Are you looking to better target and manage key followers on Facebook? How about creating a more “exclusive” community that focuses on a particular key industry topic? Or, are you keen on monitoring existing communities within Facebook to mine more followers for your own client or organization? Then putting the Facebook Groups feature into play may be a good move. But just be aware of some idiosyncrasies.
Paul Dalessio, VP at Fleishman-Hillard, recognizes the usefulness of using the Groups feature to further a brand. From his experience, the deployment of Groups pages is most effective with consumer groups—moms and baby products, for instance. Dalessio also sees Groups success in the tech sector. “There are so many people out there passionate about phones and wireless technology,” says Dalessio. The key is to take advantage of your community’s passion, regularly engage with them and have them share your information with their friends.
Dalessio, who spoke about Groups and other Facebook features at the PR News Facebook Conference in NYC on May 24, has a warning: Once you set up your Groups page, don’t ignore it.
To get a Groups page going, you should look at the three available options first.
Secret: Only members can see the group and what members post.
Closed: Everyone can see the group. Only members see posts.
Open (public): Everyone can see the group and what members post.
What you choose will depend on your goals and the sector that you’re in, says Dalessio. But choosing the “closed” option might be inviting, because you would be providing an incentive to people to become real ambassadors and join an exclusive club.
And just how should you invite members to your exclusive group? Well, don’t send out a blast to all of your page followers, says Dalessio. You can send targeted members a direct message through Facebook, or do a little more digging for e-mail addresses.
Getting members to join has been a slow process for Wendy Serafin, VP of the nonprofit Home & School Association, a parents group at Highlands Elementary School in Naperville, Ill.—just outside of Chicago.
But when you’re a Facebook Groups first mover in your school district, there’s bound to be some glitches. After taking a year to get it approved by school officials, Serafin launched a closed community for parents in late March 2011.
While there’s over 600 parents as potential members, so far she’s drawn in close to 70, using a variety of outreach—from blurbs on all parental correspondence to reminders on the school Web site to word-of-mouth means. Serafin notes that not all parents are on Facebook, but the goal is to bridge the gap between parents who are a bit older and might consider joining Facebook and younger parents who religiously use the platform.
The Groups destination, says Serafin, is used to promote school events, news and volunteer opportunities. Just a few months in, she has some lessons learned, including:
• Set up guidelines and expectations of the site for members. “We were getting babysitting queries, and that wasn’t one of our objectives,” laughs Serafin.
• Have an official spokesperson for the group—instead of just using the site name—to make connection with members more personal.
• Be aware of Groups’ security features, and recognize the loopholes. “In our closed group, members can add other people to the community without the administrator’s approval,” says Serafin. Meaning they can allow their sons and daughters to join, for example. Serafin monitors accordingly.
Questionable Facebook Groups options such as those above caused Blake Jackson, coordinator of social media at the Chesapeake Energy Corp. in Oklahoma City, Okla., to switch several communities from Groups to Pages.
One problem was no vanity URL function (see the sidebar for Groups pros and cons). Thanks to very long URL addresses, getting the word out about Groups was a bit of a pain, says Jackson. Plus, Groups is limited to 5,000 people, and eventually several of Chesapeake’s communities would hit that milestone. Chesapeake does have a secret site for its interns, which works well, adds Jackson.
Then there’s looking at Groups from the outside in. Paul O’Rourke, director of public relations at the Pipitone Group, a marketing communications agency in Pittsburgh, Pa., says his marketing communications agency monitors a number of open Groups pages in its work for clients and for research, trolling them for opportunities to join the conversation. “We go at it just like we are researching a media database,” says O’Rourke. The difference, however, is in the conversation. Even in tracking and interacting with existing Groups, Pipitone works off an editorial calendar with regularly scheduled posts. “You’ve got to have a plan,” adds O’Rourke.
For client Strength & Courage, a nonprofit that provides exercise resources to breast cancer survivors, Pipitone searched for cancer education organizations, such as Susan G. Komen for the Cure, and started conversing with members.
“It was almost like banging on virtual doors, letting them know that Strength & Courage existed,” says Scott Henry, PR account supervisor at Pipitone. The key was not to sell, but to “make people aware this was an organization you might want to be aware of,” adds Henry.
GET IN FOCUS
According to Dalessio, PR pros should really think of Groups as focus groups. Facebook in general is the largest focus group in the world, he notes. Use your laser-targeted community in that manner, and try to bring your online relationship with them offline with face-to-face events. “Have them meet each other and the key people in your organization,” says Dalessio.
Which goes to prove, there’s nothing like an in-person Group hug. PRN
[Editor’s Note: Need more tactics, tools and techniques for maximizing Facebook? Attend our Facebook Conference on Aug. 9 in San Francisco.]
Paul Dalessio, firstname.lastname@example.org; Wendy Serafin, email@example.com; Blake Jackson, firstname.lastname@example.org; Paul O’Rourke, email@example.com; Scott Henry, firstname.lastname@example.org.