Want to create a group on Facebook or LinkedIn? Groups are a great way to engage your key constituencies in discussion, trade ideas, gain insights and share resources. We all want to belong—to find places where we fit, and groups in social networking environments bring people with shared interests together. Group conversations can lead to meaningful connections.
Those who create and administrate groups on Facebook and LinkedIn enjoy some specific benefits. Most importantly, they have the chance to establish the angle of the conversations, to guide the direction so the resulting interactions provide great insight. Also, group administrators have access to member contact information and can message those members at their discretion. This latter benefit should be very secondary because groups are not—and should never be—direct selling platforms.
Of course, LinkedIn groups are typically business-to-business, colleague-to-colleague forums. Facebook is the better place to start business-to-consumer groups, though it certainly could be plausible to maintain a b-to-b forum as well. It’s wise to have spent time as a group member before launching your own, just so you know how it all works from the inside out.
Presuming you’ve already determined you definitely need a group over a business/fan page (and if you haven’t, please read my previous blog on this topic to save yourself a step or two) or business profile, here are some guiding do’s and don’ts to help you make the most of the group-making effort.
Ask yourself a few key questions.
Get your bearings before you get going. Picture your ideal advisory council. Who would you want to be a part? Customers and potential customers, colleagues from related industries? Would you want a national or regional perspective? What do you want to gain from the group? Is there already a group out there that meets my need? If so, how can you start something equally as useful yet unique enough to stand alone? Answer all these questions before you launch.
Create a topic that’s deep and narrow.
A group with too broad a focus will easily go off topic and off course. A group too shallow is limited and will not attract interest let alone useful discussion. More than likely, you don’t want to start a group that’s so specific it only attracts existing customers or competitors and vendors within your product category. You want to engage a variety of people for the most useful and fruitful conversations.
Unless you’re dominant in your category (i.e. – Microsoft or Apple), a major player with many offshoots (i.e. – Burger King to brand franchisees, buying groups with regional retailers) or have a vast customer base, you probably shouldn’t start a group under your own business name. For that matter, you likely need to think deeper than just your product category to attract a variety of people and interactions.
For example, say your business, “XYZ Widget Repair,” can service a 200-mile radius of the company headquarters in Boston. To start a group under the heading of your business name would be limiting, as you’d likely attract only existing customers and business partners/vendors. You’d be better off with a fan page or business profile. Start a group for “widget repair,” and the net will be cast too wide or only attract competitors in your category. The better tact may be to create a “Widget Care & Maintenance – Boston” to make the topic more inclusive yet regionally targeted.
Commit to being a discussion starter.
As keeper of the group, it’s your job to help it bring value to those who join. Without some nurturing, a group is inert, an inanimate object that collects dust and is forgotten by those who’ve joined. In the early stages, you may find yourself responsible for posting discussion topics, posting news stories, etc. Do this with true commitment, so that you are consistently in front of your membership. If you fall silent, the group may fall to the wayside.
Guide group dynamics.
One of the age old challenges for group leaders is encouraging good dynamics. It seems there’s always a talker in the group, the one who always has to interject. Then there are other group members who prefer to just listen. As keeper of the group, it’s in your court to observe and guide. If someone is treating the group as a selling ground, take action to discourage that. If the same three people dominate the postings, direct some discussion starters to purposely engage others beyond the trio of constant responders.
Share the leadership.
You may even consider adding some customers or colleagues to co-manage the group to spark new dimensions. If you’ve set the topic deep yet narrow enough, others will also have great insight to gain from being part of the group leadership. Bringing more into the leadership fold can help expand the potential members list, delegate responsibilities for nurturing the group and multiply the usefulness of the group while staying true to the topic.
Look at the long term.
As with most social media efforts, the return on investment of your time and effort will come in the long term. You can set up the group and invite the first round of members in no time, but it takes a while to attract diverse participants, set the tone and culminate useful interactions. Be patient, and your group will grow to be truly dynamic.