I first learned about business-focused Facebook groups in summer of 2015 while listening to the Being Boss podcast. I joined their group when it was just a couple thousand members. Fast forward two years, and that same group closed down after hitting nearly 25,000 members.
The number of business groups on Facebook easily tops tens (and maybe hundreds) of thousands. The number that actually achieves critical mass like Being Boss, however, is much smaller. Instead, the bulk of the groups on Facebook are really small—and completely lack engagement.
I’m sure you’ve been in one of those groups (and maybe you’re running one) where the only posts seem to come from the group administrator. Outside of those? Crickets.
After about a year of debating whether I should start a Facebook group for my business, I finally pulled the trigger in May 2017. At first, I thought I wanted it to grow to Being Boss proportions, with the idea it would give me a giant audience to whom I could sell my mentoring services.
The shuttering of several big groups (including Being Boss and Melyssa Griffin’s Online BFFs), however, changed my perspective. About the time my group hit 700 members, I shifted focus from quantity to quality. I realized it was more important to have fewer members who were highly engaged than tons who only spoke up when they had something to promote.
My group is small but mightly. I don’t claim to have all the answers, but I’m happy to spill the beans about how I grew my group to 1,500 members in six months and, more importantly, how I maintain a consistent engagement rate of 80+%.
Set the Stage
Before I officially “launched” the group, I nabbed the custom URL, added the rules/description, and commissioned a logo and cover photo. I came up with a schedule of twice-daily prompts and created attractive graphics. Finally, I wrote an introductory post explaining my goals for the group (a place where women entrepreneurs can turn for advice and support in a positive, judgement-free environment). This meant the group page looked nice and made sense to anyone who was added.
Most people are leery about joining a Facebook group with only a handful of people in it. They figure it won’t be active or worth their time. To combat this problem, I sent personal invitations to Facebook friends who were the target market for the group, and emailed invites to professional acquaintances, not on my friends list. By first reaching out to people who knew, liked, and trusted me, I was able to pre-populate the group with nearly 200 people before I started promoting it. These people served as a “welcome committee” (along with me) to new members I didn’t personally know.
When I started the group, I would welcome new members in a weekly post and ask them to introduce themselves. A few would, but most didn’t. It’s what I’d seen other groups do, so I thought that was the best practice. After a month or so, however, I decided to PM each new member instead. I sent a personalized welcome note that encouraged them to introduce themselves and get active in the group. This simple step made a huge difference.
So few group admins take the time to send a PM that it made me and my group stand out. And the personal touch made people feel empowered to participate. I want members to know that I’m genuinely grateful they’re part of the group.
In the beginning, it’s tempting to want as many members as possible in your group. I made this mistake. I promoted the heck out of the group in other Facebook groups that allowed it, and then accepted everyone who joined. I celebrated each time the group reached a new 100 people. Then, at about 700 people, I realized more isn’t necessarily better. What’s the point of having a ton of members if the group is silent?
So, I shifted my focus from “more” to “better.” About that time, Facebook implemented its screening questions for groups. I used, “are you human?” to help me weed out spammers. (If you don’t take the time to type three letters, I doubt you’ll be active in the group.) I also started declining people who were in more than 100 groups. (Someone stretched that thin cannot make my group a priority.) These changes really helped engagement. As the group was more active, members were more excited to invite others in because they knew it was worthwhile.
People want to know the person behind the group. After all, we tend to invest (money or time) in people we like, not faceless brands. From the start, I put myself out front and let people get to know me. What’s more, I’m honest about the difficulties of running a business and being a mom. Both in my posts and in occasional live videos, I share my reality, warts and all. I’ve been told time and again by members that they either joined or stayed in the group because they appreciated that genuine approach.
Too often, people who run groups try to present a perfect picture of themselves. I think they worry people won’t buy from someone who doesn’t seem to have their stuff together. In my experience, that’s just not true. People respect and respond to authenticity.
Model Good Behavior
It’s not enough to start a group, accept a ton of members, schedule a few threads every day, and then walk away. My group works, I think, because I’m present. Every single day, I set aside time to like and comment on members’ posts. I also post outside of the threads to ask questions or share my struggles. You can’t expect others to be engaged if you’re not.
There are plenty of infopreneur gurus who will argue this point, but I don’t believe in making my Facebook group part of a sales funnel. I don’t sell, sell, sell to the members at every turn. If I’m asking others to limit their promotions, then I feel like I should do the same thing. And I 100% believe this is why my members love the group so much. They know I genuinely want to see it be a place where people can get help with their businesses. They know it’s not just a sales page masquerading as a business community.
As I said, I’m extremely active in my group—I do live Q&As with members, offer live training, answer member questions, share resources, ask questions, and more. Yes, I pitch my services occasionally, but the ration of non-sales to sales activity is probably in the neighborhood of 1,000 to 1. It may not be the formula for raking in the dough (certainly not overnight), but I have my integrity and I’m creating a tribe of like-minded business owners who appreciate my approach.
A couple of other random tactics I think have helped engagement. First, every Monday I now call out the most active members from the previous week (I use the new Group Insights to get this information). I give sincere thanks along with a fun .gif. Also, I’ve gone live in the group to encourage members to participate and to let them know I truly believe it’s their group, not mine. I got good feedback, too, for a live I did about the group rules where I asked them to help me keep the group awesome by reporting bad behavior.
There you have it. The strategies that have helped my group become one of the coolest corners on the Web. I’d invite you to join the group, but I can’t. I’ve capped membership at 1,500 for the foreseeable future. Why? Because I’m that deadset on keeping it active, engaged, and special. I am doing all I can to prevent it from going the way of Being Boss and Online BFFs.