It’s clear that comms people are waking up to the idea that Facebook groups have become increasingly important.
Research I’ve carried out for the past two years shows a strong trend that people in a geographic area have never warmed to public sector Facebook pages but have flocked instead to local groups and pages.
So, if that’s where people are, why not engage with them where people are?
Some debate recently focused on the trepidation on going out into the wilds of Facebook. I get that. The way to connect isn’t straight forward if you haven’t got an advertising budget.
I’ve carried out research over two years and I’m a Facebook admin of the successful Public Sector Comms Headspace group.
Here is your business case for connecting with Facebook groups
Facebook is the second largest platform in the UK with 41.8 million users which makes for 62 per cent of the UK’s 66.5 million 2018 population users.
How’s the public sector bridging that gap? Poorly, in a word. There are some cracking pages and content out there but overall, people are not flocking to Facebook pages.
Research I’ve carried out showed just three per cent of people like a public sector page while people like on average of FIFTEEN local groups and pages. It’s a trend that has been rising.
As newspapers close and newsrooms contract Facebook groups are filling the Parish pump role that many thought hyperlocal bloggers would do and in some areas do. But while acting as a volunteer journalist and blogger is time-consuming Facebook’s groups functionality offers a quick way to connect.
It’ll take about a day to map all the Facebook groups in your area. No, there isn’t a shortcut. Yet. But the bare numbers you will connect will present a strong case for you to engage.
The conclusion is clear: Facebook is a vitally important platform for people but groups rather than public sector pages are dominant. So, the public sector needs to find a way to connect with groups.
Not all Facebook groups will be happy to connect
It’s true that communities are using Facebook groups extensively. But not every group admin will be happy that you came by. The campaign angry at the council, the admin whose extension was turned down or the campaigner who thinks that immunisation injections aren’t needed may not give you time of day.
Others will. And the number of groups that are more receptive may lead you to a hard-to-engage audience based around a community or community of interest.
You can connect with groups as a page
Changes in late 2018 have started to allow Facebook group admins to change settings and allow groups to apply to be members. This isn’t universal and even if every admin had the ability to let pages in not all would.
The moral dilemma of connecting this way isn’t that complicated. The official page talking to people in the area is just the same as a council representative going to a residents’ meeting at 7pm on a Tuesday. It’s their meeting. But if there were 3,000 residents all gathered together, wouldn’t you want to find a way to talk with them?
You can create a group as a page
A group can be made by a page, too. Yes, I know, its confusing. But the corporate page can create a group, too. Useful to speak to a sub-set of your followers on a specific topic of interest.
You can connect with groups as an individual
There’s two ways you can use your own profile to connect with a group. Firstly, by joining the group direct and responding as yourself. Secondly, by asking the Facebook group admin to share content. Either way, I’d always make yourself known to the admin. The response you get from them is a good bell-weather for how receptive the wider group is likely to be.
If you are using your own profile to talk directly with people you need to be clear who you are and where you are from. A profile that talks about how amazing this council policy is but doesn’t say who you work for is disingenuous.
The Civil Service code talks about the need for ‘integrity, honesty, objectivity and impartiality.’ That feels like a good starting point although your own organisation’s constitution is likely to articulate something similar.
15 questions answered to help you connect with Facebook groups
Where do I start with Facebook groups? Map your landscape to articulate your business case for connecting with Facebook groups.
Why should you connect with Facebook groups? Know that the landscape of Facebook is ever changing and the research will become dated the moment it is finished.
How can I search for community Facebook groups in my area? Build in a process for searching Facebook for groups and pages that may be relevant for each campaign or issue. It’s quicker than being up to speed with1,200 Facebook groups.
How should I tackle who I work for? Don’t conceal who you work for. Be open about it.
What happens when I’ve identified a Facebook group I want to connect with? When you identify a group that you can only join using your a personal profile drop the admin a private message to introduce yourself. You’ll need to do this using your own profile.
How can I persuade a reluctant colleague? You shouldn’t have a three line whip to make people use their own Facebook profile to connect with groups. Make it optional.
How can I use my Facebook profile and restrict what people can see if I’m joining or messaging admins? If you are using your own profile to contribute to Facebook groups check your privacy settings to make sure you are happy with what people see of you.
How can I behave with a community group? Remember that you’ll get most out of connecting with groups by listening, talking and replying rather than broadcasting. Be human and be professional.
In a community group, what happens if people shout? Some news items will be controversial. See what the advice is for public-facing customer services staff. If you get abuse, ask the admin to step in. If they don’t step in its perfectly fine to leave the group or if it is really serious needs be for you to take it further.
How can I stay FOI compliant? Remember that data gathered from Facebook groups and how you use it is FOI-able.
How can I stay GDPR-compliant? Remember that data gathered from Facebook groups is covered by GDPR. How you store the data needs to be searchable.
How can I encourage Facebook members to engage? If you are looking to engage and connect for a consultation be clear on how people can make their voices heard. Include debate on Facebook itself as part of the consultation.
What if I create a group and people shout? If you create a group yourself, create some group rules that set the standard you’d like people to behave at. The starting point for this should be the rules you have for members of the public when they email, ring or call-in in person to talk to staff.
When do I engage with Facebook groups? If you keep a weather eye on community groups you’re not obliged to comment on everything but ask yourself the simple question: ‘Can I add value by commenting or signposting?’ The reception you get from the group admin will tell you a lot as to whether or not you’ll be given a hearing.
When should I have an argument in a group? Never argue with an idiot. To a passer-by its two idiots arguing. But if you need to draw a line in the sand by being human and factual.
How to use Facebook groups is one component of the Essential Skills for Effective Communicators in 2019. For upcoming dates in Manchester, Birmingham and London or to enquire about in-house training click here.