The Chris Brogan Approach to Facebook Groups
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A Facebook Group is a great way to create a community of like-minded individuals to create and keep a conversation going with little to no effort. The key is in setting certain ground rules and policies that will best serve that particular group for the long-term.
Specificity and a shared goal amongst the members will go a long way in the success of Facebook Groups. Regardless of whether you choose to make it a closed, public, or secret group, making sure the conversation continues will determine if the group sees continued success and value.
Rich: Chris Brogan is a business advisor that hates canned introductions. And yet, at the same time, I need you to know who he is. You probably know already. He has worked with brands that are in your house, if not in your heart. I’m thinking about things like Google, Pepsi, Disney, Sony Electronics USA, Comcast, Microsoft, and many more. This is his third time on the Agents of Change podcast, no one else besides himself can say that. He also has spoken at my conference three times and no one else but me can say that, maybe Amanda O’Brien. He’s also a NY Times bestselling author, 9 books and counting, engaged to Jacqueline Carly, and between the two of them they have 3 wonderful kids – I have to take his word for it I’ve never met them – and Chris, welcome back to the show.
Chris: Hey, how the heck are you?
Rich: I’m doing well. I’m looking at your image on Skype, are you still rocking the beard?
Chris: I am. It’s a little bit more Santa Claus-y of late.
Rich: Really? I’m unshaven as well, it’s for the Patriots playoffs, I try not to shave until the playoffs come to an end. Monday will be a big shave day for me.
Chris: Ah, I like your thinking.
Rich: So Chris I asked you to come on the show because I was looking for an expert in Facebook Groups and I know you run a number of them. Can you just give us a little run down of the Facebook Groups that you’re in charge of?
Chris: So let me think about that. I have probably 20 or more different Facebook Groups of slightly differing level of activity. The biggest one I have is the Secret Team which is always hovering somewhere around 14,000 and I’m very fortunate for that. But it comes and goes, I’ll gain 100, I’ll lose 100, I’ll gain 100, and it’s fun just to see who comes and goes. But in all of the different groups I have all kinds of different things that I want them to do, there are different values or reasons why I’ve got them put out there. I guess the reason I like the Facebook technology is that there’s a billion plus users of it so it’s not like I have to explain a lot.
Rich: Right, they’re already there and they’re going to see things. So you’re obviously using Facebook Groups quite a bit. What can you accomplish in your groups that you can’t accomplish through your profile or on your brand page?
Chris: So one thing with the groups is that – at least currently – the system seems to be very permissive and promoting of group management and all that in a different way than pages and ads. Meaning, I get a lot more visibility for my group stuff than I ever do my page-type stuff. And so I’m excited about that. And I also like the opportunities that it affords me.
Rich: Obviously in the past few weeks there’s been monumental changes – at least people say there’s been monumental changes – to the Facebook newsfeed. Have you changed anything in the marketing of your own groups or pages because of this or are you just continuing to rock steady?
Chris: You know I’m just kind of maintaining. On the one hand I get this weird feeling like there’s been a very visible change in what the traffic looks like on my side of the screen. When I look at what I’ve got going on, I sort of have the feeling of it looks like a lot more personally stuff and a lot less business-y stuff. But on the business side of things I feel like I’m getting just as much if not a little bit more engagement on things like my groups and/or my business page. So, I don’t know. It seems like it’s working.
Rich: To be honest, my experience – and maybe this is just because I made the mistake of becoming friends with so many marketers – nothing has changed for me. At least from a user standpoint. And personally we never really used our Facebook pages in the last few years all that much, so I haven’t noticed much of a difference despite all the messaging we’re hearing.
So Facebook Groups, have you run groups on other platforms like LinkedIn or any other forums? Can you compare and contrast them or are you strictly a Facebook Groups kinda guy?
Chris: So I had run a LinkedIn group for a little while, but I never much liked the technology of it. I think LinkedIn is a very interesting platform. My semi-derogatory – but this is what I believe – my derogatory opinion is that LinkedIn would be great if it weren’t for the users. It’s almost like that Yogi Barra thing, it would have been a great club except no one goes there.
I’ve used lots of other community platforms back in the day in the very early/mid 2000’s, people were all about their various community platforms and they really wanted you to try them. I had demo accounts or full accounts on all kinds of community platforms and I can tell you that thank goodness that time has come and gone. Because in my mindset I feel that everything is good enough. If you had to sum up the way I feel about things like Facebook, my answer is, “It’s good enough.”
Rich: Right. And like you said before, you don’t have to train somebody how to use this platform, they’re already using it. So I know you’ve got a lot of different groups, in general, how are you setting these groups up? Are they public, are they closed, are they private, do you do different things for different groups depending on your goals?
Chris: Yeah, so almost every single one of them is secret or closed. Most of the things I’ve set up I’ve least wanted the public just to show up and be part of it. The only one difference is the Secret Team which is interesting as far as there’s over 14,000 users. So you would think that I’d really want that one to be the more private one. But what I want with that group, the Secret Team has one very specific, finite set of rules, which is help answer some questions for people and then also ask questions if you have them in so much as you want to develop yourself or your business. There’s a whole bunch of people who moderate with me and we’re very intent on making sure there’s not a lot of spam or anything like that, and then beyond that it just rolls.
Rich: Ok, so do you allow anybody to accept other people into the group or do you kind of have a stranglehold over that?
Chris: So I have some Admins and the Admins can also approve people. And I go in quite a lot, I really love it when I get the opportunity to put my name on there that I approved the people. It’s because I like that feeling of the guy that runs the group inviting people. Beyond that, I have no problem. There’s that thing where you allow other people to add other people and then I have no problem with that, I think it’s fine.
Rich: So I think you mentioned you have 14,000 or so in the Secret Group, give or take 100. So is growing the size of these groups part of your goal, and if so, how are you getting more people to join these groups?
Chris: Not normally. With the Secret Team I think it would be fine if it grew a little bit more, I don’t think it would fail. What happens a lot of times is that someone’s quiet for a while and someone remembers to dip in or not, and I have this sort of sense that the dynamics of it don’t change too, too much because people aren’t especially spammy. All they seem to do in that group is ask their questions and answer questions. I think that that’s kind of one of a few different things that are keeping it rolling.
So if it grows that’s fine. I tell you we have one rule that’s kind of weird for some people which is, if they belong to more than 50 groups we don’t allow them in, and there are very few exceptions. If it’s somebody I really know personally then I might let them in, but what we found is that – and I’ve had people ask me the question and be a little bit indignant – and I’ve said, “Listen, if you have more than 50 groups, you clearly aren’t doing anything in those groups, you’re not participating in the groups. So we don’t really want you to be part of this because it’s an active groups, we want people who are going to participate and keep the community rolling.”
Rich: Makes a lot of sense. So how do you keep the conversation going in these groups? Now I assume with 14,000 people the conversation kind of takes on a life of its own, but I’m guessing in smaller groups you might need to spark conversation.
Chris: That’s quite true. One way to look at any group management is that you sort of have to be the host of the party, but you have to imagine that the party is full of fairly awkward people who aren’t always exactly sure that they’re really fully invited. That’s the way I like to look at it. So if I were to tell anyone how to manage a group I would say, Imagine that you’ve just thrown a party and there’s a semi-specific goal that the people that are coming to it have a sense of why they should be there. But beyond that they’re not always the most social people and they’re not always sure how to be the most social people.
And then what I find is that if you sort of walk your way through that, what big opportunities come of this is that you can just throw a prompt in every now and again and say, “Hey, what’s the story, what do you think of this?” Those kinds of experiences almost always lend themselves to the kinds of interactions you want and don’t force anyone to take negative interactions towards.
Rich: Alright, that makes a lot of sense. Do you have certain prompts that you use on a regular basis in these groups?
Rich: Ok. Because some people I know – I belong to a writing group – and almost every day there’s somebody who says, “Ok writers, what are we writing today?” just as a way of starting the conversation, but that’s not your thing.
Chris: No. I think that one of the reasons not that we all sort of bend to that kind of experience and I think a lot of times when that group exists it’s easy for us to feel a little bit burned out reasonably quickly. And so I think that what the big opportunity is, is to keep it a lot more organic.
And one way to do that, by the way, I’m looking through my groups that I manage – and also the few that I belong to – one thing I find kind of consistent is the ones that are the most fun they have a very specific interaction. So I belong to a private group for speakers and we almost always just are asking questions back and forth about speaking type things. Like, what is your fee like, or how do you deal with this kind of a problem or contract, or I can’t do this gig do you guys want it. Another one is a book writing group and so the questions are; how do you break up your chapters if you feel the chapters are too long, and that sort of thing.
I find that if you don’t have specific reasons to put together the platform, then the real big challenge is that people won’t know exactly how to take an action or what to do there. And I think that if you make it too vague, then it’s almost a guarantee you’re never going to have anyone interact.
Rich: Alright, so specificity and kind of a shared goal definitely are things that will help with that. So tell me a little bit more about the Secret Team, what exactly is the Secret Team all about? Can you tell me or do you have to kill me?
Chris: That’s always fun. Someone will say to me, “How can you possibly have a group that’s calls The Secret Team that’s 14,000?” I think we humans like that sense that we belong to something private or secret. So the only thing that’s secret is we call it The Secret Team. There’s really only 2 ways to utilize the platform and the platforms goal is to either ask a question or get an answer back or help someone with an answer.
So the most current post I have right now are, “Has anyone here ever had a Facebook page they own just stop allowing people to post on the page?” And so this person was asking for Facebook help. One says, “Are there any San Francisco Bay area freelancers who can message me on the side about some pricing issues. Someone asked for a new title for their podcast, so there’s a few hundred answers on that one.
Rich: So except for the fact that this seems to be vaguely about digital marketing, this seems really broad to me. Would you agree? I’m not saying that in a bad way.
Chris: We have one request which is ask for help or answer someone else’s question for help.
Rich: But are there any questions on, say, parenting or dieting in this group?
Chris: People don’t tend to ask those questions exactly. But one of them is saying where should I put my post, and one of them is asking a podcasting question. I think that’s sort of just an action of the people who are on there, people who know me are into that sort of a thing. But one said, “Does anyone know of any lifestyle app developers in Canada?” So I guess that’s marketing but it’s still kind of just a random.
Rich: Right, and I’m not saying this in a negative way, there’s a little bit of people who are attracted to Chris Brogan and so that kind of gets me wondering if somebody not at your level of visibility or popularity wants to start a group on Facebook, what kind of tips would you give them if they don’t have that level of brand recognition that you might have?
Chris: Keep it specific, really set your basic rules, make it not very intense rules, and then enforce them. And then from there I would promote to my email list, I would promote with some Facebook ads is that’s what you need to do as well, and then I would also do everything I could to get people to follow certain prompts.
So for instance, a bunch of my other smaller private groups are based on courses, so in a lot of those cases I have a whole bunch of people who are asking me questions based on various modules and that’s one way you could do it.
Another group I have is or a book I wrote called Find Your Writing Voice, and the people in there just share some of the things that I put in the book there that are prompting people to share, or they share some of their successes in writing.
The most important thing you tell someone who’s getting ready to start a group like this, Rich, is that if they don’t work towards making the members of the group the hero and giving them heroic actions they can take, the group won’t last very long.
Rich: Ok. I think in some ways I know the answer to this question but I’m going to ask it anyway, because you do more than just the Secret Group thing, but do you sell to these groups, and is monetization part of your goals for these groups?
Chris: I never sell to the Secret Team because it would break the rule. Some of the other groups exist because they’re part of my business courses, but I’ve never built a group just so I can sell to it. So I don’t have really good advice on that, strictly because I think that the tools and the interaction in that are just a little bit tricky. I’m not 100% sure that it would work.
Rich: Ok. And so the other people who are in these groups, how did you attract them, how did you get people to kind of say I’d love to work on this group with you?
Chris: In a lot of cases, again, it was just a matter of the thing I was putting out there was a very specific challenge someone else had. So one of them is about writing a book, one of them is about getting a little bit better at blogging, and these kinds of things there are people out there who want to have something to do with it. Some of the groups I belong to by the way – because I’m actually a member of a bunch of groups – one is all things VR and AR, and I barely ever go in there because I don’t really care about those technologies as much but I wanted the opportunity to. One of the groups I’m into is Clay Hebert’s Perfect Intro, where it’s anybody looking to improve how they introduce themselves, again a very specific project. My friend Grace runs a group called “What’s For Dinner”, where people just put photos of their dinner, so if you don’t like looking at food don’t do. I’m in a group for bots and I love that group except there is kind of a problem because the rule evidently don’t say that you can’t advertise your bots, so it’s become a little bit of a bot advertisement zone and that’s not that fun for me.
Rich: And I’m wondering if all those people are actually real people or some of them may actually be bots. That would be an interesting group to tune into.
Chris: That’s going to make me think of a movie that probably no one but you and I watched, and that’s Real Genius, and there’s that scene kind of near the end where all these kids are putting tape recorders in the classroom instead of themselves, and at the end there’s a tape recorder talking to tape recorders.
Rich: That is the wave of the future. So as you look back on all your time together on Facebook Groups and being a member, what are some of the mistakes that you made or that you see other people make in terms of running a successful group?
Chris: If you make it all about yourself, no one cares. I’m looking at a friend of mine’s group – this is a real world friend, we’ve had dinner with family, I’ve raised money when they had a problem – and what I see in the group is, “Hey, we did these things on Instagram, these are some brand things that we built, what do you think?”, and there’s one thumb and that is the only activity in the last several months. So I could tell you that that doesn’t really do much for anybody.
There’s a secret group where we talk all just about travel stuff. And in there there’s a post that’s talking about how code.org is bringing computer education to Alaska Airline’s inflight entertainment system. I thought that was kind of neat, when I fly Alaska Airlines I can learn code at the same time. And I looked through and there’s all kinds of posts that I would go for and I can tell you that it’s very specific and it’s not self-serving to the owner.
I think that anyone who tries to make a group, like if you made a group and you called it “Handsome Rich Brooks Fan Appreciation Group”, no one is coming. And I think that’s the most important detail that I would give to any human. And as I roll through all of the ones that I belong to, the ones that have the most unread posts are the ones where we’re talking in and around a topic that everyone can be partners in compared to other kinds.
Rich: Chris, I’m a little sad that you would not join a group called “Handsome Rich Brooks Fan Appreciation Group”, that seems to be right up your alley.
Chris: I’d join, I said no one would participate.
Rich: Alright, Chris this has been very helpful. Where besides your Facebook Groups – or maybe in your Facebook Groups – can we find you online?
Chris: You know, probably easiest to just swing by chrisbrogan.com, grab my newsletter because if you like it you’ll be so in love with me and we’ll be friends.
Rich: And I’ll just say that I don’t read a lot of newsletters these days, although I subscribe to a bunch of people who I’m keeping an eye on, but I almost invariably read Chris’s email that comes out on Sunday. It’s ususally a perfect time to read it, you always know what he’s drinking and what he’s thinking, so I would strongly recommend checking that out.
Chris, it is always a pleasure to have you on the show, thank you so much for swinging by.
Chris: You make my day better Rich, thank you.
Chris Brogan knows how to coach businesses to be at the top of their game, and he’s written many books on various topics related to that. Sign up for what Rich Brooks says is one of the best newsletters out there and surely one not to miss.
Rich Brooks is the President of flyte new media, a web design & digital marketing agency in Portland, Maine. He knows a thing or two about helping businesses grow by reaching their ideal customers, and to prove that, he puts on a yearly conference to inspire small businesses to achieve big success. You can also head on over to Twitter to check him out, and he just added “author” to his resume with his new book!