Should you invest your time and energy in building an audience with Facebook Groups for your business? In this post we’ll look at the pros and cons and see what some marketing experts are saying about how they leverage Facebook Groups.
With all the changes that have happened recently at Facebook (and I’m not talking senate hearings or Russian bots), you may be wondering if Facebook is even worth your time anymore.
Whether you believe in Facebook’s commitment to prioritize connecting people to people, or you believe that this was just a long con to get companies to advertise on their platform, one thing is clear: it’s very difficult for businesses to get organic reach on Facebook anymore.
One, I wanted to understand different ways in which we could protect our businesses–and our reach–from the recent Facebook newsfeed changes. Facebook Groups seemed like a safe harbor.
Two, I was considering changes to our own Agents of Change Facebook Group. It had been a private group for conference attendees, but I was considering opening it up to all entrepreneurs and marketers who wanted to understand more about digital marketing.
Why Facebook Groups?
One of the big problems as mentioned above, is that Facebook business pages just don’t have the organic reach they once did. It’s probably still beneficial for your company to have one, just don’t expect your posts to show up in too many of your fans’ newsfeeds.
A Group is a little community of (potentially) like-minded people focused around a topic or idea. They’re kind of like “Topic Tables” at a networking event, or even splintering off with some friends at a big conference so you can catch up and have a more focused, meaningful conversation.
That being said, Facebook isn’t the only game in town. Why not build a group on LinkedIn or on your own website? A big part of the reason is that Facebook comes with its own built in audience. Chris Brogan likes that his audience is already familiar with the platform.
“I guess the reason I like the Facebook technology is that there are a billion plus users on it so it’s not like I have to explain a lot. – Chris Brogan
Marc Mawhinney likes the authority that a Facebook group can give you.
“The reason that I like Facebook Groups is you’re building a community where you’re recognized as the expert, you’re the leader in there, and people get to know, like, and trust you.” – Marc Mawhinney
Having a built a built-in audience, having an audience that’s familiar with the technology, and being able to establish yourself as an expert are just three good reasons why a Facebook Group may be right for your business.
Getting Started with Facebook Groups
For every successful Facebook Group, there is a hundred, nay, a thousand unsuccessful Groups. (Picture pixelated tumbleweeds and virtual ghost towns.)
To avoid this same fate, do a little upfront work.
Be clear on your objectives
Why are you starting this group? How will it serve your business needs? Are you looking to monetize this group? Establish yourself as an expert? Support an existing product or service? Groups with a narrow focus tend to attract a more rabid, engaged audience.
Be clear on your audience
Who are you serving? Who will join and participate in this group? Is this the audience you want for your business? (If you’re not clear on this, check out my interview with John Lee Dumas on Unleashing Your Business Avatar.)
Include a keyword in your group name
People often search for topics in Facebook: “Beekeepers,” “Red Sox,” or “Paleo,” in your name can help your audience find you. (Assuming these are relevant to your brand and your business.)
“If people are searching in the Facebook search bar for anything to do with your group…make sure that… there’s some kind of relevant keyword to your particular niche.” – Josh Stanton
Determine what type of group you’re going to run
Your choices are public, closed, or private.
Public groups are open to everyone. While that sounds like a sure-fire way to attract an audience, what it really amounts to is a free-for-all.
You’ll attract people alright: all the wrong people. Spammers, scammers, and people looking to leverage your audience for their own purposes will all flock to your public group.
While there are benefits to public groups, they’re probably not the right fit for your business.
On the other end of the spectrum are private groups. Private groups can’t be found and require an invitation to join. There are benefits to private groups: they’re good for private conversations among friends and family (like for an upcoming wedding or Bat Mitzvah), and they are good support mechanisms if you have a private course and you want to private a forum for those customers. However, because they are so secretive, they’re probably not the best place to build that audience you’re looking for.
Lastly, there are closed groups. Closed groups are not as standoffish as they sound. It just means that you get to set up a velvet rope. For most business purposes, closed groups are “just right.”
People wishing to join the group must request access. Depending on how you set your group up, anyone in the group can approve a request (good for building your group quickly), or you can reserve that ability to yourself, other admins, and group monitors (good for focusing on quality of quantity.)
You can even include up to three questions as part of the vetting process!
Create some ground rules: many groups post some group rules in the group description or in a pinned post (a post that sticks to the top of the group page.) As the group administrator, you have full control over the rules of group and how you wish people to behave.
Your rules may include obvious things like treating each other with respect, but they may also ban any self-promotion from members, including linking to websites or PMing (private messaging) other members who ask questions with solicitations.
Since many people start groups to sell to their audience (a completely legitimate purpose), they are very specific that only they will be allowed to sell in the group.
Remember: this is your group! It takes time out of your day to manage this group, so don’t feel bad about the rules you need to set up to run a successful group for your business!
“Make it really clear that this is your group and that you will be pitching your products and selling your products and offering people a chance to take you up on those. – Josh Stanton
Create an attractive banner.
Facebook Groups are free to run. That means there are millions of them out there. If you want yours to stand out, you need to make it look like you’re invested in its success. One way to do that is with a well-designed banner.
Facebook Group Header images are currently 820 x 428 pixels in size, although 48 pixels on the top and 49 pixels on the bottom are covered or invisible. So, design something that’s 820 x 331 and then add the top and bottom margins to fill the frame.
Growing Your Facebook Group Audience
Unless you’re a celebrity (Internet or otherwise), you’re probably going to have to hustle to grow your group. Here are a few ways the experts say to promote and grow your group.
Grab a URL
It’s easier to promote yourbusinessgroup.com than facebook.com/groups/mybusiness, and certainly it’s easier to say the former at a cocktail party. For that reason, bite the bullet and get an easy to remember domain name that will redirect to your Facebook group. For $15/year it’s a no-brainer.
“I recommend that you grab a domain. With mine I bought thecoachingjungle.com, which forwards to the ugly link. So if I’m on a podcast like this it’s much easier to spit out that URL as opposed to the ugly Facebook one. – Marc Mawhinney
Promote it everywhere
Got a podcast? Make your Facebook Group your sponsor. (That’s what Marc does.)
Tweet out a link to your group on a regular basis. Make it your bio link on Instagram. Post about it on LinkedIn. Put it in your email signature file. Do a weekly roundup of the conversations in your group and post them to your blog (assuming they’re not sensitive in nature and your members are cool with that.)
Although I’m not a fan of driving traffic from your website to any social media platform (social traffic should flow from your social platforms to your website), if your Facebook Group is going to be an important part of your sales funnel, you may want to include some links to it within your site.
Create premium content
Create some content that’s only available via the group. Facebook Live videos are one example, but it really could be anything that’s only available to members.
Make sure you promote this outside the group, however, like through your own personal feed. To access it they’ll need to request membership in your group.
Expect to most of the heavy lifting early on
While many of the experts I spoke to now have admins, moderators, and assistants lending a hand, in the early days they had to do everything themselves.
You’ll be doing a lot (most of?) the talking in the early days. When you break a thousand or so members you may see it taking on a life of its own, but until then, keep pushing the boulder up the hill!
Plan on posting multiple times a day to your group…yes, multiple! If you do theme days (more on that below) announcing the theme day can be one of the daily posts. Not only that, those posts can be automated and recycled.
Getting More Engagement in Your Group
Facebook’s newest shift is to reward true conversation and engagement. While that’s fairly evident in your newsfeed, it also is true in groups, as Josh points out:
“The growth of the group is really dependent on the engagement of the group. So if you have a really highly engaged group – people are posting, people are commenting – even if there’s hardly any people in there, Facebook is going to serve that up in the “recommended groups” section in the sidebar.” – Josh Stanton
In other words, it’s key to get people talking in the group. Besides posting multiple times a day to engage members, what else can you do?
I’m glad you asked.
Tag people in the posts and in the comments
People get notified when they are tagged in Facebook, so you can leverage this to your own nefarious ends. (Just kidding: don’t be nefarious.)
This is what Marc had to say on the subject: “One of the things that works really well is I’ll tag people into posts and comments. So let’s say for example that someone has a questions that’s right up your wheelhouse and I know that Rich is a guy that can answer that, I’ll tag you into the comments. I know people who are experts on webinars and I’ll tag them into it. I know people who are in the book writing world and so on, so if I ever see someone posting on the wall and I know someone else who can add to that conversation, I’ll tag them in and they’ll jump in.”
Create theme days to stimulate conversation
Many group owners rely on “theme days” to focus conversations around a specific topic. While theme days will depend heavily on the type of business you own, here are a few ideas to get you started:
Share your content: ask people to post a recent blog post, podcast episode, or other content they’re especially proud of.
AMA (Ask Me Anything): ask the group owner anything on your mind
Suggest a guest/speaker/topic: good if you have a podcast or event
Share a book: suggest a good read in your particular niche
Self-promotion: choose one day a week to allow people to toot their own horn. This also provides a little bit of a vent for those people who are just dying to talk about how awesome they are.
Thank people as they join your group
Regular postings where you tag new members to the group, is a great way of making people feel welcome when they first join, and giving long time members a heads up of “new blood.” If they see a friend has joined the group, they’re likely to chime in.
“One way to look at any group management is that you sort of have to be the host of the party, but you have to imagine that the party is full of fairly awkward people who aren’t always exactly sure that they’re really fully invited.” – Chris Brogan
Crack down on bad behavior
Nothing seems to derail a good group than bad behavior. It’s akin to how broken windows and graffiti bring down the value of a neighborhood.
If you allow people to start promoting their own work, and creating links out of the group and off of Facebook to promotional material, (assuming that’s against the group rules,) that will only push others to do the same, creating a vicious circle of worse and worse content, lower engagement, and poor value for members.
Many group owners I spoke to have a zero-tolerance for bad behavior or breaking the rules. This can include linking out of the group, “stealing” customers, self-promotion and more. One slip up and many group owners toss the people right out. However, they often share that if the person messages them directly, apologizing and if it seems like it was an honest mistake, they’ll let them back in with one more chance.
While this may seem harsh, this is your group and you get to set and enforce the rules.
While you may not see all the bad posts, especially in a very large group, Facebook makes it easy for other members to report posts to admins and owners, and many member will want to keep to the original rules of the group.
Monetizing Your Facebook Group
The experts I spoke with didn’t all have the same approach to how—or even if—you should be monetizing your group.
“I sell like crazy to my group.” – Marc Mawhinney
One thing to keep in mind is if you do plan on selling from your group, do it from day one. If you tell people they’ll never be sold to in your group, you’ll definitely get your share of hate mail if you decide to change tactics later on.
One important thing to keep in mind is that you can’t charge people to be part of your group. That goes against the Facebook TOS and you will get busted.
However, there are still many ways to generate revenue from a Facebook Group.
Include it as a value add to another product or service
Many people sell courses and include a Facebook Group as a place to get additional help or interaction. While they’re not charging for the group per se, it’s only available to people who have purchased the course (or other product or service.)
These groups are often private, although they can be closed as a way of encouraging other sales.
Use your group as part of your sales funnel
This is a fairly common tactic, where owners provide a lot of free, valuable content within the group, but regularly promote an online course, coaching service, or product to their members.
Alternatively, you can provide other free giveaways as incentives to build your email list.
A newer tactic is using your Facebook Group to grow your Facebook chatbot subscriber base.
You don’t have to sell to your group
Many people, even business people, don’t sell to their members. At least not directly. By providing a safe environment to learn and discover, you establish yourself as a credible expert on the topic or niche. It’s only a matter of time before some members start reaching out to you for consulting or other services.
The Downsides of Facebook Group
As stated before, there’s a big time investment in making your group a place where people want to hang out. That’s time that could be (better?) spent writing blog posts, recording podcasts, meeting with prospects, writing proposals, and closing deals.
One big problem of Facebook Groups is the problem with Facebook: you’re building your empire on leased land. You have no real control over the platform. Facebook could decide tomorrow that they’re de-emphasizing groups, or banning them, or charging for them.
Facebook marketing expert Brian Fanzo has a theory on this: “This is something probably to pay attention to: by the end of the year we’re going to start to see less of the Facebook Group updates in our newsfeed. We’re actually probably going to go into those groups to see those [updates]. If you are a Facebook Group owner and you want to get your Facebook posts that are inside of the group into the newsfeed, you’re going to probably start spending ad money to do so.”
Remember: Facebook is a business. And it’s not your business. Fanzo adds, “don’t be surprised if we start seeing ways for Facebook to monetize Facebook Groups, because today at this moment they don’t have a monetization plan with that.”
Another problem is that the conversations and content that you’re cultivating in your group could have been going on at your own site, building your own content and SEO.
“One thing I don’t love about [Facebook Groups] is that you’re building up Facebook’s content…you’re building up Facebook’s platform. – Josh Stanton
Ultimately, you’ll have to decide if the time investment, the potential future financial investment, and the fact that you’re working so hard to support Facebook’s business model is worth the benefits of running your own Facebook group.
One Last Thought
“The most important thing you tell someone who’s getting ready to start a group like this is that if they don’t work towards making the members of the group the hero and giving them heroic actions they can take, the group won’t last very long.” – Chris Brogan
If you’re interested in learning more and getting started with your own Facebook Group, I strongly recommend checking out the full interviews that I did that informed this article. There’s a lot of additional great thoughts, strategies, and tactics that will help you run a successful group.