Facebook has not been kind to brand pages in the past few years. In a survey of 3,000 publishers, SocialFlow found that organic reach dropped 42 percent in the first six months of 2016, partly due to algorithm changes that constantly adjust the types of content that audiences see, and also due to brand responses to lower engagement. As engagement drops, brands tend to publish more to increase their exposure, thus creating more competition for the limited spaces in the News Feed.

In fact, on a very good day, your brand page is only reaching seven percent of your audience.

If your personal brand has seen a decrease in engagement in the past year, there is a solution to bring back that traffic - and it doesn't involve creating a budget for sponsored posts. Consider investing in the community around you by creating and moderating a private Facebook group.

Facebook Groups Provide Visibility Brand Pages Can't

In 2015, Ryan Stewart created the group Digital Marketing Questions, a hub for navigating the world of digital marketing, PPC, and SEO. In December 2015, he had 3,000 members and drove 6,000 organic visitors to his website over the course of two months. Today, the group has more than 9,000 members and the feed is populated by people asking for help with client problems or tapping into the vein of knowledge that gathers there.

According to Stewart, writing for Moz:

"Facebook pages and personal posts rely completely on the Newsfeed algorithm for organic exposure. Facebook groups send users a notification whenever someone posts to the Group, thus driving traffic to each post... Facebook gives users the option to silence these notifications. However, if your group consistently adds value, they won't."

As long as you're creating an environment with relevant content and an active audience, your private Facebook group can increase your exposure and become a major traffic driver for your website.

Here are three steps you can take today to establish a private Facebook group for your brand that your potential customers will want to join.

Know What Kind of Facebook Group You Want

There are three types of Facebook groups to choose from: open, closed, and secret. Facebook's Help Center has a clear chart for each of them - including who can see the group and join. Essentially, an open group is accessible to anyone, a closed group is accessible to anyone who asks to join, and a private group is accessible only to people who are invited.

It's possible for you to utilize each of these options, depending on your overall marketing goals and target audience. Consider the following examples, in which a real estate agent would use a closed versus a private group to promote her personal brand:

Closed

This group would be open to community members and people interested in real estate values in their area. The discussion topics would cover community news about school performance and local events, while highlighting stories about great neighborhoods in the area. The goal would be to connect with potential buyers who would contact the agent when they want to move around the area.

Private

This group would be limited to real estate investors who are interested in investment properties in the area. Instead of sharing events and school discussions, this group would focus on the economic state of the area and why now is a great time to invest. Essentially, this would be more of a B2B group for experts in the industry.

The group format choice reflects the professional goals of the person moderating the posts, and makes sure she's reach the right audiences to move them into the sales funnel.

Pro tip: Remember to promote your group in your other marketing channels by including a section about it in your e-newsletters and on your website.

Set Criteria for Who Can Join

Once you have a Facebook group and understand who you're targeting, develop criteria for who gets approved and why. (Marketers often create audience personas to guide their strategy specifically for cases like this.)

Suzi Nelson is the Community Manager for Digital Marketer. Along with blogging and editing, she manages more than 10,000 members across seven private Facebook Groups, and utilizes the platform to build strong networks for people to connect and share information.

However, even she has admitted to needing a thick skin when it comes to accepting people into the group.

"Having some sort of qualification for admittance to the group naturally builds a stronger community - people feel like they are a part of a special club. You will have to have to turn people away, you will have to have uncomfortable conversations with applicants who don't meet the access guidelines, and you will have to be consistent with your requirements. You'll also need a system in place to remove those who no longer meet your qualifications of membership."

This step ensures the integrity of the group. If you're managing a group that targets the c-suite, you don't want your "special club" filling with entry-level employees hoping to advance. Without this integrity, your target audience will leave and your group will fall apart.

Pro tip: Be specific in your group description. Take the time to draft a clear description of who can join and what they'll get out of the group. This will prevent confusion from people who don't meet your criteria.

Develop a Group Content Calendar

Like the other social media channels or blogs in your marketing strategy, Facebook Groups require forethought and planning. As you enter each month, create a content calendar with discussion questions to post, photo ideas to share, and digital events the community can participate in.

For example, Kimra Luna created the group "Freedom Hackers Mastermind" which (as of this writing) has more than 38,900 members. The goal of the group is to create a space for entrepreneurs to share stories, offer advice, and build relationships. In an interview with Entrepreneur, Luna explained how she keeps her audience engaged - without clogging the group with self-promoters.

"Every day I have a scheduled post that goes out to prompt engagement around a different theme. I have a strict rule about promos and everyone knows that the Tuesday promo thread is the place to post them. If people post promotional material on other days I delete their posts and if they do it again after being reminded, I delete them from the group. People really value the space I've created for them so in a way, it's becoming self-managing too."

In the three years that Luna has been running the group, she's expanded her team with two virtual assistants who moderate comments, but still spends a few hours each day ensuring the group is a positive and welcome place for digital entrepreneurs.

Pro tip: As you develop your calendar, track what content types perform best and try to engage your audience with visual media. According to eMarketer, photos accounted for 87 percent of total likes from fans. Links only made up four percent of likes, and text posts made up two percent.

Grow Your Group Like a Tree, Not Like a Weed

Your private Facebook group is a living community that will take time to grow. Curating an audience of engaged users will take a few months as people learn what they can expect from the group and how you run it. If you don't get discouraged after the first few months, you could push through and create an invaluable resource to your community - and a major traffic-driver for your brand.

Could you see yourself using Facebook Group's to expand your traffic and web presence? If so, share your plans by leaving a comment below:

Published on: Feb 25, 2017