In August of 2016, my company started a free private Facebook group for people seeking job search and career advice. We wanted to give people a place to privately share challenges and ask questions as a way to better understand the needs of our company's target demographic. We promoted it on other sites like LinkedIn, Instagram, and Twitter. At first, it didn't grow much. But, after about a year, it suddenly started expanding quickly. By March 2019, we had over 37,000 members.
That's when it became clear we had to do something drastic.
Managing member comments to ensure there's no bullying, spamming, or trolling isn't so bad when there's a few hundred, or even a few thousand members. But, when you get to over 37,000, it's more than a full-time job. My social media and career coaching teams were spending a lot of time dealing with this. Enough that I decided to do a cost analysis to see if it was worth it. The reality? It wasn't.
It didn't matter what we did, it always came back to brand management.
At first, we tried the normal solutions we saw other large groups implement. For example, we sought out some popular contributors to the group and offered them free membership to our paid career coaching program if they'd be willing to be deemed "ambassadors" and monitor comments. Unfortunately, it wasn't long before they stopped helping. Some even asked to be compensated. Which we tried too. But, even with training, we found they sometimes handled situations inside the group, or gave advice, not in the way we felt comfortable with. In short, this was our brand, and that meant making sure how the group was managed met our brand standards. Especially, when it came to giving the right career advice...
We don't believe in pity parties or employer bashing.
One of the trends that got harder to control was the posting of really negative stories and comments. Instead of using the group as intended, some chose to seek pity and validation for situations or decisions that didn't end well. What started out as a positive place to gain insight and motivation, was turning into a venting room with the type of vibe that was completely opposite of what our company believes in. It was time to do something.
So, we announced a fee to stay in the group.
In March of this year, we announced there would no longer be free access to the private Facebook group. You had to either A) be a client of our career coaching program, or B) pay $2/month to keep access to the group. We were extremely transparent about this decision. I did two videos explaining the need to make the group smaller and find a way to cover the cost of having the right team of professionals managing it. Of course, there was some backlash. Not surprisingly, from people who were part of the problem. Yet overall, people understood where we were coming from. I even got a bunch of nice private messages from members saying they were glad we were doing this. And, while the majority chose not to join us, that's okay. It's what we wanted.
Now, there's just one final problem...
Facebook doesn't have a way for us to delete all the non-paying members in one swoop. Unbeknown to us, you can't just delete an entire group and start over. So, we are having to manually remove them. By our estimation, it's going to take us at least two months to do this. Which really, really stinks! So, if anyone knows someone at Facebook that could help out, can you have them contact us? We'd be truly grateful!
P.S. Think about scaling costs when starting a private Facebook group.
I still think private Facebook groups are fantastic. They provide a valuable service on a widely adopted platform. I just encourage any business owner thinking of starting one to consider the scaling costs. This is your brand being represented. You'll want to make sure you've got the resources to monitor and manage it properly!