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Dear Mark Zuckerberg: If you want to build community, open your Facebook Groups API

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Dear Mark,

This week, you announced you have 2 billion monthly users. What an incredible feat. I was also excited that you publicly announced the new Facebook mission to “give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together.”

As a community organizer and entrepreneur, I am thrilled you are making community and human connection a priority.

Communities not only have the power to change lives and politics, they enable us to build a new more collaborative economy. And most importantly, they are what keep us emotionally healthy and our society moving forward.

Behind any thriving group, there’s a critical leader — a community organizer. In order to succeed, community organizers need to be efficient and empowered to organize and take their members to the next level of participation. SaaS technologies can enable them to do just that. And as you said in your note, “Bringing us all together as a global community is a project bigger than any one organization or company.”

So in the spirit of collaboration, I write this letter to you today with one request:

Open the full graph API for Facebook groups, so we can all join forces in this mission to empower leaders to create movements and connect the world.

As Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, we have a responsibility to work together to meet the technological needs of community builders.

Today, community leaders — ranging from businesses to nonprofits to political movements — face difficulties because they have to use multiple mobilization tools. They want the benefit of member discovery and engagement on Facebook, while using advanced management tools to overcome other operational, database management, and analytical challenges. Currently, the Graph API for Facebook Groups is very limited and creates a situation in which their tools are siloed and their workflow is full of friction.

Prior to founding Mobilize, I spent years studying and organizing political and social movements. I found there are specific steps community leaders follow to turn their communities into movements. An Open API and seamless organization across tools would better enable this process:

  1. Smooth recruitment and onboarding process. Getting the word out can be the biggest challenge for a community. Leveraging the social graph, Facebook helps people discover groups quickly, however, community organizers work with robust CRMs to help them manage membership which need to be connected. To help streamline the recruiting process, the Graph API should enable Group managers to invite, add and remove members, based on triggers from other databases.
  2. Designing a robust organizational structure. Communities are typically comprised of multiple subgroups so that every member will find their own place and role. Leaders therefore need sophisticated tools to truly organize their communities with flexible groupings and subgroups. Most importantly, they need to know as much about their members as the members are willing to share, and that information may need to be customized for their particular group. With permission, profiles need to be richer and more flexible. Group leaders need to be able to leverage that data and be confident it will be available to them when needed. To enable that, the Graph API should let them register members into a CRM in order to build a richer member directory.
  3. Multichannel communication with members. All posts and messages are not created equally, and some are mission-critical to the functioning of a community. Community organizers need to be able to reach members every way possible. They want to use calendars, file sharing apps to provide training and resources, text messaging, and email campaign systems that include call-to-actions and confirm that the message is seen. Managers need a dashboard to handle that entire communication eco-system. Therefore, the Graph API should enable third-party platforms to post on Facebook Groups.
  4. A deep, immersive experience and sense of belonging. The biggest advantage of community building on Facebook is that members are there for other reasons and you can get their interest and attention. However, sometimes it’s beneficial to also have a dedicated place for community building. This is important in the offline world and it’s important online as well.
  5. Scale and analytics. Leaders need to be able to track success, address issues, and optimize their programs for engagement and growth.

What is obvious from this list is that Facebook plays an important, but not comprehensive, role in providing the technology stack for community building. Critical functions needed by community leaders are not available in Facebook groups but are provided effectively by both startups and established players in the ecosystem.

A more extensive Facebook Groups API would empower the many other organizations that are playing critical roles in the quest to build community. Building a community takes a village, and so does building a strong infrastructure that will truly empower people around the world to build communities. It’s an exciting time in the tech industry, and the world — a time when collaboration is clearly more powerful than competition.

Sharon Savariego is cofounder and CEO of Mobilize.

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