A few years back, I started a Facebook group for the parents at my daughter’s grade school. I wanted a place where parents could look for information on what was happening at the school and be able to discuss anything that concerned our kids, even if it didn’t necessarily pertain to what happened at school.
I could have chosen to create a Facebook page instead, but I decided against it because that wouldn’t give us the privacy that I felt people would appreciate. I wanted privacy for two reasons. First, because I didn’t want anyone scouting out information on our families. This is a serious concern in today’s online world. Too many people fail to adjust their privacy settings, allowing people to find out far too much information via Facebook. This sets them up as easy prey for online predators and since this group is really about families/kids, I didn’t want to take any unnecessary risks.
The other reason why I chose a group over a page was to prevent businesses from posting onto the page. Before I started the group, I looked to see if there was already a page or group for the school. What I found was a page that had been created years ago, but hadn’t seen any new activity in quite awhile. At least, not activity that originated from the page itself.
I did see plenty of posts made by several local businesses promoting themselves on the page even though it wasn’t active. That meant that I would be starting from scratch. I chose a “closed” group so that people could find us, but not see what was happening within the group.
There are over 700 kids in my daughter’s elementary school. We currently have over 300 members, so I consider the group a success, especially based on what we’ve been able to accomplish in the group in terms of helping each other out on issues, ranging from homework to alerting each other about school events. This is our daughter’s last year at this school, so I recently passed the torch over to three moms who will keep the group going long after I’m gone. I didn’t want to wait until the last minute, since I’d be in a rush then and by doing it now, I’d be available to help them as they took over their new roles. That made me think back about what it was like during that first year.
Each day, I had to monitor the activity in the group. It’s a never-ending task that I tried to do several times a day. I wore multiple hats all day long. First, of course, is the “salesman” hat — trying to get new parents into the group. Unlike many other types of groups, we have a pretty small target audience, so each parent that joins the group decreases the number of potential new members more than it would for a professional networking or fan-based group. At the end of the first year, we had about half of what we have now. That was actually pretty impressive to me, as it mean that we probably had parents from about 25% of the students at the school. By now, we’re well over half.
While we have several members of the school’s PTO in the group, the PTO has not really worked with us to promote each other. They did, however, agree to put an announcement in all of the packets that they give to the parents of new students this fall. If you’re interested in creating a Facebook group for your own kids’ school, its PTA/PTO would be a great place to start looking for help in promoting the group to the parents.
Next comes the “gatekeeper” hat. Several times a week, I got requests to join the group from people that have no connection whatsoever to the school. The same probably happens to most groups. I once had a request from someone in Germany, even though we’re based in the U.S.A. He was a member of well over a thousand Facebook groups, leading me to believe that he just asks every group he sees to join. As far as I could tell, he was just a mischievous troll. This happened a lot and still does occasionally.
In the beginning, it was hard to find new members. Fortunately, the school handed all parents a contact booklet for us when our daughter joined kindergarten. She was going into second grade when I started the group and we still had the booklet, so I sent emails out to everyone with a link to the group. From there, we started getting new members from word of mouth.
Putting my salesperson hat back on every so often, I occasionally asked the parents to recommend us to other parents. I once asked them to each recommend us to two parents not already in the group and it worked well. I think that kind of specific request gets a better response than an open-ended request to help get new members. We have lots of young families in our neighborhood and roughly 80-100 kids will be entering kindergarten each year, so their parents may not know about the group unless they have older children. Even if they get the packet from our PTO, they won’t get that information for several weeks after they register, so the sooner the better, in my opinion.
Fortunately, when someone asks to join the group, Facebook let me know if they have any friends that are already members of the group. If it doesn’t indicate that they have any friends in the group, I’d ask the members if they knew the person before I admitted them into the group. Usually, someone knows them, but if that didn’t happen, I would send them a private message to make sure that they should be in the group.
Obviously, in some groups, mainly the “open” groups, this is less of an issue, but I’m trying to maintain our group’s privacy and it’s worked so far for us. I’ve had several members thank me for asking about a potential new member before I let them join us. Assuming that they’re from the school’s area, it’s rare that nobody in the group knows the person trying to join the group. If nobody knows them and I have no luck by sending them a message, I’d let the request stay for about a week or so and then delete it if I don’t hear anything from them.
The “policeman’s” hat is the one that I disliked having to wear, but sometimes it’s necessary. I had several rules about what can and cannot be posted in the group. Everyone needed to be respectful to the other members and they should avoid posts promoting businesses, especially if they own the business or work there. Certainly, if someone asked for a recommendation on where to have a birthday party or to find something for their child, it was fine. This was a major issue early on, but people now understand that the group is about the kids, not them.
At one point, I had an issue with a woman who posted about the day care where she worked to encourage parents to place their kids over summer vacation. She made it sound like it was just an endorsement of a place that she liked, but one glance at her profile let me know that she worked there. She didn’t appreciate that I deleted her posting, but it was part of the group’s rules and indicated as such in the “About” link. I never had to boot anyone from the group and I’m glad about that. Most people appreciated keeping commercialism out of the group.
The next hat that I often have to wear is the “help desk” hat. People often asked me questions about computers in general and Facebook specifically, even when it doesn’t have anything to do with their kids. Usually, I helped them, but sometimes, it’s hard to do it when I can’t show them in person. You have no idea how often I ended up responding back with a YouTube video or other link which shows them how to do what they’re trying to do.
This hat also means that people sometimes come to me directly via a personal message or by tagging me in a post to ask a specific question about something at the school. It can include anything from a general question about an event at the school or a school policy to something as specific as a single grade/teacher and unless it’s the grade my daughter is in, chances are that I won’t know the answer. Fortunately, there are lots of great parents in our group and they help each other out often. More often than not, someone else that knows the answer helps them before I even see it.
One hat that I didn’t really expect to have to wear was the “event planner” hat. I’ve organized events that parents can take their children to, such as a book reading at Barnes & Noble or a nature scavenger hunt at a local county park. That’s pretty much impossible if a group is geographically spread out, but if you’re thinking of running a local group, you should expect to organize events to help build a bond between the members.
Along with that, I was also the group’s cheerleader, trying to get people engaged in our online discussions, just as any social media director would do. Fortunately for me, this is a great group that has a vested interest in the group and we rarely go a day without one or more discussion topics being posted. Like most social media pages/groups, the majority of people stay in the background, but I know that our engagement level is higher than other pages/groups that I’ve participated in for work or personal reasons.
I’m writing this article so that people realize what they may be getting themselves into if they do it themselves. If it sounds like a lot of work, that’s because it is a lot of work. But I didn’t mind. Here are some things that you can do to help ensure a successful social media group:
Give it a good name that is descriptive of what your group is about.
Think carefully about the type (open, closed or secret) type of group that you create.
Realize that even with the best motivated audience, social media is a marathon, not a sprint, so it will take time to get it where you want it.
Be active yourself.
Work with others to help promote your group, especially if your group is an “open” one.
Completely fill out the “about” section provided by Facebook in detail.
Include a group etiquette guide and upload it into the group’s “files” section.
Link your Facebook group to your website (if applicable).
I highly recommend that you do this as soon as possible so that you can have someone to help out if you’re on vacation, a business trip, etc. My wife is an admin for the group, so she helps out if I’m out of town.
All of this also means that I’ll probably be creating another group for her middle school when she reaches seventh grade. I must be insane!
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