When my husband and I created our website Diabetes Strong in 2015, one of our greatest challenges was to find a way to communicate directly with our community – outside of just comments on individual blog posts and our newsletter.
A review of the existing diabetes forums and message boards revealed that most of them were struggling to stay relevant. Several were in the process of closing down completely and only the largest and oldest forums still had an active user base. Starting a new forum from scratch didn’t seem like a viable option.
We needed a new way to engage with our community and a Facebook group turned out to be the perfect solution!
Why you should have a Facebook group
Millions of people are on Facebook and most of them log in several times a day. It’s fairly easy to create active and engaged groups because Facebook’s algorithm shows activity in groups ahead of most posts in the newsfeed. (in fact, very active groups can lead to members feeling overwhelmed with messages in their news feed which can be a challenge).
When a group is established, it can be an online support community more powerful than any other I have seen. This is just one out of hundreds of similar quotes from our group:
“This group has been a life saver. I am not exaggerating when I say this. I have battled cancer and severe depression with a suicide attempt, but when I found this group, it helped me grow and learn. Slowly I have regained myself back”
The amazing thing about this quote is that this person is not talking about how I helped her, she might not even know who I am or visit Diabetes Strong. She was talking about how her fellow group members supported her. It’s a real testament that the Facebook group has grown from “my group” to a real patient community.
We have 12,000 people in our Facebook group and more new posts per day than some traditional forums with 250,000 members, which just showcases the power of a Facebook group.
How to start and grow a Facebook group
We found that initially growing our group took a lot of work. After hitting about 2,000 members, it has grown organically without us having to do anything but moderate the activity in the group. The goal is to achieve a critical mass where the group members communicate among themselves.
In the beginning, we grew the group by:
- Hosting events in the group – We used the group to host our Fit With Diabetes challenges which created natural engagement
- Being active daily with updates, questions, and conversation starters – Outside of the challenges, we made sure to keep the group alive by being active ourselves
- Linking our Facebook page to the group – You can link your brand page to your group so your existing followers see the group. This also allows you to comment in the group as your Facebook page instead of your personal profile
People need a reason to check the group daily in the beginning until it becomes a place for them to seek support and community regularly.
How to moderate your Facebook group
Even if you want your group to be a hands-off patient community where the users set the agenda, very active moderation is essential to a successful Facebook group.
While Facebook is an amazing platform for your community, it is also plagued by spammers, scammers, multi-level marketing people, etc. You need to constantly weed these people out and block them, which takes time.
More importantly, you need to set the tone for your group. If you don’t, a few very active users will do it for you. If a small group of active users consistently post about one subject (an example could be low-carb food for diabetes), they will come to dominate the group and scare away people who aren’t interested in that subject. Then you have a “low-carb group”, which may not be what you want. We always keep an eye on our group and try to balance out any dominant post types with other types of content to keep the group relevant for everyone.
I highly suggest a no-tolerance policy for rude or aggressive behavior in the group. It you start giving people warnings or time-outs, you will end up in a never-ending battle to moderate your group. Simply banning anyone who breaks group rules after the first offense is generally the best idea unless you want to spend all day in the group.
I strongly believe that Facebook groups will be the most common patient communities in the future. They are on a platform where most people are active already, easy to access, and custom made for engagement. Creating our Facebook group was one of the best decisions we have made – not just for our business but also for our patient community!