The basic calculus of inbound marketing is this: Build something of value, which will draw people to your brand, which will ultimately result in promotion, lead, and sales opportunities.
But the thing of value doesn’t always have to be content.
Since COVID-19 lockdowns began, something people crave more than ever is connection. So today in this article we explore how to help customers connect while benefitting your brand.
Read on for tips from software companies, an internet marketing service, vacation rental hosting company, online dictionary, success coach, book series, online freelancing platform, food blog, business service, pet service, and online store.
by Daniel Burstein, Senior Director, Content & Marketing, MarketingSherpa and MECLABS Institute
(As seen in the MarketingSherpa Marketing newsletter. Click to get a free email subscription to the latest from MarketingSherpa.)
A tried and true maxim says that for inbound marketing, content is king. However, these days content better watch the throne because connection is emerging as a powerful inbound attractor.
The world is hungry for connection like never before. With people focused on staying six feet apart physically, much of that connection must now take place virtually.
One way your brand can help foster those connections is with Facebook Groups. Whether it’s a pandemic-specific group like the Marriage Under Quarantine Facebook Group started by marriage counselors who we profiled in 8 Examples of How Business Owners and Marketing Leaders Can Respond to the Coronavirus COVID-19 Pandemic or an evergreen topic related to your brand, Facebook Groups are a way to build a community of potential customers around a topic important to them.
While there is no monetary cost, they aren’t free. Most Facebook Groups will require a significant amount of time to build, launch, grow and manage. To help you decide if a Facebook Group is right for your brand and give you ideas for creating a successful group, we dive in deep with tips and examples from your marketing peers in this article.
Please note, I include the group size along with each group. This isn’t to imply success — some groups are more niche than others and therefore necessarily have fewer members — it’s to give you an idea of how focused the group is as you consider the advice along with your own needs, whether your group would target a small or large possible community.
Any product or service should begin with a focus on creating value in the world.
And I use the term product or service broadly. If you have an email list, that is a product distinct from whatever you sell (why should customers subscribe to your email?). If you have a physical store, that is a product distinct from what you sell (why should customers visit your store?). And if you have a Facebook Group, that is a product as well.
Robert Portillo, SEO & CRO Specialist, Nimbus Marketing, was helped in his career by a Facebook Group.
“My professional life was transformed upon joining a Facebook Group for SEO (search engine optimization) professionals. The amount of cumulative knowledge and expertise shared openly in the group was cathartic,” Portillo said.
So he decided he wanted to do something similar for the CRO (conversion rate optimization) community and started the Conversion Rate Optimization Junkies Group (1,052 members) to create value for this overlooked community. (Portillo gave me the idea for this blog post after he shared an image from one of MarketingSherpa’s articles in his Facebook Group, which prompted me to learn more about and join his group).
You may be able to deliver great value with a Facebook Group, but if the exclusivity is low, it may not attract many members or be worth your time to start a group. Your company (and your overall community) may be better served by actively participating in a good group already delivering this value.
One of the successes for a company that started a Facebook Group was connecting with a key leader in their niche (see Step #3). I figured that value flowed both ways. The leader got value just from participating.
So I reached out and asked what’s in it for his company, what does he get just by being active in groups. “iGMS is a SaaS company developing short-term rental management software based in BC (British Columbia). Therefore, we are extremely interested in getting to know the hosts and companies from this area. Facebook Groups such as ‘BC Short Term Rental Hosts’ are great platforms for interaction and sharing expertise for both hosts and service providers. We believe that there is a huge benefit in joining and engaging in groups like this to find out the latest community news, learn from others, and share our updates,” said Ivan Levchenko, CEO, iGMS.
If you don’t have high exclusivity, you may still decide to launch a Facebook Group but narrow the focus of your group. “If there are too many others, and they have large memberships and frequent posts and engagement, it might be best to ‘niche down’ and start a more specific type of group,” Portillo advised.
So determine if there are Facebook Groups already serving this need by conducting at least a cursory competitive analysis.
For example, Portillo searched for other CRO Facebook Groups. “Unlike SEO Facebook Groups, which are numbered in the hundreds and often have membership in the tens of thousands, I [found] only a few CRO groups. I immediately joined them and found that membership was low, posts were infrequent and engagement was minimal. I realized there was very little competition, and there was a strong need for a great CRO group,” he said.
As mentioned above, most larger, general topics are likely already well served by existing Facebook Groups. That means your best chance of success is to think small for the subject of your group.
“If reaching the masses quickly is the number-one goal, online advertising and traditional media still prevail,” said Ron King, CEO, Vanguard Communications. “The beauty of carefully designed groups is demographic targeting — you know precisely the identity and interests of your audience … It's slower going at first but with far longer-lasting and [more] desirable results.”
Except for a few cult brands or widely used products, most people don’t want to join a group about your brand.
In other words, they don’t want to join a group about you. They want to join a group about them. So consider what niche topics relating to the unique value you can deliver might attract a relevant audience for your brand.
For Lifty Life, which provides Airbnb and VRBO vacation management services in British Columbia and Alberta, the topic came naturally and the company named its group BC Short Term Rental Hosts (61 members).
“Do not use your company brand as the name of the group,” advises Connor Griffiths, Co-founder, Lifty Life.
The company has used the group to develop leads by freely sharing advice on how to host, providing relevant resources, and engaging with other members. “We do not actively sell our services to hosts but rather develop trust in hopes that if they do need management services they will contact us first,” Griffiths said.
In addition to leads, Lifty Life has been able to use the Facebook Group to network within its industry as well. For example, the CEO of iGMS actively engages in the group (as mentioned above). “We have developed that relationship into blog interviews and contracting affiliate links,” Griffiths said.
If your brand or product qualifies as the exception I mentioned earlier, it can make sense to create a Facebook Group around your product, but that will probably be better served as a post-purchase customer service and engagement tool than a pre-purchase promotional tool.
SaaS (software-as-a-service) product Chanty has a Facebook Group called Chanty Community (688 members). “The group is used to promote our new features and launches, and lets our customers ask questions. We use it to directly interact with our customers. We ask questions, create polls, reply to comments and do our best to keep the conversation going,” said Jane Kovalkova, CMO, Chanty.
The company actively promotes its Facebook Group in onboarding emails.
Kovalkova also feels like the group performs better for her company than its Facebook Page since many speculate Facebook now limits organic reach of Page posts.
“Our Facebook Page has around 1,700 followers and only about 200-300 of them can actually see our posts without us boosting them or paying for ads. On the other hand, our Facebook Group has four to five posts per day, with just as many comments. We just get a lot more engagement there, and the good part is that we don’t have to create all of the content on our own. Our customers ask questions and start the discussions, we are just there to guide them,” she said.
While Facebook Groups don’t cost any money, they are not really free to join. Members are paying with their time, trust and information. So make sure there is a clear and compelling process-level value proposition for joining your company’s Facebook Group.
“We have talked about a number of Facebook Groups at Dictionary.com over the years, but the questions we always ask are ‘Why Dictionary.com?’ and ‘What will this group do for our users?’ To us, yes, a group is a marketing lever, but if we pull that lever, it has to be with a goal of giving our users a feeling of delight when interacting with our brand,” said Jeanne Sager, Marketing Manager, Dictionary.com.
So ask the process-level value proposition before starting your group: If I am your ideal customer, why should I join and engage with your Facebook Group instead of taking any other action? The answer to this process-level value prop question should be informed by your company’s primary value proposition.
“When we kicked off our Learning At Home with Dictionary.com Facebook Group [240 members] at the beginning of the COVID-19 lockdown, both questions were answered pretty easily. Why Dictionary.com? Because we’re an educational publisher with myriad on-site learning activities for parents and educators. What will this group do for our users? It connects parents and educators at a time when they’re spread far apart, needing resources like ours, and needing connection,” she said.
Just like a product’s value proposition is more effective when it is squarely aimed at an ideal customer, a Facebook Group will be more effective if it is focused on a specific group of people.
“Be clear about who should be in the group,” said Tessa Hull, Success Coach, No Right Way, who just launched the No Right Way — Goal Getters With Tessa Hull Group (133 members).
Hull says the best way to guarantee interaction it to only invite and accept members to the group who will benefit from the content. “That way, you’re always speaking to your target market, and you’re building a brand community as you go. Eventually, your community will do your promoting for you!” she said.
I always liked Publix Super Markets’ tagline “Where Shopping is a Pleasure.” From my experience, Publix usually lives up to that tagline. Except lately. In the era of COVID-19 — with gloves, masks, six-feet separation and plexiglass dividers — shopping is no longer a pleasure. For me at least. (Note: I don’t blame Publix; it is just the way of the world right now.)
This analogy comes to mind when I think of the information that will greet potential group members when they first visit your group. They will be greeted by “About This Group” and “Group Rules from the Admins” information. While it’s important to provide clear rules so your group doesn’t devolve to a bunch of garbage posts and conversations (see more in the moderation section below), you do want the group to seem like it is an enjoyable place to spend time as well — not an overly punitive place just waiting to crack down on well-intentioned missteps.
There is no perfect way to do this, you just have to find the right balance for your group. One way to do that is to get some Facebook Groups experience under your belt.
“Participate in other Facebook Groups before you start your own,” advised Marjorie Turner Hollman, author, Easy Walks in Massachusetts book series, and founder of the Easy Walks, Massachusetts, RI and nearby Facebook Group (606 members).
“Gaining familiarity with the dynamics of participating in and observing how admins of other groups handle the positive — and not so positive — aspects of Facebook Groups is great preparation for running a group for your own organization. Groups that are most successful offer ease of participation and set guidelines for what the focus of the group is to be,” Hollman said.
The value proposition should be clearly communicated in the About This Group section. Here are the About This Group guidelines Hollman uses for her group:
Easy Walks, Massachusetts, RI and nearby aims to share information to encourage parents, grandparents, and younger children, to get outdoors, as well as those with mobility challenges, or visual impairments to learn about opportunities to get outdoors with others in environments that are welcoming, supportive and, well, Easy Walks. We will include information, pictures when we can, of local rail trails, walking paths, and group events, with the emphasis on free or low-cost events open to the public. We will also share educational info about being safe in the outdoors. Many of the places we share are found in the book series, Easy Walks in Massachusetts, More EasyWalks in Massachusetts, and Easy Walks and Paddles in the Ten Mile River Watershed. But we in no way will limit our posts to what is in these books. Please be mindful of these basic guidelines when sharing posts to this group.
Public groups allow easy access to the information posted in your group. But private groups could be more appropriate if you want to foster more intimate conversation or allow your members to talk about non-public information.
About three months ago, GreenPal shifted all of the user support and community engagement to a dedicated private Facebook Group for the small landscape servicers who use its platform, GreenPal Allstars (1,668 members).
“This has been a huge success for growing the GreenPal sense of community among our vendor base. And in most cases, our team doesn't have to handle support requests anymore because other members help each other out now in the closed Facebook Group,” said Bryan Clayton, CEO, GreenPal.
Now that you have members in your group, you have to engage them in a way that provides value. If you grow an engaged community, eventually your group members will provide value to each other, as in GreenPal’s case.
Becca Heyes, food blogger, Easy Cheesy Vegetarian, had a similar experience after starting the Easy Vegetarian Dinners Facebook Group (11,030 members). “It can be quite labor-intensive to get a new Facebook Group off the ground, but once it's gained some momentum, you can pretty much sit back and let the group run itself,” she said.
When she first started the group, she would post a ‘question of the day’ every single day. “It really helped to get my group members engaged and made sure the group repeatedly showed up in their feeds,” Heyes said.
After a while, she no longer needed to post questions. The group members now know the group and each other well enough that they keep the group active on their own, without as much input from her.
You don’t have to create all the content you post in your Facebook Group. This is a great opportunity to use content curation. “I wanted to make sure my CRO Facebook Group had as much actionable advice as possible, so I made it a point to post daily, sometimes up to four times per day, even when I felt pressed for time. I was liberal in my sharing of MarketingSherpa and MECLABS research,” Portillo said.
Facebook has a built-in tool that can help you with all this posting. “You can use the Facebook post scheduling feature to create your posts ahead of time if you don’t work weekends. This is important because even if you don’t work weekends, many other professionals do,” Portillo said.
Like Heyes, Portillo was also able to get his group to a level of self-sustainability. “After six months of daily posting and disciplined positive comment replies, the members of the group started regularly making their own posts … I still post almost daily, but I don’t have to. My Facebook Group is very active and engaged even without my daily posts,” he said.
“Sit back and let the group run itself” is relative of course. While that may work for some groups, if you’ve ever read “Lord of the Flies,” you well know the limits of community self-governance.
“Find reliable moderators. Even if your group is private or requires filling out a questionnaire, spammers will find a way through eventually,” said David Lynch, Content Lead, Payette Forward, which claims to have one of the largest iPhone help groups on Facebook with 9,686 members — iPhone Help & Support by Payette Forward & Former Apple Employee David P.
Lynch suggests you have a reliable team of group moderators who can quickly delete spam posts and remove the users who post them. “If your group page is flooded with spam posts, it may turn away potential customers,” he said.
Even if your goal is to use the Facebook Group as a marketing tool for your company or clients, resist the temptation to sell. People don’t join Facebook Groups to be sold to.
Lifty Life has used its group to develop leads by freely offering advice on how to host, providing relevant resources, and engaging with other members. “We do not actively sell our services to hosts but rather develop trust in hopes that if they do need management services they will contact us first,” Griffiths said.
Kinga Odziemek, CEO, Brainy Bees, runs the Pro Tips and Tricks for Social Media Managers Facebook Group for Kontentino. The group has grown to 3,532 members.
“Don't be oversalesy. We run this group for Kontentino, but we don't highlight it in each and every post. We share Kontentino webinars or initiatives, but we don't spam despite the group being THEIR group.”
There’s nothing wrong with creating a Facebook Group for the simple love and pure joy of espousing a topic and building a community around that topic. If that is your way to add something positive to the world, by all means — build that community.
However, since MarketingSherpa is focused on marketing, I assume many people reading this blog post are doing so with the intention of monetizing the group. For many, that will occur from the interest, leads or sales you generate for your business (see previous step).
However, there are other ways to monetize a Facebook Group. After all, you have built an audience, similar to a newspaper or magazine, and you can make money by presenting potential purchase opportunities to that audience. For example, you could include affiliate links to products (just clearly communicate to your audience that you get a percentage of sales from those purchases), paid promotional posts or paid memberships.
Tread carefully though. If you have built a communal feel with your group, members may feel alienated by the way you monetize. You don’t want to torpedo all the time and effort you invested in building the group.
“I’m aware of one negative example of a Facebook Group of small business ‘networking’ members that grew quickly owing to the topic, and then suddenly monetized by selling priority posting subscriptions at $25 per month, which penalizes unpaid promotional posts,” said Tim Hart, Principal, Hart Communications.
It did not go well. “It left a bad taste in people’s mouths, especially when paying members’ posts are prioritized over the rank-and-file members who helped build the ‘community’ in the first place. It would have [been] better if the organizer had simply launched a paid membership group from the outset.”
Customer theory lies at the heart of marketing. If you’ve built a successful Facebook Group, you’ve essentially built an avenue to act with an engaged group of people who lie within your ideal customer set. While you can serve them by posting your own content and advice, you can learn from them as well to build your customer theory. What questions do they have? What are they posting about? What pain points do they express? What topics resonate more or less?
Meg Marrs, Founder, K9 of Mine, runs a Facebook Group called Dog Lover’s Unite (4,224 members). The group was actually featured in a Facebook advertising campaign recently.
Creative Sample #1: Facebook Groups advertising campaign
Marrs uses the group to help learn about her customers and plan products.
“In the Facebook Group, we'll often ask dog owners what their biggest training struggles are, and then use that information when we decide to build out additional dog training resources and video lessons,” she said. “Groups like these allow you to go straight to the source and find out exactly what kind of information your audience is looking for!”
While Facebook Groups can help you learn customer pain points, you can also directly ask for feedback about potential products as well. “Engaging your community to build products is a perfect example case for a Facebook Group. This engages people to give their opinion, feel valued and want to engage. This is the very foundation of community and a chance to not only market your company but create ambassadors in the process,” said Joshua Strawczynski, Managing Director, JMarketing Agency.
As an example, he referenced the Women Who Golf Group (5,189 members) run by his girlfriend Tuscany Williams, a group he has helped out with. This is a niche group that is highly targeted to a specific demographic, offering a community where women who have a passion for golf can chat and support each other. The group’s organizer seeks to make money from the group in a way that adds value to the members by, for example, engaging members of the community to test product designs. The members get products more tailored to their wants and needs, and the organizers have a higher likelihood of success when they launch a product that was designed with customers acting as value-creation partners, not just value-extraction targets.
“The community is being used to decide on different fashion styles. Instead of the costly process of designing clothes and hoping people buy them, the group is being used to poll opinions. This lets the women ‘buy-in’ to the process, and have their voice heard. When enough votes are cast, and women have effectively ‘vouched to buy,’ then the product can be made,” he said. “Obviously this is on the shelf during COVID, and production has been shut down.”
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