Running a Facebook group can be a huge benefit to your business but it’s also a huge responsibility. So many people start a group because they have a (relatively) successful Facebook page and see the group as the natural continuation; however, while your Facebook page is the public face of your business, the group is your chance to put a more personal spin on your work, to interact with your potential clients, to gather feedback from your followers and, most importantly, to give back. So if you think you can just start a Facebook group all about your niche and that people will flock to join it, think again: they won’t (unless perhaps you pay them)! You need something to get them in there in the first place and then you also need to convince them to STAY! If you’re thinking of starting a Facebook group, here’s what you need to know – and what I wish somebody had told me!
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Why I love Facebook groups
Facebook groups are my thing. I’m a member of almost 100 groups about food and blogging (active in about 25 of them at any given time) and I run my own request group about easy meals and meal planning: SMART Meals for Busy Cooks. I find them immensely valuable, both as a member and group admin, for various parts of my blogging career and personal growth. I’m in enough large groups that I know that if I have a specialist question, there will be someone who can answer it for me, and also enough small ones that I can offer value myself and engage with other bloggers that I know and respect.
I use Facebook groups:
With Facebook algorithms constantly changing, it’s hard enough now to get your posts seen by your own followers, let alone potential ones. Visibility is key in the blogging world and yet it’s a vicious circle that only the highest-ranking posts get pushed up the Facebook feed – how do you get there in the first place?! A Facebook group is a guaranteed place to share your wisdom with interested parties and a way to ensure that your posts are more evergreen and available.
If you want to get your recipes out there (don’t we all?), then Facebook sharing groups can be a great way to start. Groups such as FBC Social Sharing (run by Food Bloggers Central) are always asking for posts for recipe roundups; you simply agree to abide by the rules and drop a link to a suitable post. This gives the blogger permission to use your recipe in a roundup and link back to you – which hopefully means free publicity and traffic for you.
For market research
Want to know what articles/recipes to post on your blog next? Groups are a great way of finding out – simply, ask. Want to know what your competition is doing? Join a big Facebook group for food bloggers and watch and learn.
For professional development
If you need to hone your photography skills then why not join a group for food photographers? Most of them will be way above you in standard and you can sit back and devour all their gorgeous photographs while taking note of their tips. But don’t be a lurker; bloggers are know for being extremely friendly and helpful people. If you’ve got a question or need some advice, ask and ye shall receive.
For making sales
I’ve deliberately put this point last because, although Facebook groups comprising your own eager and enthusiastic followers are the ideal place to pitch your paid products, that’s not the only – or indeed, first – thing you should be doing. That said, when it is time to sell a kitchen tool, cookery book or e-course, members of your group are prime candidates for purchasers. After all, they’re there because they’re interested in what you do.
People who DON’T suit Facebook groups
There are some types of people for whom Facebook groups will never be the answer.
There are some coaches out there who would lead you to believe that Facebook groups should not take up more than 10 minutes of your ‘live’ time each day and that you should automate a great deal of your input. Personally, I believe in a more personal touch to the groups than a quick drop-in just to check on your figures. So if you’re looking for a ‘set it and forget it’ kind of approach, then this one is, sadly, not for you.
Groups will also not suit you if you are not prepared to put in the work to make it work. You are, after all, running a new group and so it is going to require some hard work and time investment up front. Further down the line it’s possible to take a step back as other admins/moderators come on board and share the workload, but initially it’s YOU that will be doing all the legwork.
Facebook groups are also not for you if you think they are a quick way to make money; if I joined your group and then was immediately peppered with tons of links to buy your services (before you’d even acknowledged me) then I would be straight outta there! By all means share what you do (after all, you are running a business), but make sure it’s not the sole focus of your group. You’ve probably heard this before: offer value before you pitch.
People who DO suit Facebook groups
That said, if you are looking to build up quality connections with members who enjoy talking to you and learning what you have to say, then you are in the right place. People want to KNOW you before they will TRUST you and they have to TRUST you before they will PAY you, so you have to be willing to put yourself out there: talk, go live, get involved and, above all, help.
How it all began for me
When I launched my food blog thefoodbrood.co.uk, I simultaneously was very smart and very stupid; I knew that advertising in any field these days relies heavily on social media, and so I was eager to get my word out that way asap (smart), BUT I didn’t really research which channel(s) of social media would be best for me (stupid). So, I started on Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook and created a Facebook group…all in one week.
WHAT? “You must be crazy?” I hear you cry.
Well, Potatoe, Potarto. I like to think I was fuelled by the enthusiasm that launching a new business venture brings. Either way, it soon became clear that I had bitten off far more than I could chew and so I began to niche down my niche, as it were.
The other networks
Twitter was the first to go. What does a food blogger/organisation coach want with tweets? “Come quick, they’ve found another colour of pepper”? Come on.
I had great hopes for Instagram. Food is such a visual medium that I was sure I could create an eye-catching grid that would have the public drooling over my food and immediately clicking through to my website. But I couldn’t keep up with the big guns. They were churning out the stuff, with five or more new recipes a day. I was lucky if I could manage to develop, cook, style and photograph even one. So that went by the wayside.
Next was Pinterest. Now here I could get some traction. The limited patience that I did have for growth could pay dividends if I could only combine it with interesting and informative blog posts and articles – which Pinterest lets you do. As I used to be an academic, the informative posts weren’t a problem. Furthermore, I was developing a real passion for meal planning and writing page after page about how to get started with it. So Pinterest worked well for this, and it’s a channel I’ve stuck with to this day.
Note: technically Pinterest is not a social-media network. More on that here.
My Facebook page started off with just a few friends and acquaintances (as they all do), and then gradually a few more joined, then a few more. But over and over I was being told that to really make headway on Facebook you need to advertise, and that means to PAY.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I am a firm believer that you have to spend money to make money. But I was still a new blogger and coach and I wasn’t yet ready to pay out more than I had to if I couldn’t guarantee a return. So I decided to grow my page the organic way.
I read a fair number of articles that told me that I should try scheduling posts to encourage my followers to comment every day – everything from ‘the colour of your underwear plus the last thing you ate is your rock-star name’ to ‘make a story from the last word in the comments’ but I thought I’d go one better and at least schedule questions that had something to do with my field. Guess what happened?
Nothing. Zilch. Zip. Crickets.
But there were a few people who got in contact with me to ask more about what I was writing and whether I could help them out with their meal planning, and when I emailed them one of my freebies, they raved about them.
Enter: the Facebook group.
Until then, the group had laid dormant, a vast, empty space for me to post the occasional recipe link that would maybe get three ‘likes’. But suddenly, I saw its purpose: it wanted community, it wanted interaction, it wanted ENGAGEMENT.
Engaging your audience
The issue that most group owners/admins struggle with, of course, is engagement. You can have thousands of members in your group but if all you get is silence every time you ask a question, then you’d do better just chatting with five of your closest friends over a coffee. What you need is a way of engaging your group members that, frankly, doesn’t leave you pulling out your hair, struggling to decide what to write. Because that’s the biggest hurdle, isn’t it?
Knowing WHAT TO WRITE.
There are a few things you should bear in mind if you want to have a successful Facebook group:
You have to be active and LIVE as admin – not just scheduled.
You cannot simply toss a bunch of posts into Facebook, Hootsuite or CoSchedule and expect people to respond. What happens when they do respond and you aren’t there to see it? What happens when they ask a question and you don’t answer it?
That’s right, they LEAVE!
Keep niche specific – don’t post random stuff.
Gifs, your pet’s name and photos of your kids are out – what does that have to do with your group?! If you specialise in breeding collies, for example, then talk about collies! At the very most extend the discussion to dogs in general, but don’t suddenly ask your members to tell you their most embarrassing memory. Unless it’s a dog-related memory, of course.
People are busy!
When you write your monthly newsletter, send out a mail-chimp bulletin or post on Facebook, it’s easy to be refreshing your click-throughs every five minutes just to ‘check’ if people are reading your words or not. But think – when you get an email to your inbox, for example from one of the many mailing lists you subscribe to, how many times do you honestly sit down immediately to read it? Most of the time, you leave it unread to check out later or, shock horror, you delete it straight away because you’re just TOO BUSY.
But that’s my point: it’s not personal. People are not saying they don’t like what you’re putting out there, it’s just that they’ve probably had 50 other emails like it already today and they don’t have the time to devote to you. So if you post something good in your Facebook group and don’t get the response you want immediately, you need to be ready, willing and able to give it another shot later.
So, what DO I write?
Consider, above all else, why people have joined your group. Is it because they want new and exciting paleo recipes? Because they want to learn to cook? Because they like to meal plan? If you’re not sure what will spark their interest, then ask them! A poll or an open conversation in a group is a great way of engaging your members and getting valuable feedback too. Then, when you get some responses -listen!
They might surprise you.
You’ll also learn a lot if you take notice of the conversations going on around you, and one of the best ways to get your group chatting is to encourage them to talk to each other, rather than using the admin (you) all the time. Although you want to be present and active in your own group, you certainly don’t want to have to answer every question yourself. So, when an issue comes up, throw it out to the other members to answer.
If you have been listening and you know what problems your audience has, you are in prime position to help them! Let’s say, for example, that you’re getting a lot of feedback (like I did) about group members struggling to meal plan. Why not decide to run a group project for a week where you post helpful hints every day to help members write – and stick with – meal plans? This is quite a popular technique in groups; I’ve seen it everywhere from “up your daily intake of water” to “learn to take better food photographs” and, within the course of a week (or more), the members can follow along the challenge/project/lessons and come out the other end all the better for learning/doing something.
The Facebook group for Food Blogging Collective is a super-secret one where you can chat with me (and many others) directly). But YOU HAVE TO BE A SUBSCRIBER TO JOIN.
Facebook groups are worth their weight in gold – if you are prepared to put in the hours. They’re a great place to gather data, share ideas, pitch products and develop relationships but you have to be able to commit to them or they will, sadly, fail.
If you’re thinking of starting a Facebook group, then hopefully you can take some of the tips and advice I’ve offered in this article and apply them to your own group; then, when you reach 10k followers, tag me in a post – and I’ll pop open the champagne for you 🙂
Let’s share the love! Drop the link to your Facebook group in the comments and follow or join any pages or groups you find interesting.