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Greetings from what feels like day 5,839 of isolation. Our nerves are frayed. Our hair is unkempt. Our need for connection is at unprecedented levels.
As our IRL interactions have been upended and we’re finding creative ways to socialize digitally, people are flocking to small, private online spaces to keep figuratively-not-literally in touch and feel a bit more human.
Nonprofits have an opportunity to adapt and learn from the ways your supporters are connecting under social distancing mandates. One powerful way to step bravely into this new world is to create a dedicated space for people to come and engage with other supporters around something they share in common: your cause.
Why spend time and resources on this now?
The effort you put in now won’t just serve your supporters in this moment—it could continue to pay off over the long term. The thing is, these online spaces aren’t something that just happened to appear last week. While current conditions are accelerating the move toward Facebook Groups, Instagram’s Close Friends feature, WhatsApp, and other text message chains, these private groups and communities have been gaining popularity for years. Users are drawn to the sense of privacy and intimate like-minded bonding these smaller virtual spaces provide. You can find a group for just about anything—from Dogspotting to the California Wildflower Tipline.
That means that the increased use of social media groups may stick around even after the shelter-in-place orders are lifted. When the coronavirus crisis is over and we can hug our friends IRL, people will still be sharing links in group chats. And for nonprofits, that means it’s a good time to integrate community groups into your larger social strategy.
But people comment on our posts all the time. Why should we create a group for our cause?
Even if you have strong user engagement and great community management, at the end of the day, people trust individuals more than they trust a brand, organization, or logo. Closed social groups foster an environment for supporters to interact in more authentic, meaningful ways—and group members see themselves reflected as the core of the community.
Another advantage of having a highly engaged closed community (like a Facebook Group): You’ll know exactly where to find your top supporters. Your group members may become the people who are most likely to take action when needed.
Is this going to be a lot of work?
Social groups should be community-led and audience-first. Any group you build should be a space for your community to do its thing, even if you’re not totally sure what that thing looks like yet. So while, yes, the initial setup requires some work, you can lay the groundwork for your community to mostly lead itself, requiring just a little bit of tending from you over time. And you can designate some trusted moderators to help with the upkeep.
Here are the secret ingredients for success:
- Set your intention: Define a clear purpose for the group to keep people on track. For example: “We represent people nationwide who are fighting for paid sick leave and economic security during the coronavirus crisis” or “Teens and parents organizing to end sexual harassment in schools.” Maintain these parameters to ensure smoother and more efficient management of the group.
- Be smart about your name: Choose a group name that’s identifiable, direct, and memorable. You can also let your supporters pick the name—this is a great first action to crowdsource from your initial group members. Some of our favorite well-known examples:
- Pantsuit Nation started in support of Hilary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign. Short, to the point, and a lot more fun than calling it “People who support Hilary Clinton for President in 2016”
- Bernie Sanders Dank Meme Stash: Sounds like what it is—a place to find quality content for people who support Bernie.
- Leaf Rakers Society: For people who appreciate fall and pumpkin spice—Starbucks lifestylers.
- Have a clear set of rules before launching. Set clear community guidelines from the beginning, and lead by example. Keep people on topic, and don’t be afraid to enforce rules from the start. You will likely find that the vast majority of group members mean well and want to abide by the rules, but they just need some guidance. Here’s a great example:
- Public? Closed? Secret? We recommend having some sort of membership approval process to keep trolls where they belong: under the bridge. A Closed Group requires moderators to accept membership requests. A Secret group can’t be searched for, and new members must be added by an existing member.
- Launching the Group: Consider launching your group in phases, including a “soft launch” period when you invite staff, volunteers, and organizers to join first, and then encourage them to invite other trusted participants. This soft-launch period will give you time to set the tone for the group. Lead by example and publish the types of posts you’d like to see in the group in the future.
Moderation & Engagement
- Audience! First! Group members are happiest when they can post and be a part of the conversation. Don’t use your group as a place where you just broadcast calls to action to people. Instead, be thoughtful about only blasting when you absolutely need to activate your supporters. Instead, include a healthy mix of engagement-focused content to keep the party going. Things that work well:
- Polls: Be candid and ask your members, “How can we help you get most out of this group?”
- Introduction threads: “If you’re new here, introduce yourself in the comments below…”
- Share your story: “Tell us your story, how are you affected by our issue?” Groups can be perfect for sourcing user-generated content and collecting stories related to your cause. Read our recent post on story collection in the time of COVID here.
- Community Management: A highly successful community group requires positive engagement from your members. It will also, at times, require shepherding from a skilled community manager or moderator. Be prepared to invest some time and resources into community management to make sure your participants respectfully contribute to the purpose of your group. This will vary from group to group, but plan to devote a few hours each week to regular housekeeping, like approving membership requests and monitoring content. Consider delegating some of these tasks to a trusted volunteer or supporter.
- Remember those community guidelines? Don’t be afraid to uphold them. Your guidelines are there for a reason, and it’s your responsibility as a moderator to enforce them, for the wellbeing of your community as a whole. Here’s a guide we created a while back that can help your moderator(s) navigate how and when to respond to comments. If your organization already has a set of community management guidelines, consider sharing it with your moderators and updating it as needed.
- Authenticity: Use humor if appropriate for your cause, and be casual and authentic. Post as a human, not as an organization. One rule of thumb: Your group should feel more like a party than a presentation. Your members will be happier and more engaged when they’re free to speak up and socialize.
- Take advantage of Facebook’s engagement tools and features. Is your nonprofit shifting to livestreaming for upcoming events? Start a Watch Party in the group! Launch a Fundraiser. Use the Mentorship feature to pair group members and build community. Even if these tools don’t fit into your usual social strategy, now is a good time to stretch your thinking about the power of online community building.
- Special Treatment. Keep in mind that the people in your group are likely to be highly engaged supporters. Use this to your advantage. Try soft-launching campaigns here or offering exclusive access to digital activations, such as a private Facebook Live Q&A with an influencer.
Don’t forget the analytics
Take some time to review your group insights and analytics and how these takeaways can inform your larger social and content strategies.
- Group Insights can give you a clearer sense of the types of content your top supporters love and respond to. Use this info to make decisions about your broader content and communications strategy, like applying these learnings to your email strategy or social content mix. When are your supporters most active online? Where are they located? What’s their age range and gender breakdown? You can find this and more in your Group Insights! Use it.
Sending a big virtual hug to everyone. If you want to connect more, find us @mrcampaigns.
If he weren’t sheltering in place, Alex Hudson would be on an annual spring road trip to catch the desert wildflowers blooming around California. In 2020, he’s tracking superbloom updates in a Facebook Group instead. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.