Facebook group marketing: Why it isn’t magic (and how to realistically build a community there)
It seems like every single day you see someone say “Start a Facebook group!” A million people do, and all but a few fail miserably. Today I’m going to present you with the two most important questions you’ll ever face so you know if and when you should focus on community building through Facebook groups.
Bur first: you’ve seen Jurassic Park, right? The 1993 blockbuster hit?
Take a second to think back to all those scientists and the old dude with the white hair. They were so excited about sucking DNA from amber fossils and growing dinosaurs, not just because they could, but because they were going to make some serious coin as well!
I mean, what could go wrong?
Obviously, none of them seriously asked themselves this question, when creating the world’s first petting zoo of giant killing machines.
It was Ian Malcolm (played by Jeff Goldblum) who delivered one of the most famous — and buzzkilling — lines of the movie …
And as we know, Goldblum was on the money: T. rexes and velociraptors were soon scampering around freely, sampling the human buffet at their disposal.
Resurrecting dinosaurs really did seem like a great way to make money … until it wasn’t.
It’s the same with free Facebook groups, and today, I’m your Jeff Goldblum. I’m here to make you think twice before you unleash yet another free Facebook group into the world.
Depending on who you ask though, Facebook groups are either THE secret to growing your online business or a huge time suck that hijacks your calendar.
With an entire ecosystem out there that encourages you to build a free Facebook group, I’m not entirely surprised that so many entrepreneurs build them for their businesses without really questioning it. For example, in addition to teaching online marketing and mindset, Amanda Goldman-Petri teaches entrepreneurs to use Facebook groups …
… to quickly attract your ideal prospects and build your very own tight-knit community and engaged list of followers who “get you,” love you, and eagerly buy whatever you’re selling.
Some businesses revolve entirely around the idea that you need a free Facebook group for your business to grow. Caitlin Bacher helps “entrepreneurs start and grow profitable Facebook groups” and argues in a post that …
… most people believe they need to focus on building their email list BEFORE they start a Facebook group, which [according to her] is completely backwards.
Arne Giske, the creator of the free 30,000+—member Facebook group “Millennial Entrepreneur Community,” writes in the pinned post:
If you want more clients, a hugely engaged audience, and more sales quickly — building a FB group is one of the easiest ways to do that.
This “if you build it (a free Facebook group), they will come” approach sounds pretty awesome: massively grow your list, be drowning in new clients, skyrocket your sales, and make it rain dolla’bills … all by “simply” creating a free Facebook group. Sounds easy enough.
But is it really so simple to create, maintain, and engage a free community and use it to launch your business?
In my opinion (as a strategic community manager and the in-house community strategist here at IWT): no.
Hell no, actually.
And today I’m going to help you dodge the free community bullet by highlighting the two major reasons Facebook groups actually distract you from taking action on what really matters for your business.
I’ll also highlight five successful entrepreneurs who pulled the plug on their free Facebook groups and why.
- Jill Stanton: The free Facebook group overrun with marketers
- Nick Wolny: The free Facebook group distracting from deep work
- Leonie Dawson: The “Good Idea” free Facebook group
- Melyssa Griffin: The free Facebook group blocking deeper connection
- Sew Heidi: The free Facebook group lacking ROI
By the time you finish reading this article, you’ll know when to create a Facebook group for your business.
That’s right. There is a “yes” button for starting a Facebook group for your business. I’ll share two questions that you can ask yourself to know when a community IS actually worth your time and you can mash that “yes” button into tomorrow.
Let’s do this!
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Reason #1: Facebook is a noisy middleman
Facebook is not your business; it’s Mark Zuckerberg’s. Your website and your email list are the cornerstones of your business and anyone who tells you otherwise likely has some sort of financial agenda for telling you so (aka … they have a program or service to help you build that free Facebook group that you must have).
Seriously though, why would you want to pour your digital foundation around something that you don’t control?
When your entire business circles around a free Facebook group (list growth, client acquisition, etc.), you’re at the mercy of someone else’s rules. If Facebook changes ANYTHING, you essentially have to nod your head and go along with it or completely restructure your business.
What to do? Focus on growing your email list with other techniques (IWT recommends guest posting as a long-game strategy to stack traffic over time). Not to mention, when you send an email to your list no one steps in and says, “Hey dude…right now we’ll only show this email to 100 of your 1,000 email subscribers, but if you slip us some green we’ll make sure everyone sees it.”
Now, there are some limitations to email, like inbox tabs in Gmail for example, but Google isn’t asking you to slip them some green to get those messages sent straight to the primary inbox. So you might assume that a Facebook group creates a direct line of communication to your dream clients. Not so fast.
There’s another reason Facebook is a noisy middleman: what happens when your members join dozens of different groups? (Go ahead, look at all the groups that you’re a part of and have probably forgotten about.)
Not only does every Facebook user’s attention get pulled in all directions, they’ll usually do something to turn down the noise … which includes turning down YOU.
One option at their disposal is manually changing their notification settings to not get updates from you or your group.
Yes … they CAN choose to stop getting notifications from your group. Think about that for a moment: you did the hard work of gaining that group member, only to have Facebook offer a feature that prevents them from hearing your message.
You might be expecting a thriving community of buyers from your efforts (we’re talking time and energy), when you actually end up with something that feels more like a prepubescent teen’s birthday party where only your aunt shows up. And the worst part is, you have no idea if your posts are being hidden.
With so many free groups available now (millions), members aren’t engaging as much as they used to. Which leads to my second reason for saying “PASS” on a free Facebook group.
Reason #2: Group fatigue
Are groups getting tired? No, but their members are.
Facebook introduced new groups back in October 2010, and Annie Ta Bennett announced on April 25, 2011, via an official Facebook post, “In the six months since our launch [of the new groups], people have created over 50 million Groups on Facebook.”
That was back in 2011 and in a six month window! With millions of groups to choose from, and so many members in each group … people have started to tune out.
For example, I’m a member of more than 40 Facebook groups and I’ve started to disengage (even from groups that I enjoy and value). There’s just too much noise, too much selling, and it’s not the best use of my time (personally or professionally).
Others go one step further to eliminate the distractions though. They’ll either purge their group lists (meaning your free group ends up on the chopping block), or they simply quit Facebook. Bye-bye.
So what should you be doing instead?
Focus on building your email list using techniques that don’t demand your attention daily (and indefinitely I might add), and save your “community” efforts for people who pay you for something. That way, when someone becomes a member of your group they’ll have skin in the game. They’ll have thrown their credit card at you, and you’ll be helping them solve a specific problem or providing support for something that is important enough for them to pay for.
Now. We’ve covered the two major reasons Facebook groups aren’t the best use of your time when you’re starting out, but let’s look at some real-life examples of successful entrepreneurs who decided to pull the plug on their free Facebook groups and why.
Jill Stanton: The free Facebook group overrun with marketers
Jill Stanton and her husband Josh run Screw the Nine to Five, where they help people start their own online businesses and leave their nine-to-five jobs behind. (All with a lot of inappropriate jokes and colorful language … aww yeah!)
On June 5, 2017, Jill announced on a FB live video that she’d be archiving her original “Screw the Nine to Five” Facebook group, despite the 44,000+ members she had amassed. Jill shared the reasoning behind the decision and what she said — casually — at the very beginning of the FB live is something that people often overlook:
What’s the right move? Should I shut down this group? Is there a purpose for it in our business? While I’m a community builder, I’m also a business owner. So everything you do, you need to make sure it makes sense for your business.
Let me say that again: “EVERYTHING you do needs to make sense for your business.” And for Jill, that 40k+ beast needed the boot. She went on to describe the community as …
… an echo chamber of noise, half the time. There’s people coming in doing veiled pitches, tons of market research, tons of ranting, and it’s just lost the magic that I initially set up this group to have. I’m taking back control and shutting this group down.
I reached out to Jill and asked how it got that way, and Jill shared:
It started attracting people who were looking to gain clients through FB groups and so it felt like people were coming in with a motive and sharing stories that felt more like veiled pitches than meaningful shares … Once I realized that, it was a no-brainer to shut it down.
What is she doing now?
She’s set up a NEW free group on Facebook, “The NEW Screw the Nine to Five Community,” with one big difference. She implemented extremely strict guidelines that leave no room for interpretation for online marketers looking to self-promote.
Now you might be thinking, “BUT DIANA!! Jill still has a free Facebook group! Shouldn’t I, too?”
You’re right. She does. But stop for a moment and ask yourself WHY you want a free community. You probably want the things we mentioned at the beginning of this article: to grow your email list, get more clients, make more sales, and connect with your audience.
For someone just starting out, an online community isn’t the most efficient way to accomplish this. Communities force you to commit daily time and energy to maintaining and engaging them, which leaves other business building activities untouched (which Nick Wolny and Sew Heidi demonstrate later on in this article).
Other options include writing an ultimate guide, guest posting, doing podcast interviews or being featured in magazine and TV media, like business & publicity strategist Selena Soo recommends, and the biggest advantage of these approaches is that you can stack them.
That’s right. You do a guest post and the link in your bio stays there, sending sustained traffic to your site without you lifting a finger after it’s published. As you do more over time, the links drive more and more sustainable traffic to your site.
Or maybe you write an ultimate guide (the best piece of content on the internet for your niche) and you establish yourself as the go-to expert as people share your work and start getting results. Using these approaches allows you to grow your business on a solid foundation that you own, without the constant pressure of having to engage and police a community of freeloaders that might never actually buy from you.
This is exactly what Nick Wolny did after closing his free Facebook group.
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Nick Wolny: The free Facebook group distracting from deep work
Nick Wolny is an ultimate guide ghostwriter and content marketing strategist in the health and fitness sector. He helps business owners attract more clients and make more revenue over at nickwolny.com. He had a smaller group, “Texas-Sized Dreams and Dreamers,” which he put out to pasture.
He had his group for six months, and it grew to about 150 members and then stalled. I asked him why he set it up in the first place, and he explained:
I set it up initially to create a conversational element to my content. I also wanted to create a space where prospective clients could get to know, like, and trust me by seeing me interact with others.
Nick soon had a lightbulb moment and arrived at the same decision as our other examples: to close his group.
Paid groups work because everyone is connected by the course (and everyone is a buyer). Once I realized that, trashing the group was easy.
What’s even more interesting is how Nick is now using his time instead of engaging his free Facebook group:
[I’m] writing tens of thousands of words, balancing a full client book, and loving it. I did notice that in the first six months of 2017 I did almost no “deep work” — I just tried to engage my list and my group each week.
Now, I do almost entirely deep work. I recently went eight weeks without emailing my list. When I did email them, it was to drop awesome content. I doubled my client book off that email. Obviously, the ideal is to email regularly and build relationships with your community. Reprioritizing remarkable content over timely engagement has proven to be very lucrative.
Nick started his community because he wanted a conversational element to his content, but for Leonie Dawson, a free group wasn’t even her idea.
Leonie Dawson: The “Good Idea” free Facebook group
Leonie Dawson is the international bestselling author, artist, and founder of leoniedawson.com, where she applies her hippy ways to all things online business.
Fun fact: I bought her workbooks for 2017 and 2018 and I love them. It makes planning my days/weeks/months and year far too fun and doodly. (Apparently I have an inner hippy.)
So when I saw that she had a free Facebook group for people using the workbooks, I dove right in.
Then … Leonie went on a social media sabbatical and archived the group. D’oh.
Leonie is still running her paid Facebook group for her membership program, “The Academy,” and another group for her newest venture, but the time and energy that this behemoth of a free group was demanding wasn’t worth it anymore, so she pulled the plug.
In an email she sent to her list, she explained:
…at this stage, I will NOT be reopening the workbook Facebook group. It’s been a relatively new side-bonus, one that was invented by one of my past employees that wasn’t in alignment with my original vision. I understand it was a happy place for many people for a time, and I am grateful for that. I take my role as space-holder and energy-upholder for community spaces very seriously, and I will not hold a space half-heartedly.
She never intended to create this free community, and only did so because a past employee had suggested/invented the idea.
Remember: half of the fun of running a business is building a life and company you want. If running a Facebook group becomes a chore, explore why and consider killing it so you can focus on other areas of your business, like promoting deeper connections like Melyssa Griffin opted to do.
Melyssa Griffin: The free Facebook group blocking deeper connection
Melyssa Griffin helps online entrepreneurs who are “createabitionate” (creative, ambitious, and passionate) grow their online businesses to make more of an impact over at melyssagriffin.com.
She created a free Facebook group, “Online BFFs,” back in 2015. Yet again we are faced with a free Facebook group that was massive — 70,000 members massive.
So why did Melyssa pull the plug? She lays it all out for us in a blog post, “Why I’m closing my free Facebook group (even though it has 70,000 members).”
I haven’t been as present in my group as I was able to be when it was first created. As we move into a new chapter (and as I pursue a model of community that creates deeper connections), we are looking to form events, masterminds, and workshops in the near future — ways for us to bring a sense of true community to all of you, with lasting relationships.
She goes on to say:
As much as I’d love to help everyone (trust me on that!), I know my time is best spent focusing on the students who have invested their own energy in my courses and membership program.
So essentially, she’s providing community for her paying clients via the private Facebook groups for her “List Surge” and “Pinfinite Growth” programs. Groups for people serious enough to throw money at her to help solve their problems.
Do you see a pattern?
Entrepreneurs are trading in their free Facebook groups for activities that better support their businesses AND not to mention make them feel good while they are at it. Sew Heidi wasn’t feeling her free community and she is now dedicating her time to projects that bring her joy and ROI.
Sew Heidi: The free Facebook group lacking ROI
Sew Heidi is the founder of Successful Fashion Designer, and she helps ambitious fashion designers get ahead in their careers and earn more money.
She set up a group (that grew to 750 members) because …
… [I wanted to build] a more intimate relationship with my audience and gain exposure to people who may never find me otherwise. […] When people do discover my resources, they often tell me “I wish I found you years ago!” so I know it’s my responsibility to help them find me. I thought my free FB group would do that.
Sound familiar? I bet it does.
But it wasn’t as easy as people said it would be, and it wasn’t a lot of fun either. Heidi paints the reality of managing her community:
At first, people loved it and responded. But after a few weeks, those [engagement] posts would get just a few likes, no comments, and if you scrolled through the feed, it felt like all you saw was my pathetic attempt at forcing engagement. I started hating that, so I quit and let the group just run itself. That’s when there started to be weeks of crickets, random home sewing posts, and insanely vague and impossible-to-answer questions.
The community not only wasn’t adding to her business, it was making her feel bad. But once she pulled the plug, Heidi was able to focus her time and energy on other parts of her business that actually create a much better experience for her as a business owner and ROI for her business.
Heidi is now running a podcast that she adores. She shared that she is getting “feedback through the roof and my listeners absolutely love it — sometimes the reviews bring tears to my eyes.”
And like Nick, she said:
I’m also focusing on writing epic pieces of content to provide huge value bombs on topics no one else talks about, like the 20K+ word “Ultimate Guide to Being a Freelance Fashion Designer.”
So what does this mean for you?
I hope that by now you’ve mentally hit pause on creating a free Facebook group (right? RIGHT?), and are thinking about other ways to better invest your limited time and energy in your business.
But hold on a second. I did promise you a “yes” button for a Facebook group, didn’t I.
So, when IS it worth your time to start a Facebook group?
The two questions you must ask yourself to know if you should build a community
I cover this in more detail in chapter 2 of my ultimate guide, “The Ultimate Guide to Building a Profitable Online Community From Scratch,” but here are the 2 questions:
- Do you have over 1,000 email subscribers?
- Do you have a course that has more than four modules or is more than four weeks long?
If you’d like to know why those two questions are important, take a lookie-loo at chapter 2 of my ultimate guide here.
Now, if you answered no to either of those questions, stop right there and focus your time and energy to turn those two “no’s” into two “damn right I do’s.”
Then you can get to work creating an online community that:
- Supports your paying students in nailing their goals
- Collects testimonials without even asking
- Helps you get raving fans for life
So there you have it. There’ll be no community dinosaurs running around your online business island, distracting you from taking action on more important work.
Now I’d like to hear from you. If you were thinking about creating a free Facebook group and aren’t anymore, what are you going to do instead?
On the flip side, maybe you disagree? I’d love to hear from you as well. Healthy discussion is always welcome!
Share your thoughts in the comments and I’ll also be answering any questions you have about building a community in the first 24 hours so be sure to ask. I’d love to help.