Facebook has been challenging for marketers recently, and many clients have started Facebook Groups as a way of reaching their audience in the Facebook newsfeed, as well as for community creation. But some haven’t seen the kind of participation they’d like. How can your organization build and grow a thriving Facebook group in a time when groups might be the last great thing about Facebook?

If you don’t already have a Facebook group, the basics are pretty simple. Groups are attached to an organization’s Facebook page (or a standalone group) and operate as independent, private group that your customers and members can share between themselves.

If you operate a service brand, your Facebook group might be used for custom support and tech support help. If you operate a product brand, your Facebook group might be used for customer-to-customer support, brand customer service and the things you used to do on your Facebook page like how-to videos and new product launches.

It’s important to understand that while you manage your group, you aren’t the primary player here. We use the term User Generated Content a lot these days, but a group is \a nursery where UGC can be nurtured.

How to grow a group

Select a few of your best customers, invite them to the group and ask them if they’d like to moderate it. Your top brand evangelists are your best customers.  This puts them front and center in a place where they can evangelize your brand through their involvement in your group. Invite your customers and tell them to invite friends.

How to foster discussion

You’ll have to nurture conversation to get people talking. But don’t resort to clickbait (posting a controversial post just to get conversation going.) Consider using a contest to bolster participation in your group. Announce it on email, your existing Facebook and Instagram accounts and your web site.  Include a link to the group and award a price or prizes.

Posting schedule matters

Your customers will be online in their off time, so schedule posts that coincinde with the time that they are online. If you run a mom and baby store, your posting times will be a lot different (naptime!) than if you run a sporting organization.

What kind of content should you post?

Your group members are your best customers, so treat them well with exclusives: video content, freebies, contests, behind the scenes and shout-outs to recognize them individually. A group offers an intimate opportunity to get customer feedback like no other, so use polls, surveys and other feedback tools to get information you need to improve your business. But also, recognize that with this close customer connection, you can be a little more authentic, or even a bit more irreverent in your marketing. What you might not post on your brand page, you probably can get away with in your group (within the bounds of tastefulness.)

You can post just about any content you wish, from links to photos, to memes to videos, but some of the best content is live video within the group itself, inviting group members to participate with comments and ask questions while live. This kind of interactive content is invaluable for making connections with customers.

What kind of group should I have? Public, closed or secret?

A closed group is best for most businesses. It’s still searchable, but members must request through the “join” button. Secret groups could also be used as private testing or feedback on products for VIP clients. Secret groups can’t be searched or found and the member must be invited.

Have I missed the group bandwagon?

Admittedly those with groups that started some time ago have an advantage, it’s not too late to set up a group now. You may have to work harder to get engagement, but it’s possible to develop a thriving group even now.

Promoting your group:

Promote your group everywhere you can on your own channels is the first step. You cannot run ads to get people to join your group but you CAN do two other types of ads that will hopefully yield that result. You can also encourage group membership by offering unique things – special discounts, freebies, in an effort to get people to join groups. Note, recently Facebook “uninvited” all the group members in your group that weren’t active – so your groups may have dropped in size. That’s OK; these weren’t engaged members. You’re looking for people who want to become connected to you and your business.

How to create an “ad” to encourage members to join your group. You cannot create a Facebook ad directly to your group. But you can encourage it with two options:

On your Facebook page, create a post with a link to your group. Make it exciting, with copy such as “get insider looks at our products, customer-only coupons and share with other users” and then link to your Facebook group. Pin this as an announcement to the top of your page. You can also create a blog post on your site that talks about your online community (group), why the customer wants to join, and link to your group there. In both cases, you can target a facebook page ad to either the web site page OR your actual Facebook page where your pinned post about your group is at the top. Initially, choose targeting to people that like your page, but once you’ve done that, you can branch out and target user demographics and interests in a future ad.

Facebook groups is an invaluable resource to develop a close connection with customers. It’s the modern day equivalent of the shopkeeper of old – you get to know each of your customers, but it’s not limited by the bounds of geography or time.  Facebook Groups is a reason why many, even though they’ve “quit” facebook otherwise, have rejoined (and not added any toxic ‘friends’), just for the sole purpose of joining groups. For now, it remains one of the last great things about Facebook. It may get muddied as Facebook realizes this and lets ads pop up in groups, but, for the moment, it’s still a bastion of connectedness between customer and company that is hard to duplicate elsewhere.

Your challenge is to create or expand your group. Need help with starting a group or advertising yours? We can help.