The Art of Facebook Groups for Artists and others

THE ART OF FACEBOOK GROUPS FOR ARTISTS AND OTHERS


the Art of Facebook groups for artists and others too

Everything you need to know, oh and more!!!

This week is a little bit special. Not for any particular reason other than that the article I have been writing for the past seven weeks was finally completed. Many late nights were spent in the creation of this post, and many, many, cups of coffee were consumed. 

Facebook Groups

Facebook Groups are truly awesome. They’re communities of like-minded people who can interact with each other, share posts, and engage with new audiences and markets, yet groups are so underused and dare I say it, occasionally even misused. 

I was asked a while ago if there was some secret setting that would make a group expand rapidly, and well if there is, I’ve never found it. It all comes down to some very hard work and having a plan. Some groups appear to be big, The Artists Exchange has over 5,500 members, but there are much larger groups which can attract those numbers and more overnight. 

Many of you will already know that I founded three Facebook groups a little over a year ago, and had I have known then what I know now, I would have probably still set them up but with very different expectations in terms of just how much time they can take up. Groups with more than a few hundred members quickly grow hungry for your time. 

In fact I had planned to set up twelve groups initially and then make The Artists Exchange into a regional group, like-minded people getting together in real communities but then I remembered that the USA is made up of states, and Britain is made up of counties, so just tackling those two head on would need many, many, groups and so much time.

The first rule of founding a Facebook group is to never underestimate just how much time you need to set aside every day of every week to keep on top of things like checking posts, checking comments, responding to membership requests, checking out profiles of new members, and making sure that everyone plays nicely together.

THE BUSINESS PAGE

If it’s so much work why on earth would anyone set up a group at all? I can’t really answer that because different people have very different reasons for setting up groups.

For me it was purely because I spent a few years studying how social-media algorithms worked. The reason I did that was because Facebook made some dramatic changes to their algorithm a few years ago and the exposure of anything I posted was declining rapidly. 

Some of my previous posts had been liked and viewed more than a thousand times, suddenly I was lucky to be hitting 50 views, if I had 60 it was as if the post had gone viral.

All of this seemed a little strange at the time so I started to review absolutely everything I could get my hands on about functionality and upgrades to the various platforms. Were my posts still relevant, was the content good, was it a page I would visit often, and a multitude of other things that I thought were the cause. What I hadn’t immediately realised was that everybody else was also seeing the same issues and in some case to a greater extent than I was.

I diligently went through everything on the internet I could find about social-media posts and engagement and stumbled upon some official Facebook developer pages which were chock full of recent updates but I’m sure there aren’t too many of us who read them. 

I carried out some research, and even spoke to a number of developer friends who are close to the social-media developer eco-system, and the one thing that I kept being pointed towards was that it was all down to the algorithms which were made up from hundreds of secret herbs and spices, not just eleven. 

Over the next year or so I followed every change and update, and sometimes changes were made within days of each other. What I discovered was that there were a lot of moving parts on Facebook but the key holding them all together seemed to be the algorithm, and occasionally changes seemed to be made whenever the service had come under fire in the media. What also became evident was that Facebook are pretty good at responding to issues despite any perceived faults people are convinced they have.

There was and still is no way that Facebook would or will share details of exactly what the algorithm looks for in a post, but what we now know is that the number of likes and other emotions a post receives, the number of shares it gets, and the number of comments, really do make a difference between a post going viral and a post being invisible, and yes it is also looking at context and the actual text. 

I never really viewed the algorithm changes as the enemy, I could see exactly why Facebook needed to put something in place to limit what you are exposed to as a user. With a few hundred followers and friends, seeing everything that everyone posted on any given day would mean that you would be doing nothing else at all for that day other than reading and scrolling through posts. The algorithm is the guardian, the filter, in fact the algorithm is a Facebook God which decides what and when you see something.

There was of course an easy option to make sure your post reached people and went in front of new people too, but that involved learning everything about paying to boost posts, advertise, and essentially pay for any promotion. 

I had some experience with advertising on Facebook when I first set up the BeechHouse Media business page, and frankly it was kind of disappointing. What I learned from paying to reach out to people was that:

  1. You really need to understand your target audience
  2. I had no real clue who my target audience really was or where they were located – although I knew who I sold my work too generally outside of the web
  3. You set an initial budget but the budget increased because it felt like pouring money into a slot machine. You always thought that an extra $50 would equate to way more sales. You have to strictly control any budget.
  4. No one on Facebook really had a clue what my art and design company actually did because I had not used social-media within the business previously
  5. I also learned a lot about keeping the business page related to business but when posting, the posts also had to be human
  6. Video was becoming a better option
  7. I learned a valuable lesson between paying for reach and organic reach.

Let’s take the last point for example, I had paid for advertising to increase followers rather than promoting my art. Over five or six days I did get followers, but probably not the followers I really needed as a business. They were different to the corporate market for art and graphic design which I had historically dealt with. In short, when selecting the target audience I had picked the wrong boxes.

What I learned most was that actually I hadn’t planned sufficiently well. I also learned that I knew a lot less than I thought I did about advertising on social-media. Boy has that changed in the years since! I have probably earned some honorary Doctorate by now in both algorithms and adverts. Sad I know, but I’m not in the habit of letting a bunch of code stop us visual artists from being seen.

Setting up a group though wasn’t something I did as part of my business. I truly believe in local and independent artists and I know first-hand just how difficult it can be to get work out in front of the viewing public. What I wanted to do was to create a handful of groups which ultimately fed into a unique Facebook resource where artists would be supportive of each other. I’ll come on to the overall community a little later.

This would be a resource where artists would be able to come together and work together. That in itself is the core principle of social-media, it’s all about engaging with others and those users in turn engaging with you. 

Social-media is a collaboration. Without sharing posts it wouldn’t be anywhere near as effective as a platform. Imagine if you posted a post and only had a handful of friends who saw them, your reach would be pretty dire to say the least. But if you have a handful of friends and your friends have a handful of friends, then you can start to see how posts spread more widely. If just half of those friends and half of their friends shared your post it can quickly go into the realms of becoming viral. That’s how social-media works.

Group posts work a little differently to your personal posts, essentially the algorithm seems different or at least it seems to act differently. So long as you have notifications for all posts within a group you have joined set to ‘on’ in your Facebook settings, then you will see everything from everyone in that group.

If the group then engages, suddenly your post will be seen by many more people than it would have done had you have just posted it on your personal profile. It makes whatever you post more relevant and particularly when the group is large.

So having a Facebook business page is relevant, but actually running a group on Facebook is what we are talking about today, what you will discover is that running both a business page and a Facebook group can thanks to recent changes, go hand in hand and benefit your business.


setting up Facebook groups

THE GROUP

If you have a business page already then creating a group is the next logical step forward. It’s so easy to set up that you can literally do it within five minutes. But that’s only the start. 

Before you set a group up there are a number of considerations and there is a bunch of preparation that needs to be done. 

First off you’ll want to create with a specific purpose and you really do have to be very clear on what the purpose is. If there is no purpose, the group just becomes a constant stream of social-media posts from personal profiles and engagement within the group will drop over time. Ultimately without a purpose the group becomes an extension to everyone’s personal timelines. 

You also need a cover photo and banner and this needs to be considered carefully. Across my three groups you will notice a consistency within the branding. The Artists Directory and the Artists Exchange both share the same background image which essentially links the two groups together but with different titles. 

The Artist Hangout being a less formal community is structured a little differently but even though the background image is slightly different, there’s still little doubt that it is closely associated with the two other groups using the same font. 

You also need to set some clear guidelines as to what is and is not acceptable to post within a group. I know group admins who tear out chunks of hair when they start to see the group posting images and updates which don’t fit with the group’s core mission, and sometimes not even remotely within the theme of the group at all.

A good example of this is when you set up an artist group for let’s say abstract art. For a little while you will have people joining the group and posting images and updates around abstract art. When you start getting more members though, some of those new members are what I call group hoarders. 

They are usually a member of hundreds of groups, they never really engage in any of them, and when they do they just post updates relevant to them as individuals and not necessarily relevant to the group. They certainly never read the group rules to find out what the specific purpose of the group is. When you put so much time in as an admin, deleting irrelevant or reported posts takes up a huge chunk of time. 

As the groups grow larger in numbers, hoarders appear more frequently. Essentially what they are seeking is not a community in which to engage with, but a large community where they know that their posts will stand a better chance of being seen. It’s not a throw them in jail offence, but it does go against social-media etiquette. 

It matters not what the subject of the group is at all for these posters. I have seen this frequently in the Artists Exchange and the Artist Directory. Both of those groups have a very specific core mission which is to help artists gain exposure, but then someone comes along and posts a for sale status update and they are selling sunglasses.

Facebook actually seems to be getting smarter and I’m hoping it becomes even smarter over time. What the platform now does is to auto-report posts to the group admins who will then need to decide on whether or not a post is relevant to the group, but sometimes the auto-report goes a step further and it is the Facebook review team who decide that a post should be deleted. 

Over the past twelve months I have received reports of more than seventy posts which have been caught and removed by Facebook before they get into the group and I receive around ten or so auto-reported posts each week where I and my wonderful admins have to decide whether or not the post should be posted within the group.

Let’s look at an example from my Artists Directory group. The only posts which should be included in the group are posts directly leading to the artists Facebook business page, or the landing page of the artist’s portfolio site. The reason for this is that eventually the group will have enough members to create a relevant directory of local and independent artists who will then appear on this site in an official artists directory and of course on Facebook.

The group is a little more than two months old and already has more than one thousand members. Not every member will post, some of those members are actually art collectors and art lovers who wish to see new artists who they then might want to follow and purchase work from. Imagine if you will, a store where the stock is a range of artists but not necessarily their art. If an art lover is interested in the artist, then they will visit the artists Facebook business page or portfolio and see the entirety of the artists portfolio, not just a single piece they may not like. 

Periodically I am having to delete posts which do not lead to the visual artists business page or portfolio but instead just show an image of one of their works or in some cases an album of works, and a description which you guessed if you are a regular reader, says “Oil 24x30 $300”. 

If you are a regular reader then you’ll know that this is one of my biggest pet hates and as I said not too long ago in another post, screams out that the artist doesn’t care enough or that the artist is so talented that a description of the art and a little about the person who wishes to take $300 from you is not necessary. I’ve said it before and I will say it again, art buyers connect with artists not sales stickers, and as artists we need to forge bonds and build up trust before even thinking about taking anyone’s money.

I have also deleted posts which advertise other groups, and this whilst appropriate in the Artist Hangout is not appropriate in the Artist Directory or the Artist Exchange as their missions are specific. However, if a group admin approaches me or another admin first, we can then decide if it would be relevant and will give our community an engaging experience. 

Think of the hangout as a behind the scenes community who engage with each other and generally hang out and tell people what they have been up to and what’s going on. The Artists Exchange where artists help, support, and promote other artists, in return help, support and sharing of posts is reciprocated. The Artists Directory is where you advertise the business of your art rather than any specific art.

In the Artists Exchange we don't allow nudes. It's a simple rule and the reason is because in the early days we got spammed with pornography. We were deleting post after post, and Facebook noticed too. They reported more than 20 posts in one day. Recently a couple of members tried again, and it wasn't tasteful nude art they attempted to post. Facebook auto reported the posts, and there's no doubt that when this happens the members reach declines. 

Together when used as they should be, the three groups become a powerful resource for artists, but still who can resist a pair of Roy Bins sunglasses for $1.99 and $4.99 P&P and which will ship in five to six weeks.

In short, when you set up a group you will see a lot of this. Some people just want a place to post whatever they want and to get it seen by millions in the hope that it will go viral. 

Once the rules are set up and you have done whatever you can to make sure that the rules are obvious as is the group’s mission, then you will at least have some solid foundations to work on building up the group.

Now when it comes to getting members we need to first talk about lowering your expectations a little. 

Of course you need people within your community but how you go about getting them will pretty much dictate the future membership of your group. Assuming that your existing friends might want to become members of a community is a logical first step in building up the numbers. You scroll down the list and invite all of your Facebook friends, but wait a moment and consider this:

Some people follow and like you because of you, not necessarily the mission and core aims of the group you have just set up. By all means make a post and tell the world about your new group, but unless you absolutely know that your friend wants to join, let them decide from your post. 

Whilst some will accept more out of courtesy, others will decline the invitation and will be slightly irked that you asked them to join in the first place. Remember you are not press ganging people into joining a cult, you need people who will engage and embrace the community. This week one friend on my Facebook friends list joined me in twenty seven groups, thanks but I just don't have that kind of time, and I'm not into comic con or nails and beauty. 

When my first group was set up ‘The Artist Hangout’, for the first month it was fairly stable at around 60-members. In a little over a year it now has more than 4,000 members, and I know that if the requests to join stay at the same level over the next twelve-months, we will be looking at around 10,000 members this time next year and all without paying for any advertising and not overly promoting the group. In short, without too much major effort or expense with recruitment. 

The Artists Exchange is a younger group, only by a month or so, but membership is now almost 6,000 members, and the Artist Directory is currently at just over 1,500 in the first two months. So in all three groups we have over 10,000 members or about the same population as a small town. All without advertising, and all without mass promotion. 

Other groups I know struggle to go above a hundred members and stay at that level for eternity. It usually reflects on just how engaged the founder and admins are to the group. As I said earlier, groups are hard work so it is easy to just let the group shape itself organically and let it slip when the real hard work of engagement is needed, when what really needs to happen is for the founder and admins to restructure and put in a little more effort, maybe even just one or two extra posts. Little details make a difference to the rate of membership requests. 

Some groups haven’t been posted in for a long time and one group I looked at recently hadn’t had a post since 2011. If no one is posting then those groups are no longer relevant and if this is the case then my best advice is to remove the group and start a new one. 

Evaluating members is perhaps the most time consuming part of any group. Whilst you will inevitably allow certain members to join who then go on to post spam into the group, responding to membership requests is something that you need to be constantly on top of. 

I’m really lucky in that I have friends who are as passionate about the arts as I am and these are my admins. To this day I have no idea why they have stayed with the groups for so long, but essentially I couldn’t run the groups without them. 

Admins are the town mayors, police force, and often the shoulders to cry on. To be a group admin requires a skin thicker than a bullet proof vest because occasionally they will need to respond to an internet troll or remove a post and the original poster will respond in the negative. 

Over the past twelve-months we have developed a strategy for dealing with the internet trolls, and that is to not give them a forum to troll in. I took the decision to do things discreetly after a particular member was writing chapter and verse and attacking everything other members were posting. 

The quickest solution when this happens is to delete the internet trolls posts, then ban the member from the group. If their posts are inflammatory in any way, report them to Facebook. When it comes to dealing with these instances there’s not really any other way to deal with them and I would certainly never engage with them.

There are also times as an admin when you do have to become involved in certain things. I’m not going to go into detail but over the past twelve-months I have had to reach out to the community teams at Facebook to help members who have needed help, and I can say that Facebook take these things seriously and I know that a couple of members have benefited from the community as a whole. .  

When accepting members who have requested to join, you have a couple of options. You can set the settings to allow anyone in the group to add and accept members, or anyone can add a member but an admin must approve them.

I learned quite early on that if you don’t take control of this you will flood the group with those who don’t want to be there for the right reasons. One member who was added by another member who then added a dozen other members, actually all turned out to be the same person whose mission it seemed was to sell the benefits of those Roy Bins sunglasses I spoke about earlier. 

Whilst I took a much needed vacation one of my other admins had to deal with a fake account who was selling other people’s work as his own, and then we discovered that person was responsible for doing the same in a myriad of other groups too. Ultimately that profile was banned and by some miracle the profile was shut down in other groups and eventually Facebook responded too and completely shut the profile down. Group founders and admins often share best practice and communicate with other groups admins too, it’s a fairly close knit community who tend to work together for the benefit of their respective groups.

So checking out new members is ultimately where you need to be focussing. I have a checklist and admittedly even with that in place I don’t always get it right, but without it then I think we would see many more people use the groups for nefarious reasons. 

I check out profiles, who the person is friends with, what other groups they are in, what they are posting, looking for themes, and tracking down any posts in other groups. There are a few other things which are done too, to ensure that wherever possible only real people with an interest or passion in the group join. About 20% of requests are declined on the basis that something doesn’t seem quite right and it’s usually founded on finding something that sticks out like a warning bell. 

All of this takes time and on any given week I can guarantee that I spend around 2-3 hours maybe more dealing with requests, and I know each of my admins are doing at least if not more of the same. 

We now have the expectations of time cleared away and we also now have some consistent graphics for the group’s profile, and we also have some members. What we don’t have though are any posts. 

The earliest posts in the groups are the ones which will decide how relevant the group becomes over the next few months. These are going to be the call to action posts which show what the group is about and will encourage others to join. Initial posts really do set the tone for the initial members. 

These are probably the most critical posts you will write initially. They need to be well planned and they need to spark an interest in others so that they feel encouraged to join you and then you need to keep it up forever.

Whenever you write something to post you need to write it differently to perhaps how you would write on your own timeline. On your personal profile you may have very specific views, but in a group where there could be thousands of people you need to be aware that not everyone will share those views. You are suddenly a leader, and people will be looking to you for inspiration or wisdom or validation. In short, your group posts need to engage and resonate. 

Again, I don’t always get everything right because I’m human so don’t feel bad if in a group of 1,000 people you only get two likes. Creating a group isn’t about the number of likes, nor is it the number of members, it’s about bringing a community together and it matters not if that community is 30 people or 3 million people just so long as the group is engaged.

What you will find is that many of the members will occasionally engage, many will frequently engage, and others will keep themselves to themselves. Small sub-groups of people will constantly engage with particular people. That’s all perfectly fine because this is what happens in physical communities so never be alarmed when someone who joins never joins in the discussion, perhaps they are just there to buy someone’s art. 

There is just one more thing to be aware of as an admin before we move on to the reasons why you need to consider creating a group, and that is the issue of a group being used for the purposes of delivering spam. 

Facebook will take action if they think a user is abusing the terms and conditions and will suspend the users account. So posting frequently in many groups is likely to raise an alarm at Facebook HQ. 

Spammers often target groups and I have already gone through some of the spam posts so I won’t labour the point. But you need to be watchful of spam appearing in comments, and whilst I believe the issue has been addressed by Facebook, some members will just join thousands of groups over a period of time for the sole reason of collecting the Facebook email address of the group. More on group behaviour later. 

Emails appear as posts in the group so building up an email list of groups and then sending the post out to all of them would post the email as a status update on the group’s page. As I say I think this is being currently or has been resolved but still worthy of being mindful of. 

This means that someone who has a collection of emails could post to all groups and not appear on the radar of Facebook for over posting. It also means that as soon as the poster hits send email, the post goes out and is published in each and every group and it takes less than a minute to do. How long would it take if you were posting in each group individually? Possibly days, weeks, or hours.

THE BENEFITS

The benefits of creating a group more than outweigh the administrative burden you are about to take on though. 

For me the benefit is to provide a safe place for likeminded artists to grow their art business and gain recognition. For others there are commercial reasons for setting up a group.  

One of the questions I always seem to get asked is how come I’m not making a bucket full of cash with so many members. The answer is simple, that’s not what my groups are about and I have no intention of breaking the terms and conditions set out buy Facebook.

But that’s not to say that you can’t use a group to support your business. 

Firstly as with your business page, a group can be set up as a link to your business. Having a group allows you to reach out to the community and for the community to help you build your brand. 

Groups are ideal places for people to leave feedback even if it isn’t positive. Negative feedback can be an ideal opportunity to let others know that you care and by dealing head on with any negativity you can demonstrate your willingness to make things right.

If you are looking to monetise a group though there are some things that are definitely off the table. Things that you cannot do and will land you in Facebook jail, although we all know of groups where monetisation is the key goal of the group.

I have seen everything from sales sites asking for a dollar to post anything, all the way through to an entire customer service model based on utilising a free Facebook group, and both definitively outside of the terms and conditions of running a Facebook group and charging people to join or post. 

But creating a private or secret group as an artist for your collectors and keeping them up to date with your new work and to connect them with each other, is something that can benefit you as an artist. 

Creating a group can also bring in traffic to your website. Each of my Facebook posts giving details of this website and my latest blog brings in new readers and for some sites, this strategy can bring in tens of thousands of hits. Sharing the work of other artists on my own timeline and in groups benefits the other artists too. Posting in a group has the potential to increase those numbers even more, just so long as the post and the site are absolutely relevant to the group and will benefit members. 

Other groups are communities where the admin will offer a safe place for posters to post, but will often monetise the groups indirectly. They do this by promoting eBooks or training courses, or offer affiliate links to goods that group members might find useful. There are lots of ways to monetise the group, but not all of them are strictly within the rules, though some of them definitely are.

Maybe Facebook are considering their own monetisation of groups as they have recently released a new feature which allows your Facebook business/fan page to be linked to a group. 

Once a group is linked to a Facebook business page, any user clicking on the profile picture will be taken to the business page, but it has other benefits too.

For example you can once you have linked the group, use your Facebook page to manage messages and page comments, or comment as your business page on posts shared to your group and even on Instagram which is also a part of the Facebook Empire.

If I were Facebook I would probably try to monetise this feature for big businesses who are utilising groups to save considerable amounts of money on. A support centre as robust as a Facebook group would cost the business thousands of dollars to replicate and they would still have nowhere near the reach that Facebook has. 

Perhaps in time we will see Facebook allowing paid for membership groups and taking a cut of the joining or posting fee in a similar way to how Apple takes a commission from the apps available through the App Store. The problem at that point will be that anyone and everyone will set up a group and I would then expect memberships of paid groups to decline after the initial start-up unless they remain hugely relevant. On the other hand it could weed out those groups set up in a moment and then forgotten about. What I do know is that if paying a fee to join anything was an official option, then Facebook would definitely take a slice of the revenue.

So how do you set up the link to your page? 

You can only do this with Business Pages and not with personal profiles. Head over to your Facebook business or fan page, and click on settings.

Once done you need to click on edit page and scroll down to look at the available tabs. Click on add a tab at the bottom, select groups, and drag the groups tab up the list. Click on settings, and the tab will show all of the groups you are connected with.

Go back to the page and the groups tab will now be in place in the left hand navigation pane, click on the groups tab to tell which groups you want to associate with your Facebook page. If your group is not displayed already, click on link your group. 

Your group at this point is linked to your business page. Now whenever you write in the group you can post as either your personal profile or your business page profile, by selecting the appropriate profile in the top right corner of the page. 

As I said earlier, now whenever anyone in the group clicks on the page banner of the group, they will be taken to your business page, but and this is critically important, make sure that your business page is actually relevant to your group.

I often share the work of other artists on both this site and on Facebook, so ultimately this will encourage more and more artists to get their work in front of me so that I can share it!

Backed up by three large community groups and an external website, I’m hoping that more and more artists see this site as a necessary resource and a great directory for finding new artists, and of course those who are not so new!

Facebook Groups for artists

ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE

Anything is possible when people come together. Yes you can utilise groups to support your business, and if you are savvy you can use groups to support your business without falling foul of Facebook’s terms and conditions. 

But ultimately groups are really where it is at if you want exposure for your work. Either joining a group and becoming an active and engaged member or setting up your own group, each has its benefits to you as an artist and which you shouldn’t underestimate.

I have some major plans for my groups, but if there is one thing I have learned above all else is that setting up too many groups at once is likely to drive you insane and you won’t be able to support them as well as you need too. 

One of the future groups will be to support artists in finding and accessing a global network of printers who can supply the artist’s art locally within the printer’s geographic area. Another group will support local crafts and allow access to a pool of potential markets and a further new group will be to support the business of art more broadly. All of these will take planning and most likely an army of admins who share the same vision. Did I mention how much I love my existing admins?

I also plan on creating a group for authors too, but what I am conscious about with this group is that there is a potential for the entire internet to want to utilise it to promote absolutely anything that is written and I definitely want to avoid that, but what I do want is to take the artists model and link authors with publishers. Having started writing two books which I am hopefully publishing either later this year or early next year, I know first-hand just how difficult the process of getting a publisher to take on books can be.

So if you want to set up a Facebook group I would definitely recommend it, but remember that it won’t always lead to a positive financial outcome. You can monetise it in softer ways, and you can increase your exposure and become an authority in your subject. Expect a whole heap of work, and post relevant content though and you’ll be surprised at the results you will get. 

I have recently helped a couple of businesses to set up Facebook pages and groups, and it’s something I am considering taking on more and more and maybe turning it into a business model eventually. Both of those businesses wanted a presence but were completely stumped when deciding on who to turn too to help. What they wanted was an incubator and then to take over the management once the groups and pages were established but they would learn what to do and what not to do whilst the group and page was growing.

WHY YOU NEED TO SET UP A GROUP 

If you want to increase your presence on social-media as an artist, then now is the time to do it because it looks like groups are changing within Facebook. Groups whether you are a founder, admin, or member, look set to become even more relevant. 

Facebook is planning to expand the groups feature and hope that communities will become the centre of its network. A new groups section is being tested within the smartphone app that will see groups appear alongside notifications, friends, friend requests, and the news feed area. 

What Facebook are looking for is for communities to become the next chapter within the growth of Facebook, making groups places were meaningful connections can be made. 

For some users the new groups tab has already appeared in their apps, and the rollout will I assume start sooner rather than later to reach every Facebook user. What we know already is that the groups feature will allow you to discover groups and find new communities, and they appear to be listed under specific genres. If you want a food community then you will be able to see relevant groups under that section, if you want an art community then you will see arts groups under the arts and culture section.

This is of course just one of the ways Facebook seem to be refocussing their attention to groups. Other group features have already been introduced this year also. 

The questionnaire feature was released a while ago and although not obviously placed and difficult to access from mobile apps, once on desktop you can send out a pre-joining questionnaire to potential new members.

From the homepage of your group and once you select manage group, you will see a member requests tab. This then brings up some information which says 

“Learn more about pending members. Review people who want to join your group by asking them some questions. You can ask up to 3 questions, and only the admins and moderators will see the answers.” 

Once you click on the get started button you will be presented with a form where you can ask up to three questions before making a decision to approve a member into the group.

Once the completed questionnaire is returned, the information will appear to group admins alongside the member request page. 

If you are looking for three questions then here are a few ideas to get you started:

  1. How did you find out about the group and if someone invited you, please let us know who so that we can thank them
  2. Please can you let us know about what inspires you when creating your art
  3. Do you have any websites or a Facebook Business page?
  4. Have you read the rules around what is and what is not acceptable to post within this group?
  5. Do you belong to any other arts related groups on Facebook?

However you will need to tweak them to make them relevant to your group, and of course you don’t have to ask the same questions of every member. 

My advice for asking questions is too keep them as short as possible and make them easy to read and understand and also to respond too. Most people will be answering the questions via their mobile phone keyboards so I wouldn’t worry too much about receiving responses which are not grammatically correct or are quite short. 

In terms of making sure that new members have read any rules around posting to your group can be problematic as there is no way that you will know if they have or haven’t. So maybe consider posting the group rules on a separate website and place a code at the bottom of the website. 

Whilst this might not stop the frequent spammers who might just scribble down the code, it will at least give you a little assurance that the new member most likely has visited the page to get the code. My advice if you are doing this though is to change the code frequently and let other admins know what the new code is.

The other interesting things about groups is that there are features that you won’t find anywhere else on Facebook and in fact you won’t find on any other social-media platform either.

You can organise polls and questions easily although you need to be logged in on the desktop version of Facebook on the web to get full functionality. So if you want to ask members what this week’s new theme will be you can get them to vote for their favourite option.

Again on the desktop version of Facebook there is another really useful feature. You can add files to a group which then appear under the files tab within the group. 

For artists this might be useful to send out a free image or promotional poster, and for getting the community to join in with collaborative efforts. 

Adding tags to your group is not only useful, it is essential and you can do this by going to the edit group settings tab on the group page and adding in the tags which best describe your group there. I would imagine this is how groups will be structured within the discover Facebook groups feature, so if you already run a group or you are planning on setting one up, best add those tags sooner rather than later.

PRIVACY

I could go on for weeks about the benefit of Facebook groups but this is turning already into an epic volume of what’s what on the platform so I plan on rounding all of this information up with the issue of privacy. 

Accept it or not, privacy is actually respected by Facebook and when you post things that you only intended a few close friends to see and it turned out that your post went viral and your boss read it, it’s usually because of a problem which occurred between the screen and the chair.

There are a huge amount of options when it comes to the privacy around sharing your posts, but there are three options for groups which can give everyone piece of mind, you just have to select the appropriate settings.

When you create a group you will need to decide on how and where and by who you want your group and its posts to be seen.

There are three privacy settings for groups:

Public – Anyone can see the group, find it in search, and make posts 

Closed – Everyone can see the group but only members can see and make posts

Secret – Only members can see the group and see and make posts

It’s entirely up to you which settings you apply, all three of my groups are public because I want everyone to be able to see the art posted and connect with the artists. 

Secret groups though could help you to run your business more efficiently and if you are even slightly concerned about secret groups, they are actually secret.

I know a few businesses who utilise secret groups to work collaboratively on various projects and I have known artists using these groups too. They can be ideal as an alternative way to communicate with co-workers, and also groups set up to specifically look at brand new products with a cohort of product testers.

The entire group can work collaboratively and share documents, and it is ideal for running small teams of people when let’s say you want to run an event or exhibition.

The power of Facebook should never be underestimated and with the new features being released the platform has a potential to be a game changer and significantly reduce costs for small businesses. Couple this with the fact that 7-billion people have Facebook accounts and you’ll start to see just why you shouldn’t be ignoring Facebook as a really useful tool. 

Facebook Groups community engagement

BEING A GROUP MEMBER

The idea of groups is to bring like-minded people together to form a virtual and sometimes physical community. Groups are actually where you can receive far higher reach for your posts, shares, and comments, and as I said earlier, that algorithm works slightly differently for groups. 

There is another side to all of this though and that is that to gain an advantage as a group member you need to engage with the community. Engagement can be through clicking on a reaction but it is better if you post comments and create and share posts too. 

Perhaps the biggest issue is that of non-engagement or even worse, negative engagement. Negative engagement doesn’t necessarily mean that whatever is posted is negative, it also refers to the drive-by or otherwise known as a me, me, oh and me, post. 

As a group admin you will notice that some members never engage more widely than posting a post which promotes them either as an individual or promotes goods or services which they have to offer. 

Of course that is exactly why we as artists use Facebook, we want our work seen and yes, we definitely want to sell it. It all goes back to building up a relationship with your clients and potential collectors though and drive-by posts aren’t the way to win friends or influence people. 

I am probably going to be controversial here but oh well. Drive–by posts suggest four things on social media so let’s see who agrees with me!

  1. It is chance advertising without a budget – nothing wrong per-se with that but sunglasses in an acrylic paint group, really?
  2. Selling art 101 is to portray at least some professionalism either through directing potential customers to a portfolio or website to view the art and carry out a secure transaction. Transactions solely through Facebook Messenger equate to buyer beware. Again, nothing totally wrong with using Messenger for communications, but as a sales platform it gives the buyer and seller no protection if anything goes wrong.
  3. It conveys the message that the artist has no real marketing strategy.
  4. Posts with the dreaded ‘24x30 oil, $300’ coming from a personal account and which offer nothing more in the way of an artist statement do little to portray an artist’s professionalism.  It’s also outside of the rules of Facebook to utilise a personal timeline for commercial posts – as in you can post the occasional item on a personal timeline and especially when participating in buy and sell groups, but it shouldn’t be used as a business. 

The thing is that all of the above are easily rectified without spending a nickel. You can set up a Facebook Business page for free, engaging with the community and building up a relationship based on trust just takes a little time, and planning posts and writing them for your target audience is easy enough too, the only cost to all of this is a little effort. When I buy art I want to know that the artist actually cares about their work.

I have seen some amazing art posted for sale on Facebook and had it have been presented differently I would have got in touch and purchased the 24x30 oil for $300. But if I have no idea who the artist is or what they are about, and no protection if the item gets lost, damaged or doesn’t exist.

I mentioned group hoarders earlier and I find it intriguing how anyone can actively participate in a group when they are a member of hundreds of groups. This is a little red flag when it comes to approving new members for three reasons. 

Firstly, the member is unlikely to engage within the community, secondly are drive-by postings the intention, and thirdly, although I believe Facebook took some action to avoid this happening, and as I said earlier, it could be to collect the email address of hundreds of groups, send out a status update via email from the assembled email list. My advice for group admins is to turn off the setting which allows updates to be posted via email, just in case.

There’s something else too, and that is I am constantly surprised at how many people just join a group without reading the groups rules or not actually knowing what the group is really about. It's a tiny minority of members, but it causes a lot of work. 

More striking is that if you delete their post advertising oh let’s say sunglasses in an abstract group, they immediately spring to life and ask why you would do such a thing. All those bright colours artist’s use are clearly bad for the eyes, they need to be protected for $1.99 + P&P. I kid you not, that was an actual response from one such once-group member. 

Never underestimate the time it takes to delete an incorrect or inappropriate post, there is usually a follow up debate to be had. My advice to any admin here is that you are giving up a huge chunk of time to bring people together, so be polite initially (after all it might be a genuine mistake by the original poster), but if it continues and becomes an issue, do not waste time and cut off the engagement. Thankfully 99.999% of members are nothing like this. 

Breaking News!

Just as I finished writing this article Facebook went and levelled up yet again! Now you can link all of your groups too!

When you visit any of my three groups you will see that the other two groups appear under a section called “recommended by the admins”. To get this feature you need to follow similar steps to those outlined when linking your group to your business page. 

You will see an option called link groups, select this, (again you need to do this via Facebook using a web browser) and then select the groups you wish to link. Once you select them, write a summary of the group and it will appear as a post as well as providing a little context as to why the groups are linked. 

In the future I will be using this to recommend other groups beyond my three, initially any recommendations will be to groups set up by the admins of my three groups, because they work so hard to make my groups what they are. In time, it is possible that one or two other groups from admins I know will be recommended too. I will only ever recommend groups who I know and trust though!

I can see that this could potentially open up a monetisation opportunity for some groups, although as the new feature is still quite recent I haven't as yet had an opportunity to read all of the official Facebook rules about this. When I do, I'll post back here and let you know if monetisation is allowed. My guess for now is it probably isn't, but I'm not sure how it would be policed by Facebook, unless they limit how many groups could be linked in any given time period. 

More Breaking News!

Just one more thing, Facebook have also released Group Insights which is a tool to see exactly how the group is performing and give admins an insight into the audience demographics. This means that more relevant posts and features can be created which will engage your audience even more. Group Insights are rolling out to groups steadily, and I expect we will see many more groups receiving the feature over the next few months.

Facebook groups are the future of Facebook. Over the past couple of weeks more and more noise has been emerging from the corporate offices of the social-media empire about how groups are going to be front and centre of the Facebook experience in the future. 

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook's founder indicated as much in a series of recent interviews when he said he wants to connect the world through community. This is what I've been saying for a couple of years, perhaps he reads this blog?

This means that if you are not focussing on groups or participating in them, there could be some changes coming ahead for regular posts. There is no confirmation that those changes will happen, but if you think about how Facebook have had to respond in recent times to posts which relate to cyber-bullying and extremism, and that Facebook haven't got nearly enough moderators for an online population of 2-billion active users, it makes sense for communities to spring up and posts will be essentially policed through what Facebook have themselves called the town mayors of those groups. The founders and the admins. 

In short, use a community of community admins to weed out everything that is wrongly posted on the platform. This makes is simpler for Facebook, and if this happens, it could save considerably on official staffing costs. For two billion users, just how many staff would you actually need?

Perhaps the compromise might even be that some monetisation might be allowed indirectly. Not from individual members, but by groups working collaboratively to increase each other's membership. Facebook will always be free for the user, but I expect there's some new model around the corner, and I have an inkling that group admins are going to be integral to that strategy. 

It also makes sense for ad-targeting too which could be much more specifically targeted towards users with a common interest and who all meet in the same group. A cut of the advertising revenue perhaps? I doubt admins will see a cut of the ads but let's wait and see, and remember you heard it here first if it does happen!

ABOUT M.A

Mark A. Taylor is a British artist and blogger who specialises in abstract and landscape work and also produces art to be used within TV and film, and book covers. You can see and purchase Mark’s artwork on a wide range of print mediums and other products right here, and you can follow Mark on Facebook here

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