How to make a Facebook Group a success

Facebook Groups are beefing up their offering. Right now, Facebook is inviting inactive Facebook Pages to get a new lease on life. All by using the Facebook Group feature via integration.

So what are the signs that Facebook Groups are the next big focus? And how can you make them work for you? Read on!

Why the excitement about Facebook Groups?

Facebook group
Photo by Wilfred Iven

Existing Facebook Groups have been running for a while now. The trick is making them work for you. By the look of things, Facebook has put time and energy around creating a fun group environment.

Existing Facebook Groups have also seen a refresh that includes adding:

  • A new position for the main management menu
  • New ways to describe and tag your Facebook Group (under settings)
  • A new vanity URL to use to address your Facebook Group (under settings)
  • 3 questions you can ask people joining your Facebook Group to measure their intent (when members join)

This is after introducing advertisements to groups a while back.

Yes folks, the place we thought were the underground tunnel of Facebook is now becoming the main stage.

Does it mean that we’ll see changes that will drive a lot of the reasons we love a well managed Facebook Group to the wall? Maybe.

I mean part of the reason why groups work is because they are special places with a velvet rope feeling. What makes them special is the interaction and the new focus on bells and whistles might take a bit of that away. But that is up to the individual community manager to work around.

How do we make a Facebook Group successful?

I’m not saying I am some guru on a mountain with the answer to all your Facebook Group prayers. But I do know a thing or two about group and forum management.

The interesting thing for me is that community management hasn’t changed much. There’s not that much difference between early stage IRC chat channels or BBS channels with places like Facebook Groups.

People still want to identify themselves and self report about that identity. They hover under categories that reflect their habits, hobbies, likes and dislikes. And they hunger to be somewhere where “everybody knows their name.”

What I am hoping is that some of the bad habits seen in Facebook Groups finally get canned. That’s the focus of the rest of this blog.

It takes a village to make a community

The first key thing to recognise is that an online community is a community. It’s got the same issues you would expect in real life. You will attract all manner of people from a wide spectrum.

There will be people that join the group not because they believe in it, but because they have an agenda.

You’ll have others that are high on the cynicism scale that want to come in and question everything you do. Trolls will happen. Arguments will occur. Nights with alcohol might be tougher to moderate than others. Arrogance is assured.

It’s for humans by humans after all!

On the flip-side, you’ll have people that really want to cosy up and make you their poster pin up. These members will have trouble divorcing their view of you from reality. There will be others that jump in to defend you, even when you might not think it’s necessary. Some people live to project you into their version of the community. Part of good community management is spotting when it tips into unhealthy behaviour.  And what to do about it when it’s not.

Others will meet you with respect and continue to grow slowly over time in their admiration. And you’ll get a lot of members that don’t talk for a long period of time (or ever).

Then there are people that duck in, do good or bad, and then pop out again. They aren’t as emotionally invested and they never will be. Others will be emotionally invested in the group but not you. They could feel like you are taking their group in a different direction than you should and will challenge you.

Regardless, you have to be prepared for this reflection of wider society to be right there in front of you in your Facebook Group. You have to remain tough but fair and above all else, consistent.

Give community members the opportunity to share the story, explore the agenda, but don’t allow one person to derail the value for all by lashing out. Exercise unconditional positive regard, but remember that unwelcome behaviour is just that, unwelcome.

That way, you give each member the chance to feel like they belong and to feel safe. All without losing the neatly knitted safety net people want beneath them. You hope, anyway.

A couple of key points to remember when managing different personalities:

Even the most difficult person can give you invitations to connect.

If you use a model such as LAER (listen, acknowledge, explore, respond) for general day to day interactions;


CFRED (connect, focus, relieve distress, enable coping, decide on next steps) for crisis times;
Usually you’ll find you build up the trust you need over time.

Manipulators will attempt to hijack the group agenda.

Manipulators can want to argue the toss over every situation. They may come with a preconception or agenda and be looking to fight. Or Manipulators can come in the form of people that have gotten a fix on your group for their own egocentric purposes. They flirt and skirt with rules to get what they want. Usually to feed their enormous ego and if in business, promote the heck out of themselves.

The beauty of a Manipulator is identifying them. That way, you can build strategies around them. They are usually so ego-driven they think they are the smartest person in the room. Usually, they are not.

If you know their angle, you can usually counter it. They may be exhausting and boring and vainglorious, but manageable.

Always remain open.

One thing I have always known about community management is that a lot of people read but don’t write. They listen, but they don’t speak. But when these guys do speak, it will be powerful.

Even if you think no one is watching or reading, keep on keeping on. Open the door for the shy, reticent, the burnt out, scared, disengaged, bewildered, and apathetic and so on to come around.

Share the same consistent message of “you belong here, no matter your deal” and keep on keeping on.

Measuring the success of a group on visible metrics alone is a mug’s game. Likes and comments are good, but pay close attention to clicks.

Know the movement of the people. Look for those moments where people say “long time lurker, first time asker”. Make them feel amazing.

A lot of loyalty lies in those silent personalities. So giving them the right amount of time to unfold is super important.

Explore ideas, not your ego

I can see what will happen with the growth of Facebook Group features and the connection of Facebook Fan Pages. Every brand, small business, wannabe shining light in self employment and beyond will be racing to append their private playground to shill their products.

This isn’t how it should be. I call this desire to use community as a stage with sales “the pyramid of personality.”

Once brands and personalities start creating a pyramid of personality, in comes the hard sell. The buy this and sign up for that sort of situation. There’s no argument against this working. Facebook is littered with marketing ads from selling their latest sign up, book, course, cheat sheet, 6 point plan and all the rest.

It does work. But it’s not sustainable. People may keep buying. But usually because they feel battered, fatigued and unhappy about it. That’s not what a smart operator wants for their community long term.

Real community is something else. It’s an exploration in place. And it’s very much about “where do I fit into this place?” as opposed to “Margot runs this place. Buy from Margot”. We like having somewhere we can connect.

Think about what we as humans do.

We thirst for times and places to come together outside our existence. Like parks, community gardens, the beach and so on.

Festivals, communal meals, eating together in spaces like cafes and restaurants inspire us and re-energise us. Not for the chance to skip the cooking, but for the connection.

We travel to see things of beauty and to meet other people. We dot the land with connected ideas such as pop up libraries and protests for common causes.

A sense of place is important. That’s why we well up when we travel the streets of our childhood town. Or why we put on a blue or maroon jersey 3 times a year.

When we build community, we want to feel like we belong. Our leaders may come and go, but we still identify with political and other persuasions.

So why then to business personalities inject so much of themselves into their Facebook Groups?

When you moderate a group, it’s important to remember that it’s not about you. They aren’t following you for a slice. They want a place that speaks to their identity. Their personal makeup of who they are is reflected in their choices.

So keep the structure flat. Don’t make it all about hero worship. It will burn people off that get sick of the same face dominating their day.

If it’s all about you all the time, it leaves very little room for the community member or customer.

Plus, it’s draining. And bound to have people seething with resentment. It’s like Bart bashing a pot and screaming “I am so great!” all the time. No one wants to go to their version of the cyber-park and see such ego. Not for long, anyway.

Don’t ban the negative. Banish the fear of the negative.

The best way to bore members is to be scared of negative conversations and feedback.

We learn a lot from exploring ideas we don’t always agree with or even like. We’re also human beings. Life isn’t all plastic daisies and hippy rainbows. It’s foolish to think otherwise.

The maintain balance so people don’t become invested in a whinge and a whine, sure.

But if you’re scared of people venting frustrations, having bad days or needing help, you shouldn’t be in community management.

Communities form when members recognise they are too vulnerable and small to navigate the landscape alone. They use the group to normalise their experience in the business world.

Your members cannot do this if everything is always happy and with plastic over it to avoid the scuff marks.

We trust people that allow us to be ourselves far more than people that expect us to only be happy all the time. We have a range of emotions for a reason.

So if you don’t want people hijacking the place with sarcasm all the time but you do want them to feel like they can share what they need, how do you manage that?

Here are a couple of tips on avoiding too much of a swing to one emotion over another:

  • Avoid making money off the existence of your community and sell add-ons instead. Once you add “this is what you get with membership” you add pressure to your community
  • Seed content within your experience that mirrors the good behaviour you want and the open door policy you project
  • Make sure you use the LAER and CFRED (Connect, Focus, Relieve distress, Enable coping, Decide next steps) models to acknowledge the tough times before reintroducing solution-orientated thinking
  • Have the skills to identify the potential for issues and have a working disaster plan in place
  • Use humour to relieve frustration and activate it as a process of laughing it off as opposed to dwelling
  • Be consistent. If you start to change the rules along the way, your community members will lose their sense of safety- and may even challenge you on it
  • Don’t make people live in fear (too much). There’s a difference between people not wanting to take the piss out of you and being a Dominatrix. Don’t be too rule heavy, don’t take yourself so seriously and come from a place of kindness, not anger

In all things, maintain balance. If you want to rant, do it. But also make a note to remind them of the positive and practice gratitude. There will be times when it is tougher for members of your community to get through than others. So grounding your members and reminding them of the positive does a lot to help them relieve that distress while giving them hope for the future.

Oh, and if you are finding that you are angered, annoyed, bothered by and sick of the same questions, pause. Put processes in place to encourage people to dig for information. Create specific threads. Ask polls and questions.

In short, design content within your group to pick up the shortfall. And get some rest. Don’t continue on a path to compassion fatigue by pushing through when you don’t have any more to give.

This isn’t the whole Facebook Group story

Starting the engine is the hardest part of getting a Facebook Group to where it needs to be. So I will focus on that next plus tips on how to reinvigorate a dead or dying group.
Have fun exploring Facebook Groups. If you want to come and play with me, you’ll find me in the Freelance Jungle (for Australian freelancers and the self employed).

Want a PLAN to make your facebook group a success? I CAN HELP! 


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