Jake Higgins, head of growth at Forward Partners, on how you can leverage Facebook to build brand equity.

It’s hard to make Facebook work for brands unless you’re willing to pay-to-play. This trend is likely to continue with the recent announcement that Facebook have started a trial to move non-promoted brand posts out of the news feed. But there are still free tactics that work on the platform.

Creating a community of people with shared interests has been a fundamental part of human development for millenia. This is why Facebook Groups can offer a more satisfying experience than your general newsfeed. It’s similar to people pulling up chairs in a circle to discuss an agreed subject, rather than them making declarations on a town-hall notification board.

This has not passed Mark Zuckerberg by, especially as he responds this year to evidence that Facebook can make you depressed. He plans to prioritise “meaningful social interactions” rather than “relevant content” i.e. your friends, over brands.

Facebook Groups are a community within Facebook’s platform that users can join, built around common interests or goals. Importantly, they are given high ranking by the algorithm – it’s worth taking this opportunity while this is still true. Put simply, posts from groups appear in people’s feed more often and more prominently.

From a marketing perspective – and this is especially true for startups looking to grow cost-effectively – being part of the same community as your customers is extremely powerful.

It’s vital to bear in mind that this isn’t the perfect tactic for all businesses, and lends itself to being most effective for those focusing on content to drive growth.

Ask yourself: Can you see your customers convening around a common interest or goal? Does community based engagement align with your marketing strategy?

And critically, think through any potential negative implications of your potential and actual customers talking to each other. This is a particular danger zone for financial products where there’s complexity and sensitivity around certain topics. It just takes one customer to misunderstand a product or issue to propagate disinformation.

But for many businesses, this tactic makes perfect sense. Firstly, you need to decide who your group is built for, and then be able to clearly define the benefit of the group to them.

The better you can communicate the benefit of the group, the easier it is for the group to be filled with the right people. Yes, that means a potential customer – but don’t forget this tactic won’t work if you and the community are not providing benefits above and beyond your product.

The more specific the title the better, as the members will be more tightly bound by their shared interests. People join clubs and groups to be around people like themselves. The tribal mentality of humans is one of the most powerful drivers of behaviour. Sports clubs have such a powerful pull because they instantly bind thousands of strangers together with a common interest.

When you get started, you’ll want to set up your group as a ‘Closed’ Group so that only people who join will be able to see your content. This makes the group exclusive, another powerful driver of behaviour, but also encourages people to join as the content is gated behind them signing up.

Quality rather than quantity is important, especially in the early days when the community is forming its identity. This means that you want to make sure that you’re filtering and removing those users who are too pushy. To this aim, you can also ask new people who join your group some questions before they are accepted.

You can ‘pin’ a post to the top of the group, it’s a good idea to write up a short ‘rules of engagement’ list so that new members know how to best conform into the culture of the group. This will help you maintain the quality of the content being shared, and draw some red lines across hard selling practices or spam content.

Although this is a community driven platform, make sure that you’re front and centre! As the admin you’ll carry some psychological weight, but pre-write your content before each week starts. Make sure that you are posting every 2 days, and that each post provides direct and actionable benefit back to the community. You can re-use your best performing blog articles or quora posts, whatever you think will benefit the community the most. Don’t forget to also encourage participation in the group by asking interesting discussion points or creating a poll.

Although not free, you can use your business page to run a small budget of ads promoting the group itself. Keep the audience targeting tight, and sell the closed and exclusive nature of your community in the ad copy. Don’t post about the group too much on your page, the audience who like your page might not be interested in your group – that’s natural. And of course – join other relevant groups, but post several times providing value before you invite others to join you.