"Create a Facebook or LinkedIn business page and throw up some ads," they say, "and your potential customers will come streaming in." Great, you think. Sounds easy enough. But, as a small to medium-sized company, shouldn't you be seeking more than just likes or "Atta boy" comments? And what if you have a niche topic to explore that won't appeal or be relevant to every one of your public page followers? Using social channels to drive brand exposure for companies is certainly an important goal, but crafting a careful strategy to augment more than just "being social" has a stronger impact on your brand reputation AND sales conversions.
One of the most effective ways to drive industry thought leadership and truly engage with your most important audiences is by creating a topic or industry-specific private group on Facebook or LinkedIn. Establishing this invite-only network of like-minded business professionals can provide a treasure trove of insight and, administered properly, will thoughtfully position your company as an industry leader. Cultivating relationships via these groups does take a significant amount of time, effort and a strong commitment to consistent engagement, but the effort can reap many rewards, including networking opportunities that may lead to sales.
Unsure about the smartest approach to establishing the most effective Facebook or LinkedIn group? Here are some planning considerations prior to creating the page(s).
- Before establishing the group, ask yourself three questions:
Which audiences do I want to reach via this group?
What topics do they most care about?
How does my company's expertise qualify us to moderate this group?
- How do I create content that encourages true engagement/ conversation rather than using the medium as a hardcore sales tool? If you're positioning the group as a place to gather like-minded professionals to engage in industry issue dialogue, don't use the forum to sell your products or services. LinkedIn, for instance, prohibits this approach as part of its Group guidelines.
- Do your research: What other similar topic groups already exist and how will the content of your group be different? LinkedIn, for example, offers a Groups directory so you can determine what's already out there. As of December 2017, there were more than 1.7 million groups, so the playing field is crowded. Creating a unique, targeted mission statement and group guidelines will allow those you invite to quickly assess the value the page will bring to them if they accept your invitation.
- How will you develop your membership? This is the most critical aspect of a successful group. In recent years, LinkedIn has modified the way it allows users to solicit group members, making it more difficult and costly to invite members who are not currently a personal LinkedIn connection. However, Group page admins and managers can pool their connections to create a core list of invitees. Once the group begins to grow, you can allow group members to invites others. Often, this step is the most time consuming, yet important part, of establishing a successful group.
- They've accepted your invitation, now what? Now the fun begins! While you are gathering members, assign a "main" group moderator who will be responsible for the overall effort. Have a group manager begin an editorial calendar of regular topics you want to cover. Set a timeline and post topics regularly. Look at trends and decide what topics you'd like to solicit feedback on. Ask members what they'd like to see in the group. Encourage engagement.
With the proper approach, establishing members-only groups on social media sites to augment the broader exposure you have to various audiences is an extremely viable and cost effective way to highlight various aspects of your expertise. Establishing these very focused channels for thought leadership can yield an expanded customer base and network of resources that can indirectly aid in growing your business and allow you to remain a front of mind market presence.
About the Author: Blair Ciecko is the director of branding & communications for Celtic Chicago, a full-service marketing agency passionate about launching products and brands with ideas that work and creative that delivers meaningful results.