One of Facebook’s greatest strengths is also one of its greatest weaknesses.
On the plus side, it’s for just about everyone and about just about everything. However, that also means it’s not really for anyone, or about anything specific. And as the platform has swelled to nearly 2 billion members, it can be a challenge to focus the audience on a specific topic.
One solution to this problem is something that has been around for years: Facebook groups. Groups provide a place for people to connect around a shared interest or for mutual benefit—and businesses can benefit when they bring those people together. A few examples:
- Employee and volunteer groups give your internal audience a place to share information and stay connected.
- Nonprofit groups allow you to share information and build advocacy among donors and other supporters.
- Colleges can use groups to give students, faculty, staff and alumni a place to discuss specific topics.
- Manufacturers of products can create and facilitate groups for customers to share ideas and ask questions of the company and other users.
Groups provide several benefits, in that they allow real-world conversations to continue and grow online. They also allow your company to tap into the collective intelligence of your audience, bringing people together in a place where everyone can learn from each other and share information with the group. Groups also have advantages over Facebook business pages, because the conversation can be more focused since groups are less affected by declining organic reach. Finally, groups can be made private, with users having to be accepted into the group — a great solution for businesses that work with minors or who want to protect more sensitive information.
Perhaps the best thing about groups is how easy they are to create:
- A group “owner” must establish the group. He or she names the group and can add photos, documents (a policy shared with employees, for example, or a user guide shared with customers).
- The group owner will also need to decide whether it will be public, closed (members must be approved), or secret (which can’t be discovered by search and is only available to those who have a link and who must be approved). This can be changed later if needed.
- The group owner then can add other group administrators and moderators. While you only need one owner, it’s good practice to have at least two to three people involved to ensure responsiveness. It’s also important to know that there are subtle differences between being an administrator and a moderator, with the former having more access than the latter.
- Promote it to those you want in the group and, if it’s private or secret, accept their requests to join. It’s good practice to have some content and conversations added to the page first, however, so group members will get a good first impression and be able to interact right away.
The real work, however, is maintenance: continually adding content, responding to questions and ensuring that it remains active. This is what determines your success: since starting groups can be so easy, it’s tempting to jump right in. You’ll want a plan, however, for ensuring that your group remains viable and that the owner, moderators and administrators are working together to keep the audience’s attention.
While groups have a lot of merit, they’re not without their pitfalls. Consider, for instance, that your employees must use their personal Facebook profiles to participate in groups. This may not raise any issues, but there can be challenges associated with intermingling your internal and external audiences. While being in the same group as someone else gives them no special access to your Facebook profile, it does make things that are publicly available (your profile photo, for example) more conspicuous to that audience. If for no other reason, then, you’ll want to have an employee social media use policy in place.
Overall, however, groups are great at helping you reach some of your subset audiences more effectively than through a business page alone. It takes effort to make them work, but they’re a great tool for keeping people connected to each other–and your brand.