We have all heard one â€œguruâ€ or another say it â€“ â€œMarket your business through online groupsâ€. Worse â€“ â€œPost your ads in online groupsâ€!!
My first online group experience was back in the heyday of online social. I say that sort of tongue-in-cheek but it was so much easier to connect back then.
The group I joined was a Listserv for writers â€“ Fiction, Non-Fiction and Poetry. To participate, you could submit writing, critique writing or ask a questionâ€¦ about writing. To do so, you simply sent an email with a pre-ordained format of subject line to the right list. Everyone on that list got the email and could choose to reply â€“ which then went to everyone on the list again. The dangers of spam and flames was so high that everyone stayed on intent and courteous â€“ well, most of the time.
To belong to a Listserv there was a long line of etiquette that, if broached, could get you instantly and summarily ejected from the list. There were required participation levels of each type â€“ submission and critiques of writing.
Nobody tried to sell anything.
The result was an incredibly useful, engaging group that accomplished hugely appreciated results.
Offline groups I have been part of have had varying levels of results from Steering Committees to Chambers of Commerce to Networking Groups small and large. In each case, the more organized the group and the group rules, the more comfortable, beneficial and enjoyable the groups were. The rules did not have to be strict, merely clear and shared by the whole group.
These days, online groups tend to be of the Facebook, LinkedIN or Google+ flavor.
Each group has a short description which may include rules.
Each group tends to have a variety of unwritten rules â€“ which can lead to misunderstandings.
In social media, we have a set of best practices we tend to stand by:
- Listen first
- Give first
- Share more than you market
- Be responsive
- Help others
Okay, maybe those are unwritten rules too.
We hear from â€œgurusâ€ that joining a group is a great way to market your business. The problem is that this is like saying that moving to a town is a great way to market your business. How to do it, and what that looks like seem to still be mysteries to most of us.
I was working with my students on creating custom Social Media Best Practices by business.Â We divided into content creation, sharing, interaction and group activity. This got me thinking about my own behavior within the group environment.
The level of participation, community activity, courtesy and help you contribute can build some relationships with like-minded people. Possibly you will then connect one-on-one with individuals and create joint venturesâ€”but if thatâ€™s your focus, there are better places to do so.
I have a few of my own best practices these days when it comes to joining a group. Especially after reviewing how many groups I have joined and forgotten.
I really feel that there is a reciprocity in play for any group that involves giving: of time, help, or ideas. Itâ€™s not about buying from each other â€“ and definitely not about selling to each otherâ€”but it is a reciprocity of time. In that light, here are my own â€œbest practicesâ€:
- Show Up â€“ regularly. Donâ€™t join so many groups that you only have time for drive-by posting. That is a waste of time.
- Stay on Point â€“ stay with the intent of the group.
- Give â€“ but only where you know you have something to add of value.
- Be grateful â€“ thank people for their input, for the ideas they share, for the answers they give.
- Get to know the members â€“ Within realism â€“ find out who they are and what they offer. IF you can purchase something you need from someone in your group, do so.
And what about that marketing part? Introduce yourself to the group ONCE if invited to in the description. Post to threads that encourage marketing within the group â€“ eg one of my groups promotes blatant self-promotion on Mondays. As more Mondays pass, more creativity ensues turning this into a fun activity. But donâ€™t drag your business into every possible conversation, because at their core, these groups are about connection and support than about selling and purchasing.
It might all sound like a pretty old-fashioned concept. Curious about this very thing, I turned to one of the Facebook groups I participate in. The first thing I learned is that Iâ€™m not alone in these beliefs.
The second thing I learned, which begs a moment of clarification, is that the word reciprocity can be taken as a dirty one.
When I talk about reciprocity here, itâ€™s not about expecting something in return. Instead, itâ€™s about acknowledging that a group is only as helpful to you as what you put into it. The community is inherently valuable, therefore you must contribute to that value in order to merit being a part of it. So give because it feels good. Give because participation is connection. Donâ€™t only offer help so someone will help you later. Offer help because you value the person and their place in the community.