As community leaders (Award Travel 101 and Airhosts Forum), we know that members face a host of problems when it comes to content:

  • finding the content and information that you need is difficult
  • important updates, announcements and news are pushed down or members miss it among all the other posts on the group
  • new members or members who aren't familiar with how groups work skip over or don't know where to find pinned posts and announcements
  • the search function in groups doesn't return the relevant content that members are actually looking for

To ensure that we continue to actively engage our members and increase community engagement, we wanted to create a solution to easily find the most relevant content that they're looking for and to summarize the announcement and news succinctly for the members, and in a way that fit their busy lives and schedules.

Voice controlled personal assistants such as Alexa are becoming more ubiquitous in people's lives. It offers wonderful convenience to learn and keep up to date on news while you're doing other daily tasks, such as cooking dinner or cleaning. We wanted to find a way to help community members engage in a way that doesn't require them to always log on but still stay up to date on everything going on in the community. Alexa fit this criteria perfectly so we built an Alexa skill around surfacing Facebook group content that members want and need to stay involved.

What it does

facegroup is an Alexa skill that is voice activated. The member launches facegroup by saying "Alexa, launch facegroup". The member can then prompt for different types of content updates, such as group announcements, posts by topic, and top (most discussed) posts. Alexa will read out the relevant posts, based on the member's command. Announcements and events will be read out from chronologically order, starting with the newest item. Posts can be filtered by either newest or posts with the most discussion. Once Alexa reads out all the relevant posts, the member can also ask Alexa to send an email with a summary of all the relevant posts, along with any links.

How we built it

Ruby, Mailgun, Ruby on Rails, Alexa SDK, Facebook Graph API

Challenges we ran into

Searching content: At first we wanted to use the topic tags in Facebook Groups to easily search info once the admin of the group added tags to each post, whether they posted it or a member posted. However, Facebook doesn’t expose the topics in the Graph API so we were unable to use this. As a workaround, we used hashtags in the posts so that Alexa could easily find relevant content. However, admins cannot add hashtags to posts that members add so this would limit the content that Alexa can find and summarize to members.

We also wanted to allow members to specify how they wanted to prioritize content - whether by date (oldest or newest), popularity (most likes) or most comments but Facebook doesn’t expose the number of likes in the API so our only options were either by date or by most comments.

Accomplishments that we're proud of

We really wanted to solve a problem that affects all hosts and community group members. People join a group because they want to learn, connect and engage with people who share the same interests and commonalities. However, life gets busy and it’s hard to consistently check the group posts and there’s also a lot of content on community groups, especially when there are hundreds of thousands of members. We’re proud of the fact that we built a solution that solves a real world problem for Facebook community groups, including our own.

What we learned

With all that’s happened with Facebook in the last year, it can be a bit more challenging to create engaging communities because a lot of information is now hidden in order to protect everyone’s privacy and security, which is the way it should be. However, it does require that groups get a little more creative about the way that they connect, especially from online to offline.

Through trying to identify how we could curate the most relevant content for community members, we first handedly experienced how difficult it could be for group members to find the content that they need. This made it all the more clear that the solution we built is incredibly important to keep members continuously engaged.

What's next for facegroup

We’d like to integrate extra features into Alexa's facegroup skill:

  • Ask Alexa to create a post on the group
  • Ask Alexa to respond to a post by adding a comment, liking or sharing
  • Ask Alexa to share upcoming events
  • Ask Alexa to RSVP to an upcoming event
  • Ask Alexa to message person/seller
  • Ask Alexa to post an event
  • Ask Alexa to check in for a member
  • Ask Alexa to email group updates from all groups in one request rather than individually
  • Ask Alexa to search the group's site (if one exists) to find relevant content (e.g. search the blog which is on an external site for a specific topic and summarize and/or email the link)
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