A few years ago, a handful of businesses realized that Facebook could prove to be a useful tool for marketing. Soon Facebook began to court businesses, allowing them to set up Business pages and collect fans (likes). Content published on business pages were fed into their fans’ wall stream for free. It was a lovely relationship and many, if not most, businesses quickly ramped up their social media visibility on Facebook.
Then Facebook introduced Facebook ads. Users weren’t particularly happy but early adopters of Facebook’s advertising platform were happy clams and making money. Those who didn’t buy ads were still getting good visibility and connecting with their audience for free. Of course it was too good to last. Most of us knew Facebook would want businesses to pay to play. Then it happened.
End of the free gravy train
Facebook sounded the death knell for free publicity in 2014. Business pages had to buy ads to have their content found. Free organic distribution of business page content is gone. The only “free” distribution is when fans who visit your page and share your content. This changed the game. The need to create share-worthy content increased. However great content is probably not enough for new businesses who may not get heavy traffic to their Facebook page. If no one see it, no one shares it.
You can buy ads, but as I predicted in 2014 when I first wrote on this topic, increased competition has increased the cost of advertising. Facebook actually has a great advertising platform with some of the most refined targeting available. What advertising doesn’t do is get a conversation going with your audience. That conversation is what social is all about. It’s what helps people know and trust you and your products.
Conversation is point of social media
There is much to be gained by having an ongoing conversation with your customers. 175 million people log into Facebook everyday and it remains a great way to converse with your customers, gather free intelligence and establish loyalty. Forrester and Wildfire point out how important a brand’s Facebook fans are “They are more likely to purchase, recommend and prefer brands when they are socially engaged with that brand. ” Facebook also says that your audience still matters and will improve the effectiveness of your ads.
All this aside, it is probably time to rethink your Facebook marketing strategy and look for new ways to acquire loyal traffic and increase your brand’s awareness without running ads.
I first proposed this marketing idea in 2014 when Facebook began to limit distribution of page content. Since then an increasing number of businesses have followed this recommendation and are enjoying a renewed and active conversation with their audience.
How to use Facebook Groups for business
I can think of no better way to create a conversation that can include your brand, as well as generate a ton of (free) user generated content than a Facebook group. Group posts still appear in member news feeds and they encourage active participation to a degree that rarely happens on your brand page.
A few points to consider here:
- Open, closed or private group? An open group is open to anyone that finds it. No permission is required to join. Permission is required to join a closed group. A private group is invisible to the general public and requires an invitation to join.
- Open groups are a problem and are subject to a lot of spam. Don’t use one for business.
- A closed group is a great choice for most businesses. Why?- People love exclusivity. They feel special having been approved to be part of your group.- It will also be easier to keep your competition and spammers out.
- Private groups are best reserved for your active customers. Again exclusivity is part of the draw, as is the ability to hold a conversation that isn’t for public eyes. You also have maximum moderation control of all content.
- If your goal is to find new customers, build your group around an interest that fits your customer base. Relevancy is important but in order to generate ongoing conversations, the purpose of the group must be useful to your audience.
- Direct solicitation is generally a turn off in a public (closed or open) group. Your brand needs to come up in conversation naturally. Nothing will turn off followers more than overt sales pitches. That said, anyone in a private group is already a customer and solicitation is generally better received. Watch the reception of your messages and eliminate those that fall flat.
- You can periodically plug your products. The typical rule in social media is 10 “gift” posts to 1 promotional. That said, a group is all about the conversation so use it to learn more about your audience. That’s marketing gold!
- Groups require moderation. Ask employees and possibly even your very best customers to help manage and control the group and conversations.
- Time will be required. Moderation and conversation starting will take some time. Plus your group needs to grow membership.
- Allow for free conversation. This means that at times your competition may come up or the conversation may not work in your favor. Resist the urge to squelch this type of conversation. Consider it business intelligence that alerts you to unmet customer needs and the thoughts of your audience in the competitive market you are in. Use this information to improve your value proposition.
Will this work for your business?
That will depend on the focus of your group, the quality of the activity it generates and how it relates to your business. Some examples of great synergy:
- A yarn manufacturer starts a group focused on knitting
- A toy manufacturer starts a group of parents discussing creative play for toddlers
- An auto parts store starts a group focused on improving car performance
- A software company starts a private group for its customers to discuss use issues and ideas
In summary, a Facebook group is worth your consideration as a means to accomplish your brand awareness and customer acquisition goals. Like all forms of social media, Facebook is a more effective tool for your business when you offer interesting, useful and creative content that encourage the customer-to-customer and customer-to-business conversation. A group does all of this and can become a great source of business intelligence allowing you to better serve your market.