This post originally appeared on the American Express OPEN Forum, where Mashable regularly contributes articles about leveraging social media and technology in small business.
When Facebook overhauled its Groups this month, users responded with a healthy dose of skepticism and a little bit of confusion. Would these new Groups be powerful new social tools, or just another social media distraction to keep track of? Business owners can wonder the same.
First off, you need to know that unlike Pages, Facebook’s new Groups are not made strictly for brand promotion. But that doesn’t mean you can’t get some value out of them, either by using them to reach out to would-be clients or customers or to facilitate communication and community inside your company.
Here’s what you need to know about how Groups can be used by your business.
1. Groups Are Made By Users, Not Your Business
Way back in the day, businesses would set up Facebook Groups that their customers or clients could join for updates, promotions and other helpful information. Those days are over.
Facebook has moved that function to Pages, which are specifically made for promoting brands, businesses or publications. The new Groups are not intended for that by any stretch of the imagination.
You can’t create a group to promote your brand because Groups are meant to form organically out of Facebook’s network of users. Users add each other to Groups to create communities based on interests, careers or other commonalities, and they also do so to reflect real-world social groups — for example, a clique of close friends, or a family.
Since you have to be friends with someone to add them to a Group, forming a Group around your business isn’t practical, and it probably wouldn’t be welcome anyway. The bottom line: Don’t try to create a Group around your brand or business.
2. You Can Market In Groups, But Take It Easy
You can request to join an existing Group, and if you’re admitted, you’ll be able to post items to the group’s news feed. It’s here that you can promote your services, but we’d advise against the direct approach. If users wanted to receive promotions directly, they’d “Like” your Facebook Page. Not everyone in the Group is likely to have done so.
There are alternatives. You can more subtly promote by hosting events (concerts, tastings, or what have you) that would be of interest to the members of the Group, then post notifications about the event in the feed. Don’t overdo it or word it like a sales pitch and you should be fine.
Better yet, engage in Group discussions and add something to the community besides a pitch. If you can find a Group of ideal clients or customers and demonstrate that you’re a considerate and reliable source of info and insight, that can go a long way towards building your brand in their eyes.
3. Groups Are Ideal for Internal Communications
Not bold enough to step out into the wilds of Facebook Groups formed by others? That’s okay, because arguably the biggest opportunity for businesses in Groups is facilitation of communication and community inside the company.
Enterprise-focused social networks like Yammer have been a niche product for a while now, and Groups are (among other things) Facebook’s answer to those services. You can add your company’s employees and partners to a Group and set it to private to use it as a free alternative to something like Yammer.
Employees can share updates on what they’re working on or pass links and other items around that might prove helpful to the organization as a whole. You can also use it to make company announcements.
4. You Should Get Focused with Groups
Because the new Groups feature was designed for intimate settings, the setup is ripe for targeting and interacting with very niche audiences. Check out this post by Mashable’s Jennifer Van Grove in which she discusses how the new Groups feature could be used for consumer review groups, event groups and live chats, using the group chat and document uploading features within the platform.
Do you have any other ideas for utilizing Facebook Groups in small or medium businesses? Be sure to share them in the comments.
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