By Jessica Havlak
While working in what I’ll call the “white hat sector,” it can be a challenge to reach individuals with your message when they are almost as inclined to listen to their friends and family as they are to clinicians. Use this trust of peers to your advantage: engage them in a community with a shared goal. I work for the National Cancer Institute’s Smokefree Women Facebook page, which is a flourishing community of (mostly) women who have come together to help each other quit smoking. While many Pages have felt the loss of organic reach, the reach on Smokefree Women hasn’t significantly dropped since a recent algorithm shift, which we think has something to do with the strength of the community. Strategic planning helped us cultivate this exemplary community of individuals who actively engage with each other in a positive way.
Looking to create your own Facebook community of people who will advocate your mission? Here’s how to get started:
Hone your idea
When building such a community, it’s important to first hone in on who exactly it is that you are trying to reach. Ask yourself:
- Does my target audience share a common experience or goal (or both)?
- Does my goal align with the common goal of the people I’m trying to reach?
- Can I add to their experience?
- Is the goal of the community one that typically benefits from social support?
If your answer to these questions is “yes,” then your idea is a good candidate for building a Facebook community.
Write down your mission
Since your group is ripe for building a community, take it a step further and write down your goal or mission. Who are you, and what are you trying to do? It can be helpful to think of this as the “About” section on the Facebook page, and write for your audience.
Create your page
At some point, you’ll need to physically create your page, the vessel through which your community will flourish. Facebook can tell you how to do that much more efficiently than I can. Make sure that you’ve considered your branding elements, color scheme, profile photo, cover photo, category, and more. Include some sort of Welcome post that you pin to the top of your page.
Once the page is created, you’ll want to tell people about it. Do you have a website, Twitter account, blog, print materials, or other places that you can share the news?
If you can budget it, a great way to jump-start your page is to invest in some paid advertising. You can also get your friends, family, and coworkers (if this is a business page) to like your page.
You can’t have a community without trust among members of the community, as well as for the moderator. Here are a few ways we have found to build trust:
Stay on topic. If your page is about quitting smoking, don’t post things that don’t tie back to quitting smoking (and make it clear how other things DO tie in).
Provide useful resources. Make sure the links and resources that you provide are both relevant and useful to your community membership.
Follow your stated guidelines. Enforce the rules you made for the community. Remove inappropriate or unsupportive comments and posts and respond to others in the timeframe that you’ve promised.
Be positive. It’s hard to build a community that centers on negativity, so keep your tone positive while staying in your page’s designated voice. People are hard enough on themselves.
This one is huge – you have to encourage members to engage with your material. Keep in mind that only things the moderator (that’s you!) posts to the page will appear in community members’ Newsfeeds. Here are some things that have worked for us:
Feature user content. Pull what people have posted to the Timeline or as comments and re-post it on the page. People love to see their voices being magnified, and others love the authenticity of the content, and are more inclined to share their stories or advice as comments.
Ask questions. Relevant questions spark comments and support (and often the responses are ones that can be repurposed into more content!)
Remember the moderator. The moderator cannot be forgotten here; they (you!) play a crucial role in starting conversations, lifting members up, and pulling members to the page by publishing content.
Create community ambassadors
Community ambassadors are people who are happy to spread the word of your page because they have found it to be helpful to them. To get them to promote your page:
Create shareable content: When the content on the page resonates with community members, they may be inclined to share it with their networks. This can be encouraged by including calls to action such as “Share this if…” or “Tag a friend who has helped you…”
Word of mouth: When people appreciate the service that you provide, they are likely to tell others about it.
If you have resources to spare, creation of community ambassadors could be done at a more strategic level, by offering incentives for sharing, or by reaching out directly to power members of the community and asking them to keep up the good work.
Creating an active community on Facebook takes both planning and time to do well. Once your community is off the ground, plan to spend at least an hour a day responding to people, creating content, and fostering engagement. The payoff is well worth it, and it can be incredibly rewarding to be actively touching people’s lives in a positive way.