Social Savvy: Make the most of groups on social platforms - Dec 2020

By Irene Williams

Out in the three-dimensional world where we interact with each other in person, I’m notoriously not much of a joiner. And you can delete the “much of” in that sentence if referring to business networking groups-the kind where everybody has to bring a stack of business cards to trade during “speed networking.” Those aren’t my bag.

However, I have a different standard when it comes to social media groups, even ones of the networking variety. Online, I’m open to holding membership in many groups because I’m able to participate 100% on my terms and glean valuable insights at a pace and level of engagement that works for me.

Note the key phrase “glean valuable insights.” This is my primary reason for joining social media groups for business. I’ll revisit this in more detail in just a moment.

If I were to track the use of social media groups for business on a chart, you’d see two lines: one for Facebook, the other for LinkedIn (there are other places within the social media realm where groups of people gather, but I’m containing this narrative to the two top platforms), and each would have a few notable peaks going back a decade or so.

Today, the use of Facebook groups has sustained long enough that its line is relatively straight and steady near the chart’s top. The current pandemic has bolstered Facebook groups even more. This reflects Facebook’s commitment to encouraging group creation and use. In contrast, LinkedIn groups’ line is definitely more jagged, as the leaders of that network have grappled with positioning the once-vibrant group’s functionality amidst other offerings deemed more viable (translation: lucrative) long term.

History of social groups aside, I advise you embrace some “group think” as a business person in today’s digital-social-mobile marketplace. There are some potential benefits you can and should tap into as you seek to grow your customer connections and sales opportunities.

Social media groups are not the same as business pages or profiles. While pages or profiles fundamentally exist to provide a way for businesses or organizations to convey their messages, social media groups are about member engagement and interaction. They function, in theory and, hopefully, in practice, much like traditional groups, bringing together people with common interests, goals/priorities, vocations and affiliations. They operate most effectively when the companies or individuals who start them aren’t attempting to directly sell anything but want to create a forum for sharing, discussing and learning.

Should you start a group for your business? First let me share my oft-repeated decree for anyone who asks about starting something new on any social platform: Don’t birth a baby you don’t want to raise to adulthood.

Groups on Facebook and LinkedIn require constant nurturing in the form of active moderation of content, proactive conversation-starting and sharing, personal interaction and engagement with participants, and ongoing monitoring (including responsive action if members post rogue content or statements). If you’re up for the challenge, the benefits can be worth the effort.

Some ideas for flooring retailers:
A group for your salespeople: Create a private group for those in sales to gather online and share ideas, trade tips, ask questions and talk about their wins and challenges. If you have multiple locations, this could be a great way to keep everyone posted on new products or policies in one place. As the business leader, you can use this as a channel for listening to your teams as they post and interact and gaining perspectives you might not “hear” elsewhere.

A geographically targeted group for design-loving homeowners (potential customers): Start a group to give area homeowners a place to find out about great local design resources and share what they know, as well. For a group like this, your brand would be very much secondary and mostly not stated, as you don’t want to alienate participants who’ve come seeking a reliable place to get inside scoop and share ideas.
• You could coordinate with other, non-competing area businesses to help lead this group. The mutual benefits and synergy could be very compelling.
• You can create a pop-up group that is active for only a defined amount of time. For a consumer group, perhaps it would work well to time a pop-up group to match peak specification season.

A geographically targeted group for pros: Want to create a professional resource for ancillary businesses that support the work that you do, such as interior designers or installation professional? Start a group to help these talented biz people come together to find and share information and ideas.

Again, I remind you that deciding to start a group is also committing to grow and nurture it long term. If you are willing and able to sustain it, there can be real rewards in the effort.

Yes-join the groups; join all the groups. Go for it!

If a group sounds potentially beneficial and interesting, join up. I say this with confidence, even as someone very dedicated to avoiding digital clutter, because you can absolutely manage how and how often you “show up” to any of these online groups. It is relatively simple to contain your memberships, manage/turn off all notifications, and not get overwhelmed along the way. Even if you choose to “stop by” very infrequently, you can still benefit.

Why am I-notoriously not a joiner-such a proponent of joining social groups? The answer brings me back to the point I made earlier about gleaning valuable insight. I get the most out of online groups by “listening” to others-not by speaking up for myself or clients. Thanks to dropping in on the select groups I’ve joined, I consistently stay apprised of:
• new products and colors trends that designers are talking about
• what’s happening with sites like Houzz (and what biz people think about them)
• how colleagues are grappling with constant changes to Facebook and Google advertising
• the frustrations of installers
• the ways distributors and retailers are managing sample ordering during the pandemic

Within the group forums, you can discover actionable perspectives to help your business. Simply by reading the posts and comments that people share, you can gain understanding of your customers, colleagues and professional community. Are you hungry for meaningful insights? Here’s a short list of the kinds of groups I find helpful for those of us in the flooring industry.
• Groups for interior designers
• Trade association groups
• Groups for installation professionals
• Brand-backed business groups
• Topical groups, such as groups about Facebook ads or SEO
• Book clubs started by design influencers

Many of these groups are private, meaning that the group owners must approve those who request to join. If you are granted membership in professional groups created specifically for certain professions (namely interior designers and installers), it’s imperative that you participate respectfully. For any such group that I’m a member, I rarely, if ever, post, as I want to keep the newsfeed open for those who have the most to gain from the forum.

As we look to the near future with fewer opportunities to gather in person, I am certain the role of social media groups will hold strong.

While starting your own group may not be viable or necessary, I invite you to peruse the plethora of options to be a participant. Beyond the regular newsfeeds that are thick with paid placements and limited by constant algorithm changes, a group’s feed can be a place to easily find more helpful, concentrated content. There’s basically nothing to lose and plenty to be gained, so join up and join in-on your own terms.

Copyright 2020 Floor Focus