Why is Facebook not the way forward for International Friends?

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If you have been living in Munich already for a couple of years, you may know the Facebook group of International Friends (there are two big ones nowadays, both of them have been started by me, but that is another story). You will remember then the massive events for expats we used to have. We had parties with 400 - 500 expatriates, trips with anything from 20 (daytrips) to 100 Internationals (party trip to Croatia). The meetings that were happening on Wednesdays attracted something in the range of 60 to 100 people every week. Sadly though, that has changed.

What happened? 

​The main reason why so many people showed up at the event is because they knew that there would be loads of other expats there as well, perfect for meeting new people and having fun chatting or going out. So it was a kind of self-realising circle: because people knew that there were many people coming, they came as well. That meant in itself that there were many people coming, ie it was snowballing, getting bigger and bigger simply by moving forward without any input from me or any of the other group admins.

What then happened was desastrous for us. We had built up the community on a Facebook group, so our group was bound to the rules Facebook laid down. And that is what changed. They changed at first the number of invitations that you could send out to new events (That was back in 2012). You could not invite anymore the whole group to an event but only 10.000 people and you had to do it manually (meaning I sat there for an hour and invited everybody until Antoine, an admin on the old group, found a trick on an obscure french hacking site). It was still OK since everyone else had gotten used to checking the group and the group was popping up all the times on the Newsfeed. So not too much harm done.

But the more Facebook grew, the more they started restricting the flow of invitations. At first we could only invite 9000, then they reduced it ever more. We already saw the event attendance decline a LOT. That meant that everyone had less fun. The weekly meetings started to get reduced in size, shrinking to about 20 - 30 people (that was back in 2014) . I had started developing the first very ugly and slow version of the website. It was used as an email list, inviting people via email to event.

The daytrips were still working but by far not that well anymore. But, we were still able to have them. The weird thing I realised though is that it was mostly my friends that were coming (which was awesome on a personal level), and that kind of defied the reason why International Friends existed. We wanted to get expatriates to mingle and make new friends and not, "Tim is organising an event with his friends". Something was not working.

The Facebook groups did not work anymore

The previous year, there was a lot of infighting inside the admins of the group because all of us had realised the downward trend that the community was taking. Even with the addition of the website, we were not able to hold it back. It took me quite some time to realise that Facebook had subtly changed the algorythms powering FB. You could only invite your friends to events and if you created one and posted about it, then mostly your own friends saw it (until they got pissed off with it and unfriended you, believe me that happened a LOT). A very small percentage of people within the group who were not your friends saw the post, unless you paid Facebook for showing your event (we tried that as well, after spending 200 Euro for two events we gave up).

And herein lies the crux of the problem. Facebook is made so that your friends see what you post (mostly), and it is great for keeping in touch with your friends. Now just imagine if you are new in a city, you have not got any friends. You want to find some! But when you create an event, you cannot anybody because you haven't got any friends in your new city and you are not going to get invited to any events because you have not got any friends in the city.

Why is International Friends working for getting people together? 

Once we recognised that the problem was that people were simply not seeing our events anymore, we started expanding the website and started to develop the app. The app is now our prime medium for letting people know about events and there are now enough expats that have downloaded the app to make every event successful. The main difference though between Facebook and International Friends is that if anybody creates an event, it will invite everyone to the event (in beginning February you can set what type of event you want to be invited to and which not), therefore not making any discrimination between people who have friends and people who want to make new friends.

You can only form connections with those people who have attended the same event as you 

One of the main drawbacks that I have always heard about the Facebook group is that (mostly) girls were getting too many friend request from people that were stalking them online. And if they accepted the requests, then they would get the most disgusting and sexist private messages. 

We decided that International Friends is NOT the place for such behavior. So what we have done is that you can only form connections with the people you have met at an event. This will help you keep in touch with the relevant people.

Also, you will get a notification when an expat that you have met already goes to an event, so that you have even more reason to join.

 So, go out there and meet new people! 

Sounds awesome! What can I do to help?

​So first of all, make sure you have the app yourself. You can find the link at the top of this page (or if you have already an account but not the app yet), then below here. Then tell all your friends and other expatriates about this app. The more people download it, the better the community!

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Wednesday, 08 December 2021

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