charity softball teams. Groups are often not thought of as a way to communicate with supporters.

There’s loads of good reasons for this. Until this year, Groups could not be linked to Facebook Pages, social media teams had to use personal Facebook profiles (or create ‘work profiles’ frowned upon by Facebook) to be part of these groups. There were very little analytics available.

That changed this year at the first Communities Summit. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced some new key features coming to Groups:

  • Insights will be available for Groups, where admins can see real-time metrics around growth, engagement and membership.
  • Group admins can schedule posts in the Group to be shared at any time.
  • Filters will be introduced, organising people in categories such as location and gender. This is to help ease the time-consuming task of admitting people to a Group.

Zuckerberg also said Facebook’s new mission is to “bring the world closer together.”

These updates now allow brands, celebrities, and media outlets to create their own communities. This has massive implications for charities by providing a place for our most engaged social media followers to talk with each other, to share their own stories and to collaborate together.

Our idea

Over the past few years at the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB), we’ve been building and shaping Connect; a growing community, that brings together people affected by sight loss. Four in 10 blind and partially sighted people feel cut off from the people and things around them. We can change this by helping people connect with each other. What we’re trying to achieve with Connect is similar to Facebook’s new mission; “bringing the world closer together”.

RNIB Connect is a people-powered movement, a diverse community united by the experience of living with little or no sight. We’ve been listening to our community members for some time and they’ve been telling us what they really want is an online community that’s easy to contribute to, owned by the community and feels part of everyday life. Our community wanted a place where you could make new friends and exchange ideas.

Facebook Groups fits perfectly for this task. There are so many benefits of using Groups to build these online communities:

  • Community members already being part of Facebook, so no additional sign-ups or log-ins are needed and people know how to use it.
  • Facebook is one of the most accessible social media platforms to people with sight loss.
  • No website development costs are required.
  • Group conversations are served in a person’s timeline, so it can be easily adopted into pre-existing habits.

The feature improvements to Groups, mentioned above, will help with growing and facilitating communities.

How it’s going

So far, we’ve created seven groups, using a phased roll-out so we can learn as we go along, and build enough resources to fully support each community.

Groups are moderated and managed by a mix of staff and community members who’ve been given training and supporting materials on how to be effective online community managers. We’d eventually like each Group to be fully community-moderated and self-sufficient.

Response to Groups has been overwhelmingly positive and take up has been higher than we predicted. We’re seeing conversations about people’s experiences with employment to advice on using iPhone’s voiceover feature. It’s been reassuring to see people with lots of common ground coming together and starting these conversations.

Interestingly, engagement is not consistent across each Group and that’s something we’re comfortable with. Within RNIB Connect, there are 12 regional networks each with their own shape and size and we know that these differences will be reflected online.

As expected, the Groups have become hubs of content and conversation, which can be fed back into the organisation and shared across other channels. It means the content we’re producing on a national level is now coming directly from the community – something which we’re continually striving to do.

An example of this was a few weeks ago when the new iPhone was announced. We noticed there were lots of conversations in groups about this news. This helped us identify that this topic was of interest to our community, so we amplified this by sharing it on our national Facebook page.

We’re hoping as communities grow and become more established, this sharing of content will increase and other members will be encouraged to get involved with our work.

What’s next?

We’re continuing to roll out the remainder of our Connect groups, along with a UK-wide group for parents and carers of visually impaired children. We’ve been blown away by the number of volunteers who want to get involved with the groups and we’re busy providing training and guidance to support them with this.

Community management isn’t an exact science – every day is a learning day. We’ll continue to monitor these communities and adapt so they thrive in the future.

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Nathan Murray

social media manager, RNIB

Nathan is social media manager at Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB), where he leads on the development, delivery and optimisation of social media activity. Before joining RNIB, Nathan spent three years at RNLI where he was responsible for creating and curating social media content about their lifesaving work. Nathan is passionate about user-focused content and exploring how new messaging platforms can be used in the third sector.