Internal group communications: Facebook Groups, Google Groups, Slack?

Getting your neighbors together in real life is incredibly powerful, but it’s impossible to do everything through meetings. In fact, the more you do outside of those meetings, the better you can use that precious time when you come together. That’s why internal group communications are so critical.

Most groups quickly discover that whatever tool helped them get together might not be the best way to keep communication going. For example, Facebook groups can get unwieldy with too many people posting. And email chains definitely get out of hand if everyone hits “reply-all” by default.

At some point, you may need to make a deliberate decision about how the group communicates internally—and you may need to revisit that decision over time, as your group grows and you learn what works.

Deciding what you need

To figure out what you need, start with where you’re at. Key questions to ask:

  • How are we currently communicating as a group? In particular, what systems are we currently using, and what works well or poorly in those? What are the friction points?
  • What’s this look like from the members’ perspectives? Are they primarily on their phones, or do many spend their days sitting at desks with email open? Are they all regular Facebook users? Do some use Slack or similar tools for work? Does everyone have a smartphone with data, or do some primarily use text messages?
  • What are we missing? Do we have a way for new members to engage? Do we need to separate out different streams of communications for committees? Should leadership conversations stay separate from general announcements?

Agreeing on your current status and your needs is the first step to designing a better way to communicate. Once you’ve done that, you can look for the tool (or set of tools) that meets those needs.

Looking at the big three

There are dozens of online communication tools available. Anything used in the corporate or nonprofit world is a candidate. However, the learning curve needed to get comfortable with a new system (and the cost of some) mean that they aren’t always practical for a group of volunteers.

As a result, many groups stick with some combination of the “big three”: Facebook Groups, Google Groups, and Slack. Here are the key differences.


Facebook logoFacebook Groups

Integrated into Facebook—with all the benefits and drawbacks that brings.

Ways that members can access

✔      Web browser
✔      Phone app
✘       Desktop app
✔      Email (you can set up alerts)

How new members join

  • You can set the group to:
    • public (anyone can find the group and join immediately);
    • closed (anyone can find the group and see the membership list, but must be approved for membership before they can post or read other posts); or
    • secret (group is effectively invisible until someone is added by a current member).
  • By default, any current member can add or invite new members. You can change that setting so that it requires moderator approval to add new members.

How moderators manage it

You can require that all posts get approval, or allow direct posting. Moderation responsibilities can be shared with others.

Find more details on Facebook Groups privacy settings here.

Great for…

  • Expanding your reach beyond current members: fitting into the Facebook feed helps members share big announcements and event invites with their personal networks.
  • Lowering the barrier to engagement: members can easily make a quick comment on a news item or other post, without needing to track all conversations.

But with downsides…

  • Posts can get lost in the Facebook newsfeed: members will miss items unless they’re in the habit of going straight to the group page.
  • And, of course: not everyone is on Facebook. Those members will be left out entirely.

Google Groups logoGoogle Groups

Classic, easy-to-use listserv. If you can use email, you can use Google Groups.

Ways that members can access

✔      Web browser
✘       Phone app
✘       Desktop app
✔      Email (you can choose to get every message, or a periodic digest)

How new members join

  • You can set the group to:
    • public (anyone can find the group and join immediately);
    • anyone can ask (anyone can find the group, but must then request membership); or
    • invite-only (requires the admin to add them).
  • Members must have a Google Account to join, but they can receive messages at any email address (not just @gmail.com addresses) by adding it to their account.

How moderators manage it

You can require that all posts get approval, or allow direct posting. Moderation responsibilities can be shared with others.

Find more details on the other options for group settings here.

Great for…

  • Large numbers of members with infrequent engagement: you can easily blast to the full group for upcoming meetings or actions.
  • Or: Small numbers of highly engaged members: committees or leadership teams that are likely to have a lot of back-and-forth conversation.

But with downsides…

  • Many people have trouble managing their inbox, so messages can get lost.
  • Email tends to encourage long messages and long replies, especially from members who sit at desks all day or might be extra verbose. That can be off-putting for other members, making it hard for them to be part of the conversation.

Slack iconSlack

Open and adaptable chat system. Easy to start, harder to keep up.

Ways that members can access

✔      Web browser
✔      Phone app
✔      Desktop app
✔      Email

How new members join

  • Slack teams are effectively secret. All joining is by invite-only. Slack offers no way for people to find and join your Slack team.
  • However, there’s an easy workaround: advertise the Slack team through other channels and let people email you to request access.
  • You can also allow current members to invite new members.
  • Find more details here.

How moderators manage it

There is no moderation of posts. The ability to create and manage “channels” (separate conversation threads) can be limited to admins, or open to all members. You can also create secret channels that only certain team members are able to see.

Great for…

  • Frequent activity with lots of people intensively involved. The informality of chat also makes it easier to engage.
  • Managing multiple conversations in parallel. Slack’s “channels” are ideal for committees or targeted planning, allowing members to join and leave as needed.

But with downsides…

  • Any members who aren’t already using Slack (say, for work) may have trouble remembering to check it for updates. When they do open the app, they’re hit with a flurry of messages from more active members. Re-joining ongoing conversations and navigating multiple channels can be difficult for these sporadic users.

(Note: The free version of Slack has enough features for many groups, including everything described above. See here for the features available in paid versions.)


Mix-and-match?

You might want more than one tool, depending on your needs. For example: Use Facebook to recruit new members and update the general membership, but Google Groups for coordinating among leadership. Alternatively: Use Slack for your committee coordination (one channel for each), and then use Google Groups for announcements to the broader membership.

If you do mix-and-match, set clear guidelines for each tool’s purpose in order to avoid confusion.

Tools don’t set norms—people do

Each of the tools encourages certain types of interactions while discouraging others, but ultimately the norms of a group are set by how members use the tools. Problems like exclusionary or dismissive comments can arise on any platform. If you’re facing issues, consider explicitly setting community norms, as well as having a dedicated moderator (or several) who can orient new members to the community and keep an eye out for bad behavior.

Beyond the big three

There are countless other communication tools available in the world. Here are a few reasons you may want to go beyond the big three:

  • Security: None of the above are secure messaging systems. If that’s important to you, then you should be looking at tools like Signal for text messages and Proton Mail for email. And keep everything sensitive off Facebook and other social media. We’ll likely return to security in future posts.
  • More features:  Action Network and NationBuilder both offer tools for email list management, petitions, events, and fundraising.
  • Email blasts: If your interest is mainly in email blasts, then you may want something like Mail Chimp or Constant Contact.
  • Chat alternatives: Ryver is similar to Slack, but with more features included for free.
  • Project management: There are many corporate-oriented tools for this, like BasecampAsana, Trello, and Wrike.

We may cover the value of these in a future post, but wanted to start with the tools that seem to be the most commonly used.

Disagree with what we’ve written above? Have another free tool that we should discuss? Let us know!

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