People have never been more active and mobilised online. Over the last year, while people stayed at home, we saw them turning to social media communities.

Many of these communities are built through Facebook Groups - an increasingly powerful tool for brands and one that we’ve been working on with a number of our clients. Brands like home exercise equipment manufacturer Peloton and beauty buyers club Beauty Pie are known amongst social media users for using Groups to build a sense of community around their brands. 

Creating owned social communities can be an extremely effective way for brands to engage with customers. However, they also present challenges - as the New York Times recently discovered when it reportedly “lost control” of its Cooking Community Facebook group. It appears the group became increasingly irrelevant, possibly due to a lack of effective moderation of its 77,000 members, and the Times is now removing its name from the group. 

Without the right strategy informing the way you manage the community, members may end off topic and posting content entirely unrelated to the brand. This can make the group seem disorganised and chaotic. Conversations can get hijacked by complaints without the right moderation.

Bearing this in mind and based on learnings from our work with some of the UK’s biggest brands, here’s my guide to building successful, engaged groups on Facebook.

Focus on consumer passion points
Brand posts in the group should extend beyond your products or services to keep people engaged. Frame discussions around key passion points that might relate in some way to your brand but have a wide scope, such as music, food or fitness. The National Geographic Facebook Group connects people who share its values on social and environmental issues, for example.

By doing this you help to open out the conversation without risking it going too far off topic. Key to sparking different discussions is getting to know what makes your community tick. By throwing in leading questions, like, for example if the group relates to food: “Tell us about your baking disasters”, or posting topics for debate, you can spark organic conversations around what people are interested in, while at the same time keeping the group anchored to your brand and giving it some cohesion.

Give your group administrator a clear role
In order to handle any fallout and keep the group on track as well as safe and inclusive for everyone, you need an administrator with a clear mandate. This helps the community understand the context of the space. For example, people in the group should be aware that direct complaints relating to the brand’s product or services are handled by customer service and, if they have issues, they are swiftly redirected there. We’ve found from our work with clients that guiding people on an individual basis is often required to maintain the relevancy of the group’s content. 

Let your community take the lead
It’s not always the brand’s role to dictate the conversation; letting your community lead discussions is equally as valuable. Encourage and allow these conversations to emerge (with light moderation where needed), they will often provide invaluable insights into what your consumers really care about. 

The Instant Pot Community is an example of this, with group members leading the conversation rather than the brand itself, posting questions and tips that allow for conversation between the community. Here we often see members post recipes that they've created using the Instant Pot product, while others ask the community for advice and tips on how to create specific dishes. It creates an opportunity for members to show off their culinary creations, with the brand itself at the centre of the conversation. While the admin is no doubt monitoring, they let the conversation flow naturally without interruption. 

Make the most of your super-fans 
Often groups will have a number of devoted fans who regularly log in and contribute. They will frequently chip in topics for debate, chat about new product launches or the latest ad from the brand, lead discussions and keep exchanges going. Their engagement with the brand as well their knowledge and insight is extraordinarily valuable. Once you’ve built up your Facebook Group, take the opportunity to also create a closed group of these super-fans that you can go to for testing out new products, reviews or introducing schemes and initiatives. Remember that super-fans can often feel a sense of ownership over the platform, so if you are making any key changes to the group, make sure they are informed from the outset, because where they go, other fans will follow.  

Finally… 
Not everyone in the group will want to interact with the content. There will be a large number of people who just log on to read, be entertained or learn about new products, but just because they’re not speaking up, doesn’t mean they’re not valuable to your brand. Try some of the techniques mentioned above to encourage these members to be more active. Measure your success based on how you’re growing your group and how members are engaging both with one another, and your brand. And finally, make sure your content keeps fans coming back for more.

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This article was written by our Chief Strategy Officer, Mobbie Nazir.