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My Love Hate Relationship with Facebook Groups

The first few months of my blogging days I spent my entire time churning out some super useful content for my readers. Of course, back then I didn't have many readers. Let me give you some background. I write for a restaurant technology company, which has a blog named The Restaurant Times designed to provide relevant and super actionable insights for the restaurant owners.

The blog was started as an experiment, a kind of pro bono, educating people on how to run their business better. So I put myself to doing some good to the restaurant industry by digging up lesser-known tips and tricks of the trade and laying them out in the form of blog posts. After a few months of writing and only writing, (mind you, no efforts on the SEO or content distribution) I started getting decent traffic, from God knows where! That was when I realised there was actual potential in my content. Comments here and there on the articles told me that people were reading my content, and actually liking it!

With my new found confidence and dreams and hopes alight, I started figuring out how to reach out to my potential audience. Although my content is strictly B2B, I thought to explore social media as well. Facebook, of course, the biggest of the social media giants, caught my attention, and so I decided to delve into it deeper.

Why I Chose Facebook Groups to Reach Out to My Readers

I started with a page, but thanks to Mr Zuckerburg and his quest to make companies spend for their own content reaching their own audience, the organic reach of my posts remained abysmal. I am strictly against paid promotions (not adding another penny to your bank balance, Mark!). I believe that if my content is good enough, people will read and share it themselves. I shouldn’t have to pay for my content to reach my readers!

So, I reverse engineered my social media strategy and devised an outreach plan that could answer these questions:

1) Who is my target audience?

2) What does my target audience want to read?

3) Where is my target audience?

I already knew the answer to the first two questions. The answer to the third one, was quite obviously, Facebook Groups.

Now, you may question, why was I looking to promote my B2B content on social media, which is a B2C site? Wouldn’t Linkedin have been better? To answer that, yes. Resourceful blog articles do very well on Linkedin. However, Linkedin consists primarily of a global audience, and here I was targeting the local restaurant owners.

Also, a restaurant owner, typically, does not have a specific profile. You don’t need a degree to be a restaurant owner. Considering that there are no barriers to entry in the restaurant business, anyone can be a restaurant owner. From a successful businessman who looks at restaurants as a yet another investment, to a fresh-faced college kid with a knack for baking wanting to open his own bakery.

This made targeting my reader base a bit challenging. How could I build a customer persona of someone who does not have any specific traits? The only thing that was common to the varied customers was their interest in the restaurant business, and this is where Facebook Groups came into the picture.

The Goldmine that is Facebook Groups and its Mining Challenges

Relevant people, check. Relevant interactions, check. I created a group on Facebook with the hope that it will be a community where restaurant owners would be able to ask questions and share their thoughts and knowledge from their own experiences. I was careful to choose the people who would be added to this group, no one outside the restaurant and hospitality industry was welcome. So I started adding the relevant people in my network, asking others to add their restaurateur friends. It was a slow process as I was dealing with a very niche industry. With much of careful browsing and filtering, the group reached to a rich community of around 100 members over a few months.

Now came the bigger problem: starting interactions. A Facebook Group is only as good as its members and their conversations. Although there were some highly experienced people in the group, they didn’t interact much on the group. As an admin, I could only initiate conversations, conduct polls so much. Ultimately, the group became dormant, with a few PR links being posted by people promoting their own restaurant every now then. I don’t even have the heart to delete those posts now.

Slightly disheartened, yet undeterred, I sought already existing groups on Facebook. It seemed the perfect resort: the groups were already there, so were the right people, and this time, I didn't even have to struggle to initiate conversations! I could simply join and be a part of ongoing discussions, and give my two cents there!

However, the challenges of being a B2B blogger reared its ugly head. There are few groups on Facebook specifically catering to the restaurant business and even fewer that are active. Most of the active groups are consumer based; food groups that talk about restaurant reviews, share recipes and talk about their general love for food. The groups that are active, their admins safeguard the group from spammy links like their first born. I cannot tell you the number of groups I have been banned from simply because I posted a link too many. It just didn’t matter how good they were!

At the time, I could not understand why my posts were not approved, or why I was ultimately banned. After all, I was providing relevant articles that I genuinely thought would be useful for all the restaurateurs out there. Alas, the admins of the groups didn’t think so. For them, I was just another content marketer trying to increase the traffic on their own website.

Even for the posts that did get approved, there was an inconsistency in the traffic that did come from the Groups. Posts that caught the attention of the members in the first few minutes of being posted would gain better visibility. Earlier I used to get a notification that someone I know posted on this group, which made me click that notification. Now the only way I can see an activity in a group is when I go there, or if a particular post on a group receives many hits.

Every time I visit a group and see a great post that got lost in the host of the other posts that were posted at the right time or just had engagement, a little part of me dies inside. Of course, promotional links of no value make me barf too, but then in the sea of content, even Facebook with its evil algorithms can’t decipher what is actually good and what is not. It only gives preference to what people are liking, and that is usually memes and silly videos. Alas, a 5 minute read about the Restaurant Profit Margins stands nowhere against a video of a cat getting its belly rubbed.

Now I restrict myself to posting only the top content of my blog, and that too I ensure that it’s not spammy. I make it a point to include a straightforward brief of the article in the post copy, outlining the value it would provide to the reader.

I use Facebook Groups now more as a platform to do my primary research, reach out and talk to my readers. I can say that I have made some friends in these groups who understand my intent and also comment with their own insights, and occasionally even hit the coveted Share button. At times, certain posts go viral as well, with the members tagging their friends and having lively discussions on the post thread.

In the end, Facebook Groups for me remains a bratty spoiled golden child that although has so much potential, and the solution to all my problems, could never really help me in the ways I had imagined. I still hope to build a mutually supportive community on Facebook that could genuinely provide value to its members, and not just be a group for marketers (not unlike me :P ) to post spammy links. Perhaps I’ll revive my own Facebook Group someday. Perhaps people will start engaging in discussions there on their own. Until that day comes, I resort to sharing my plight on fabulous mediums such as the Missinglettr blog.

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