How to build and grow a private Facebook group

With so much talk about Facebook marketing these days, one realm of the Facebook world that flies WELL below the radar is Facebook groups.

Remember those? Smaller groups of fans, customers, vendors, or employees that can be public, private or secret? Groups that are usually bound by some kind of common bond. Groups that can be fairly intimate–especially the secret ones.

I’m a part of a number of Facebook groups, but the one I’m most active in (and it’s not even close) is the Solo PR group.

Solo Pr

It’s a closed group and it’s part of your Solo PR Pro membership.

And, what Solo PR Pro founder, Kellye Crane, and Karen Swim have done with this group is nothing short of outstanding.

They’ve nurtured and fed a group that I know many consider a “must visit” each day. In fact, let’s ask some of the “power users” of the group what they find most valuable about it:

Jennifer Donovan, solo PR pro, San Francisco

“I’ve always been a communicator, a collaborator, a brainstorm-lover. Gathering colleagues with different backgrounds and perspectives to come up with creative ideas and new approaches, as well as be challenged, has always been a value-add of working inside an agency or corporation. When I launched my consulting company, Nova Communications (, there was a bit of a void in terms of that collaboration and camaraderie. When I stumbled upon the #SoloPR Twitter chat, I was instantly drawn in. I found the conversations smart, thought-provoking and insightful. It didn’t take me long to join the SoloPR Pro and get access to the private Facebook group. The participants are incredible, from all areas of the country, bringing varying backgrounds, experiences and client industry expertise. A question never goes unanswered. A request for opinion is always approached with thoughtful response. These folks are smart, and always willing to help out a fellow solo pro. I’ve come to view these folks as my virtual colleagues and have quickly become a more successful solo consultant as a result. Their support and advice have been invaluable and I look forward to working with each of them in some capacity this year.”

Greg Brooks, solo PR pro, Las Vegas

“Unlike many, I don’t miss the camaraderie of an office or painful brainstorming sessions that felt more like dragging algebra answers out of eighth graders. But I *do* like hearing about others’ business models, plans and growth — that’s energizing and it makes me think about my own business. That’s what the SoloPR community delivers for me.”

Daria Steigman, solo PR pro, Washington, D.C.

“It’s actually the only thing that gets me to look at FB regularly. I think it’s twofold: (1) the opportunity to give back (since I’ve been in biz so long, a lot of lessons learned); (2) the community (a little bit of water-cooler conversation — which I’ve pretty much never had IRL). And by doing 1 and being a part of 2, I know people will help me when I have a question or a dilemma I want to bring to the group.”

Betsy Decillis

“Camaraderie, stress relief, feeling that someone in there has been through what I’m going through and has an answer.”

So, how did Crane and Swim do it? What’s the special sauce here? I think a few factors are in play:

Moderate–don’t dominate

You like that, don’t you? I just made that up :) But, this is where Crane/Swim really excel. They rarely dominate the discussion–instead, they contribute and pop in when it makes sense. They don’t try to control or steer the conversation, they merely offer thoughts when appropriate. And, they rarely (if ever) use a heavy hand.

The ultimate support group

I know every group is different, and the Solo PR group really is a strong support network for many of us (after all, we are SOLOS–we don’t really have too many people to talk to and bounce ideas off during the day), but these Facebook groups really should act and feel like support groups (think AA groups, in a way). Just think about any group you’re a part of–what’s one of the biggest benefits? Isn’t support/camaraderie right near the top of the list? When a solo PR posts about having a rough day, there’s Swim with a quick “chin up” comment. Another solo PR is posting about frustrations with a client. Crane is there with words of encouragement. Support group 101-type stuff. And yeah, it might seem easy and common sense-like. But, if it really were that easy, wouldn’t everyone be doing it? What makes this group special is that they DO do it–day in, and day out.

Get to know your group–I mean really get to know them!

I realize this group is fairly small (only 124 members at last count), but I think this rule applies for any Facebook group–get to know your members. Intimately (OK, not THAT intimately, but I think you know what I mean). In the case of the Solo PR group, Crane and Swim have the chance to meet many of us face-to-face at the Solo PR Summit each year. They then cultivate those relationships over time on the Facebook group. In essence, the Facebook group is where we keep the conversations going that we started at the Solo PR Summit! And, that sometimes requires Crane and Swim understanding and playing to the different personalities and people in the group. For example, in our group there is one individual who is clearly someone who likes the stir the pot (this person also happens to be one of the more active people in the group). This person is funny, quick witted, and has a strong voice in the group. Crane and Swim know this and frequently use it as a point of levity within the posts. They know this because they have met this person and understand a bit more about him/her than just an avatar. Get to know your members–that time will pay off with richer, deeper relationships that you can cultivate for years to the benefit of your brand.

Set the ground rules–and stick to them!

One of the ground rules in the Solo PR group is that this isn’t the place to promote yourself or your blog, or Pinterest board, or Instagram account or…well, you get the idea. It is a place to rant, rave, ask questions and seek support. Pretty simple ground rules, right? And Crane and Swim stick to them. I rarely see members pimping their blogs or other social entities. In fact, I’m probably the big offender, as I have shared a few of my posts with this group–but only because they were hyper-relevant, or I thought some in the group would be interested in a particular topic that’s been discussed in the group before. The point is: It rarely happens (and when it does, the person–me–feels kinda bad about it). Contrast that with what you see in Google+ or LinkedIn groups that are spammed daily with sales people and folks out to pimp themselves. Big kudos to Crane and Swim here–constantly sticking to their guns.

Note: Photo courtesy of Kellye Crane and Solo PR Pro.

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7 comments on “How to build and grow a private Facebook group

  1. KellyeCrane says:

    Wow, Arik – this post was quite the surprise! Thank you for all the kind words, and for sharing why we think the private Facebook group is one of the biggest benefits of Solo PR PRO Premium membership.

    I’d like to share a couple points that may be of interest to readers looking to start their own communities:

    -We initially tried offering a traditional forum experience to our members, using the vbulletin software familiar to most. One of the advantages of that platform is it’s “owned” and the discussions are automatically archived and searchable. It’s great… when people actually use it! Despite months of doing our best to drive folks to that vehicle, our members just didn’t take to it (it required users to think “let me go checkout the Forums,” as opposed to the Facebook group, which is there waiting for you every time you sign in to FB). There are a couple lessons learned here: 1) it’s not always easy to predict what your community will embrace; and 2) letting go of your ideas (and sometimes investments) to try new things (we viewed the FB group as just an experiment, at first) is key to helping your community grow.

    -Getting the group going at first can be labor intensive. When we first started, I made a concerted effort to make sure everyone’s questions were being answered (often by me). This is important, since people won’t come back if they feel ignored or don’t see the value. But as the group took off and activity increased, I found that advice from me on a topic would sometimes end the discussion. So, it’s a delicate balance, but if you’re in tune with your group it quickly becomes second nature when to weigh in or abstain. I find it interesting this is one of the things you’ve noticed!

    If anyone has any questions, I’m happy to answer them here in the comments – and thanks again, Arik, for showcasing Solo PR Pro. As you know, I’m very passionate about the community and our

  2. KarenD.Swim says:

    Arik, this post warms my heart for so many reasons. All the credit for this community goes to Kellye Crane. This community was her vision and she is passionate about helping solos succeed. That passion shines through. Working with her has been like taking a Masters level course in community management. She deftly balances the needs of individuals without sacrificing the whole; and tirelessly attends to all the details of growing and nurturing this community. The Facebook group has been vital to me; part watercooler and part think-tank and a daily stop in my work world. Thank you so much for sharing the virtues of this group with your audience.

  3. dariasteigman says:

    Love the “moderate, don’t dominate” phrase. I think one key takeaway is that running a vibrant community is hard work. Much easier to just build it and ignore it and let the self-promoters do their thing. I was looking at some “recommended” Google+ communities yesterday, many with large numbers of members but what struck me was the lack of conversation. Giant. Red. Flag.

  4. KellyeCrane says:

    Oh shoot – I forgot to mention one more tip in my comment: the importance of finding a collaborator who is nicer than you are. I’m not kidding! Aside from the obvious benefits of being pleasant to work with, a super-kind and tactful sidekick can help squash squabbles and be the good cop on those rare occasions when you may have to play enforcer. Karen Swim was already a much-loved community member, so adding her to the team was an easy decision for me!

  5. AlisonKenney says:

    I can’t add much that hasn’t already been said…but I’ll try…among the many things that I’ve loved about belonging to this group is the ‘sounding board’ benefit. Although we are all in the same profession and share a lot of common experiences I find myself regularly impressed with the new ideas, perspectives and approaches that bubble up out of this group. It’s a great feeling to know that you’re not alone as a solo and that reliable and pragmatic advice is right there online when you need it.

  6. arikhanson says:

    MMUpchurch Thanks much, Maureen!

  7. RaquelMRamirez says:

    Great tips to create and grow a genuine useful and community in Facebook. Thank you for sharing your thoughts Arik. Onward I go to create a community for Christian Mompreneurs. :)