“The Facebook fan page feels like a podium,” says Jen Hagedorn. “It works for sending one-way messages about new patterns or sales, but it’s impersonal and can feel kind of spammy. The Facebook group, on the other hand, feels like a sewing circle.”
Jen started a private Facebook group for her pattern company, Tie Dye Diva, two years ago and she feels it was one of the best moves she’s made for her creative business.
Groups are an easy, free way to build community for small creative business owners. With very little set-up you can create a place for your customers to get to know one another, talk about how they’re using your products, troubleshoot, and share ideas. With you as a guide and expert, this kind of marketing through community is incredibly valuable.
The Tie Dye Diva Facebook group now has nearly 5,000 members and even though her Facebook page has three times that number of “likes”, the private nature of a Facebook group is a much more effective business tool.
“Members’ posts are visible only to other members, and all members have to affirmatively join and be screened for membership to keep out fake profiles and spammers,” Jen explains. “I think that encourages sharing by giving more of a feeling of intimacy.”
Some members even use the Tie Dye Diva Facebook group as a primary place to socialize online. “There are a number of ladies who make it their primary stop on the internet, and check in all day long chatting with others, and I personally call it my happy place on the internet!”
Rachel Nelson agrees. She co-owns the sewing pattern company, Once Upon a Sewing Machine, with her friend and business partner, Donna Wucherer. Initially they weren’t convinced that a Facebook group would be a worthy time investment for their business. “I was hesitant at first since we do have a Fan Page,” Rachel recalls, “and it felt a bit like one more social media thing to manage.”
They took the plunge three months ago and now feel that it was a good move. “I think it’s provided a great community base for the brand. It helps humanize us as designers, which makes people more likely to promote our work,” Rachel says. Because their business is less than a year old, the kind of word-of-mouth marketing that happens among members of the group have been tremendously helpful.
For Rachel and Donna the group has also helped head off customer service questions. “It allows customers to ask questions, and the group will often respond and work through things together, making what could have been a negative experience with confusion over a step into a positive one.”
Administering a Facebook group does involve an ongoing time commitment. For a small group like Once Upon a Sewing Machine, which currently has 150 members, the time investment is fairly modest. “I would guess we spend 10 minutes a day in the group on average,” Rachel says. “It’s broken up throughout the day. One of us will post, and then we try to stay engaged here and there to avoid the ‘post and ditch’ scenario.”
A larger Facebook group can require more manpower and a bigger time investment. One of Jen’s customers volunteered to help out with the group and Jen made her an administrator, a job that was at first volunteer but is now a paid position. “About a year ago a long-time customer offered to take care of the membership tasks, saying she was encouraged by the helpfulness and positivity of the group,” Jen explained. “She’s the kind of caring and enthusiastic person who wanted to give back and so volunteered to help. She did such a dedicated job, going above and beyond to answer questions, recommend and provide links to patterns for sale, and generally keep conversation going that I more recently converted the position to a paid one.”
If you think you might be interested in starting a Facebook group for your creative business, a good first step is to join some groups that interest you to see how they work. To find groups, log onto Facebook and go to the “suggested groups” page on your top navigation bar when you click on Groups from your profile. If you’re interested in designing sewing patterns for stuffed animals, you’re welcome to join my group, the While She Naps Softie Designers Forum. Here are some other groups I’m also a member of:
- Sewing, Craft, and Creative Bloggers Group
- She Podcasts
- Spoonflower Fans
- Peek-a-Boo Pattern Shop
- Creative Biz Marketing That Works with Mei Pack
Once you’re ready to start your own group, go to the Groups page. You’ll see a “Create a Group” button. Follow the prompts to select a name for your group, choose privacy settings (consider selecting “closed” as an option so that you can control who is in the group, but it still comes up in searches), and customize the URL for your group.
When you first start your group you’ll want to build membership. Invite your customers, newsletter subscribers, blog readers, Instagram and Twitter followers, and your Facebook fans to join your group. Don’t be afraid to get creative. Caitlin Bacher at Little Farm Media sends you an invitation to join her Facebook group as an incentive for signing up for her newsletter.
Communities thrive with great leadership and an online community on Facebook group is no different. The group leader sets the tone and helps to keep members engaged. Respond to questions and comment on people’s work, post your own questions and ideas, and come up with group-wide projects to bring people together. Jen has a variety of ways to keep things fun and interesting in the Tie Dye Diva group. “We do sew-alongs, sewing exchanges, and tester calls in the group,” she says, “plus fun giveaways and exclusive promos, plus the usual question answering, and show and tell.”
Although Facebook overall can be a frustrating place for small business owners, it’s the platform that is most accessible to the majority of internet users. Facebook groups are a way to use Facebook most effectively without paying to boost posts or worrying about algorithms.
Building a place for your customers to gather online can build really strong brand loyalty. Tie Dye Diva group member, Tomi-Anne Back, described the feeling of belonging she gets as a member of the group this way: “I kinda get sad when I sew and it’s not a Tie Dye Diva pattern. I can’t share it in the group. The ladies in here are always encouraging and feel like family. Tie Dye Diva patterns are what gave me the courage to sew clothes!”