As a private person on Facebook I have joined a number of groups; some for personal purposes, others for business purposes. In general I find that the personal groups tend to be fun and things work well. People participate, ask questions, share anecdotes or insights, and in general it is like going to a town square when you feel like it and mingle with the other visitors.

With many business or network focused groups the experience is quite different. I am a member of a number of such groups, and have left a lot of them because they do not work. They do not work because people join the group and then start promoting their business. They post a message (if you are unlucky they post in CAPITALS), and get out of there. They do not interact with others, they do not respond to comments on their post. It is like they are stepping into a real life networking event, yell something through their bullhorn and then disappear.  If you now realize that that is what you are doing, I think that even the least experienced networker realizes that this is not the way to go about it.

Granted, some groups are started for just that purpose. For everyone to broadcast whatever it is they have to say. Those groups however are mostly like a dystopian ghost town, where after a everything obliterating disaster has hit, the radios still are blaring without anyone listening to them.

Most group owners have other – more constructive – intentions for the groups however and managing a Facebook group is something that needs to be done. In most cases you cannot just the group run its course as it will spin out of control. A lot can be learned from managing a LinkedIn group, although a group on LinkedIn has more features and functionality, for participating as well as managing it.

In this post I would like to share tips for business owners who are participating in business groups to network for their business. The tips are not presented in any particular order of importance. They are all to be reckoned with.

Keep the goal of the group in mind

When you join a group, make sure that you keep the goals of the group in mind. Align your own goals and subsequent activities in the group with the goals of the group. If your goals are not compatible for whatever reason, consider leaving the group and finding a group that matches with what you want and need.

Read the About, Rules, Guidelines etc.

When you join a group read their rules and guidelines if available. They can often be found in the About section of the group or in files under the File tab under the group image.

Look at it as staying in someone else’s house for a longer period of time. In such a case you would abide by the rules of the house. Not to do so would be extremely rude and create uncomfortable situations. Most people would never dream of acting inappropriately on purpose in someone else’s house, so why would you on Facebook?

Inform yourself of the mores in the group before you act. Not only does it benefit the group, it will also benefit your and your business’ image.

Apply networking principles

Every group will have different goals, but the common denominator will often be networking, connecting, sharing etcetera. So behave like you would at a network activity in your town or at a business event.

If you are new to networking or insecure about how to go about it, there are two links for you that may give you some ideas. “How to network at an event” and the practical and basic tips by Marie Forleo. They both include video. Of course there are tons of books about it as well. A personal favorite of mine is this book by Jan Vermeiren: Let’s Connect!: A Practical Guide for Highly Effective Professional Networking

What I like about Facebook groups is that is gives you a more informal way to network with other business owners than on LinkedIn. On LinkedIn I find the interaction to be more formal if that is the right word to describe it. In real life I found that I always networked best when I had a click with the other participants and I think Facebook creates more of a chance to find that click; it is more playful than LinkedIn.

Don’t broadcast

Like I said earlier, you wouldn’t go to an event, get out your bullhorn, yell something, and then get out, now would you? So do not do that online either. Online we call it spamming!

I call it broadcasting because that is what “old” media channels like TV, Radio, and ads mostly do. A message is sent, there is no interaction, and that’s it. Don’t get me wrong, I think these channels still serve a purpose, but social media has given business the opportunities to interact with their clients. So use them the way they are supposed to be used. Do not use these new channels in an old school way.

Interact, build relationships, and practice Youtility

Instead of broadcasting, interact and build relationships by helping people, asking for help yourself if you need it. Share your insights and knowledge with others that need it. Be constructive towards the goals of the group and give as least as much as you are taking.

Jay Baer calls this Youtility, being helpful instead of selling. It is better to help people on the subject of your expertise than to broadcast your selling message to them. I think that Youtility: Why Smart Marketing Is about Help Not Hype
is a must read.

Don’t shout

Very often I see business owners POSTING A MESSAGE IN CAPITAL LETTERS. Online and in email this is considered shouting and no one likes to be shouted at.

Also if you use CAPITALS to highlight something,  highlight everything with CAPITALS  will defeat its purpose.

Personal profile picture

When you interact in groups you do so with your personal profile, so be sure that your personal profile picture is appropriate. That doesn’t mean you have to have a business portrait on your personal profile or can never be a bit goofy, but when selecting an image, consider that you may be interacting in a business context as well as in a personal context.

Examples of personal profiles that I personally found to be either confusing or unprofessional are profiles with more than one person in the picture, pictures of kids, cats, dogs etcetera, pictures of sexy poses or with lots of skin and skimpy outfits.  Although everyone may have different boundaries on this, you catch my drift, don’t you?

Walk your talk

You should always walk your talk but I want to emphasize it nonetheless. For instance, if you claim to be an expert of some sort, make sure that you get the basics, and more, right. Claiming to be a Facebook expert but not having claimed your Facebook Username and URL, looks downright silly. Presenting yourself as a designer but having a Facebook cover image where the text disappears behind the Profile image isn’t very promising either.

Remember that every time you as a business or business owner reach out to your audience, you should send out the same brand vibe and that vibe should reinforce any brand promise you make. So if you claim to be an expert, show that you are with everything you put out there. One small mistake may hurt your image.

Be focused. Don’t share too many pages

This is an image thing on the one hand and a strategic thing on the other.

When you are allowed to introduce yourself and your business in a group, some people share multiple business pages. And sometimes these businesses seem to be in totally different industries.

First of all it is a symptom of a strategic choice not made. I believe that if you are a small business owner you cannot run 3 or 4 different types of business successfully. Not when it comes to time and not when it comes to mental focus. You will be mediocre at all of them, instead of being superb at one.

Image wise it is not so smart either. People will not know what to think of you. Are you the great IT consultant, or an event organizer? You may want to be like a multitalented Michelangelo, but in reality very few people are. From a brand perspective it screams inconsistency. And I think it is inherent in people’s nature to disbelieve that people are really good at more than one thing. Of course there are exceptions, but think about Michael Jordan pursuing a baseball career or the umpteenth model wanting to be an actress. They are always met by quite a bit of skepticism when they claim to be excellent at totally different things.

Do not (be a) fake

Do not be a fake or act fake.  This is something also that applies to everyday life, but when it comes to business, people all of sudden start doing things they would normally never do. Or maybe this is normal for them and their behavior is a good tell no to do business with them.

Some time ago in a group I clicked on the link that someone was broadcasting. As you know, you participate in a group with your personal profile and the business page doesn’t necessarily show the person behind it. On the page I noticed that the business owner was commenting on his own business posts. That in itself is not necessarily bad, but commenting that “This is the best advice I was ever given.” is beyond fake. It is misleading. And stupid, because people will eventually find out. Say someone decides to buy your product or service. Depending on your business, as a business owner you may have to interact with them and you will be found out as the faker who gave his own Facebook post such a raving comment.

Be relevant

So broadcasting your sales message is out of the question. It is spam, so do not do it. Try to interact with others instead.

If you are considering changing your ways, think about what you have been broadcasting. In very many groups that consist of business people I very often notice that business owners who run a B2C business and target consumers, try to interest other participants for their products or services. In most cases however, this will not be relevant information.

Think about it, you as a business owner, say you have your own consultancy, participate in a business group on Facebook and then all of a sudden someone starts sharing information about liposuction, weight loss, hair removal, a sale on garden furniture. As a person you may be interested in either or all of these messages, but as a business person it is not why you came to the group.

Does that mean that as a Business to Consumer business owner you have no business being in such a group? Of course not, but it illustrates that in business groups on Facebook the conversation is mostly on the how to of running the business instead of advertising it.

Be prepared to be checked out

When people see you are saying good stuff and making good contributions in a Facebook group, they will check you out. Make sure that your personal profile includes info on your About which makes it possible for them to go to your business page.

In your About you can include the page for your business as your employer. That makes an easy clickable link for visitors to your page. You can of course also add the link to your website.

This also means that you have to look at your privacy settings. If you are interacting on Facebook for your business you cannot close everything off. You have to share some information for people to be able to follow you to your business page.

Play nice and accept cultural differences

I derive an enormous amount of pleasure by interacting with people on Facebook. I have made new friends and business connections that I interact with, learn new things from, set up projects with, share stories and things like that.

Like in real life it works best when you are nice to people and treat them like you yourself would like to be treated. Of course there will always be things said or people that will tick you off. That happens in real life as well. That means that sometimes you have to bite your tongue or your remark will come back to bite you where it hurts most.

Another thing to keep in mind are cultural differences. Facebook brings people together from all over the world, but that doesn’t mean we all act or think the same or share the same values. The way Americans give feedback differs quite a bit from how a Dutch person will do it for instance. Dutch are quite direct. Americans? Not so much. So it may be worth to remember that if people behave differently than what you are used to, it could be a cultural difference that causes it. But that is OK. If you really connect with people you will get to know and understand them, and appreciate their different backgrounds.

Writing out these 13 tips doesn’t mean I am perfect in groups. I make mistakes like anyone else does, but the more groups I participated in, the more it got me thinking. Some groups function flawlessly and others don’t. Some groups create a lot of value, others create a lot of nothing. I hope this can contribute to business owners making better use of business and networking groups on Facebook in order to help their businesses grow.

Let me know what you think about these tips or please share your own. I’d be really interested to hear them.

By Pepita Bos

pepita bosAbout the author: Pepita sees marketing as the core of any successful business but also sees that immensely talented small business owners often lack marketing skills. She believes that with some effort anyone can learn to market their own business more effectively. Learning, knowledge sharing, teaching, problem solving, helping, and laughing are what drive Pepita. Her motto is “Marketing is everything and everything is marketing” a quote by Regis McKenna. You can connect with her on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+, and Pinterest.