Why Your Facebook Group Drives You Crazy — And Doesn’t Grow Your Business

This post originally appeared on Medium.com.

Facebook makes it easy for you to start a group or community for any interest or identity.

In fact, Mark Zuckerberg made community-building part of the larger Facebook strategy in February 2017.

Many small businesses have used the Facebook Group opportunity to market their products and brands. They establish Groups as part of a free offer, a challenge, or an online course. Then they have an engaged, loyal group of potential customers waiting for their next offer.

This isn’t a bad idea and it’s worked for many businesses, helping them make tons of revenue. However, it also hasn’t worked for many businesses and, for some, it’s worked — but not without driving the Group owner crazy.

In the second half of 2017, I noticed a huge trend toward shutting down or closing Facebook Groups that had tens of thousands of members. The businesses had lost control of them. There were problems with harassment. They weren’t seeing the same ROI.

Why did a marketing tactic that had served many so well suddenly cause such backlash?

As always, people were quick to blame Facebook. Facebook was demoting Group posts in the feed, notifications weren’t getting delivered anymore, more popular Groups were being featured alongside emerging ones.

Facebook said it was making positive changes to the Groups experience but the results of those changes resulted in a collective moan from small business owners that had been using them to build their businesses.

Too often, knowing where your next customer is going to come from seems unpredictable at best and, at worst, like a huge gamble. Eliminate variables. Learn more.

Of course, Facebook generally only makes a change when it senses that change could improve people’s experience with the platform. Which means: Facebook Groups — as they were — weren’t making Facebook better for the people who use it.

Which means: the real blame was on Facebook Group owners.

I believe that, if your Facebook Group is driving you crazy, there’s a good chance you’re the one to blame.

Zuck is off the hook this time.

Now, don’t freak out! This is a good thing.

If you’re the one to blame, then you’re also the one who can fix it. When you do fix it, I believe you’ll find more rewards for your business from your community than you ever thought possible.

Below are 4 things you’ve likely done in the formation of your Facebook Group — and what you can do to take a few steps in a better, more manageable, more profitable direction!

You’ve made your Facebook Group about your product, your brand, or — worse — you.

People will join a Facebook Group because they want more access to you or your team — or because they want an enhanced experience of your product or service.

Unfortunately, when access to you or your product is the hook for joining your Facebook Group (or any community space), that puts all of the burden on your brand. You have to show up, you have to create content, you have to drive the conversation.

When you make your Facebook Group about you and your business, you make more work for yourself.

And who has time for more work?

Just like with a product, you want to make the value proposition of your Facebook Group about your community members.

Robbie Baxter, author of The Membership Economy, puts it like this:

The Membership Economy is all about putting the customer at the center of the business model rather than the product or the transaction.

It doesn’t matter if your Group or community is free or paid. It doesn’t matter if it’s the product or a perk. What matters is that the Group exists to benefit the member, not the business that runs it.

While that might seem like a lot of work for little reward, the opposite can be true. What if…

…instead of giving them access to your business, you consider the benefit for members in having access to each other?

The benefit is found somewhere in the real struggles they face (the ones your company helps out with) and how real people solve them. Maybe it’s access to cooperative and constructive encouragement. Maybe it’s access to specific use cases. Maybe it’s access to examples of what else is possible.

Too often, knowing where your next customer is going to come from seems unpredictable at best and, at worst, like a huge gamble. Eliminate variables. Learn more.

Sure, there’s a chance that the group might make your product or service unnecessary for some members. But that’s the case with any form of content marketing, too. Seeing real-life possibilities, progress, and stories makes people more likely to seek out your help — not less.

That said, keep in mind what Baxter says about the kinds of people who find value in group membership:

Membership is about connection and access over privacy and ownership — and not everyone values these the same way.

Next step: Reduce your workload by defining your community by how it connects members to each other instead of to your company, your product, or you. Update your calls to action for joining the community and repost community guidelines & purpose with this in mind.

You haven’t defined the scope, values, culture, or purpose of the Facebook Group.

Facebook Groups are so easy to create that, often, not much care is given towards their true mission and purpose. Then, the next thing you know, the conversations are way off track, people are asking questions about things you don’t want to answer, and arguments break out between members.

Maybe that sounds like a stretch but I’ve seen it happen to so many of my colleagues’ groups.

Communities and Groups, in general, do best when the scope and values are clearly defined. Charles Vogl writes about this in his book The Art of Community. He says:

Understanding the shared values that attract and keep members in a community is important for leaders. For continued success, leaders must both clearly share and personally represent the values so others can recognize what they want to join.

And, it’s not enough to say your values are one thing and then act differently.

If you’re regularly promoting your own products, then self-promotion becomes a value of the community as modeled by your actions. If you’re sharing off-topic posts, then openness becomes a value and others will follow suit.

Make the scope, values, culture, and purpose of your Facebook Group — or any community — known explicitly. Then follow that up with implicit communication of those values on a daily basis through your own behavior.

Take Action: Make a list of your Group or community’s values. Then make a list of actions or behaviors that typify those values. Adjust your own engagement with the Group to reflect those values and only those values.

You’re trying to lead the conversation instead of facilitate it.

One of the biggest complaints with Facebook Groups is how much work they entail. And, yes, effective community-building is hard work!

But one of the biggest reasons Group owners balk at the amount of work they’re doing is because they created too much work for themselves in the first place!

Groups are best when members lead the conversation but leaders facilitate it. That means your content strategy shouldn’t revolve around providing content but, instead, prompting content created by members. You might host live video events that get people talking and sharing. You might have weekly posts (the same each week) that ask people to check in on a particular topic or experience. You might have photo prompts.

Suddenly, your content workload gets extremely small and you can turn your attention toward facilitation and moderation — which makes the whole experience more remarkable for your members.

The idea is to allow content to be contributed by members but inspired by your facilitation. Gina Bianchini and Audra Lindsey helped me reframe my own perspective here.

They encourage “member contribution” instead of “member engagement” for this very reason. Engagement tends to imply members react to our own content as leaders. Contribution, on the other hand, is about encouraging members to share their stories, experiences, questions, and discoveries in a way that drives the Group content, instead of following it.

Take Action: What kinds of contributions do you want your Group members to make? Form a fresh content strategy that encourages those contributions instead of reaction to your own contributions.

You’re relying on already established habits instead of creating new ones.

Again, Facebook Groups are easy to create. They’re also easy to find new members for. They’re also fairly easy to encourage engagement in.

Why? Habits.

Nir Eyal, who wrote the book on habits — Hooked, says:

Today, just amassing millions of users is no longer good enough. Companies increasingly find that their economic value is a function of the strength of the habits they create.

Facebook cashes in on habits already. But does your Group? Hardly. Your Group is trying to cash in on the Facebook Habit.

Notification, click. Notification, click. Notification, click.

It doesn’t matter if the baby is crying or you’re on the toilet: if you get the notification, you’re going to click.

But outside of Facebook, there is no habit, no trigger, no context around your community. That means that you’re missing out on huge economic value for your Group.

Would people seek out your Facebook Group if they weren’t getting notifications through the platform where they spend their digital lives?

If the answer is “no” — and it likely is — then the value of your community is much, much lower than it could be.

Too often, knowing where your next customer is going to come from seems unpredictable at best and, at worst, like a huge gamble. Eliminate variables. Learn more.

That is not to say that all products have to be habit-forming to be valuable. However, communities — digital or analog — are places we should want to spend time. They’re places we should be motivated to visit or engage with.

If your Group members don’t have a habit of visiting and contributing to your Group, then for as much “traffic” as your Group might have — and all the work that traffic entails — your return on energy invested is likely pretty low.

Here’s where this really creates a problem, though:

Because you rely on preexisting habits, you’re not in control of when people seek out your community. You don’t create appropriate context. People don’t go seeking out your community, they simply react to the stimulus of the notification.

In fact, you’re not really building the value of your community at all — you’re building Facebook’s value.

At CoCommercial, we’re working hard to develop a contextual “trigger” for using our community — outside the Facebook Groups platform. Since people have to log into a different community application, we need them to develop a new habit.

The trigger is all the times our members find they’ve bumped up against an obstacle to completing their plan, a question they don’t have an answer to that threatens to derail their progress, or a setback that throws things off. This is probably a daily occurrence for more small business owners, if we’re being honest.

The habit, then, is recognizing the obstacle and posting a question or situation in the community and asking for others’ experiences.

Creating a context, knowing the right trigger, and utilizing a high-value habit means the value of your community is much, much higher. When you rely on Facebook’s context, trigger, and habit, you’ll get people engaging with your Group the way they engage with the rest of Facebook — and that’s generally not a good thing.

Take Action: Consider when you want people to use your Group. What is the context they would seek out the help of other members? When would they share a victory? What circumstance triggers checking in? Write down as many instances as you can. Then, choose the one you want to focus on and make it central to the way you communicate about your Group or community.

You don’t need Facebook.

If you fix these 4 things about your Group, you won’t need Facebook anymore. For as convenient as it might be, you’ll be able to rid yourself and your business of the craziness that occurs on that platform. You’ll be able to set up shop on any application you choose — though, I’m partial to Mighty Networks.

Your community will be more streamlined, active, and focused. Your business will reap benefits from it through word of mouth marketing, direct sales, and social proof.

And you, my friend, will get to spend less time on Facebook.

Is your Facebook Group driving your crazy?

If your Facebook Group is driving you crazy or you’ve hesitated creating a Group because you feared it would drive you crazy, you’re in good company.

Hopefully, I’ve uncovered some hidden problems in the way your group is managed. If you don’t see the source of your frustration here, I’d love for you to share it in the comments.

Also check out Build a Community and Grow Your Standout Business for more insights on community building and marketing.

Tara Gentile FOLLOW >

Tara Gentile is a creativeLIVE instructor, business strategist, and the creator of the Customer Perspective Process.