Every successful community has a central hub for the sharing of ideas the facilitation of random social interactions. Churches have Sunday worship. Service clubs like Rotary and Kiwanis have weekly meetings. Geeks have game nights at local comic shops. These regular places of meeting provide members of a community a forum to engage other people with like-minded interests and develop the ideas, the tenants and even the language of that community.
A little over a year ago, I became aware there was no community square for business owners and those interested in entrepreneurship in the Sioux Falls metro area. The closest thing we had was a co-working and event space called The Bakery, that had recently closed. The other co-working space in town, the Zeal Center for Entrepreneurship, only caters to a subset of startups that want scale nationally. We also have a weekly event called 1 Million Cups, which attracts between 50 and 100 people each week. Given that there are a few thousand business owners in Sioux Falls, the vast majority of entrepreneurs had no opportunity to regularly interact with other business owners.
I had been part of a few Facebook groups built around online communities interested in personal finance and entrepreneurship, so I wondered if the same concept could work to build a local community of business owners. I had previously tried to build a community group on LinkedIn, but that effort largely failed because people had to remember to come back to it on a regular basis to participate. In May 2017, I came across a dormant Facebook group originally created by Chelsea Tracy (Chelsea’s Boutique) and asked the current manager (Clint Brown) if I could take it over.
After taking the reigns of Entrepreneurs of Sioux Falls (then called Sioux Falls Young Entrepreneur Group), I changed the name of the group and initially seeded it by adding every local entrepreneur I was connected with on Facebook to the group. I posted an open question or shared an interesting article once per day to facilitate discussion and engagement in the group. Over the course of the last year, the group grew to about 5,300 members. There are now more than 10,000 posts, comments and reactions in the group every month (according to Facebook’s Group Insights tool). Entrepreneurs of Sioux Falls has facilitated business partnerships, has helped entrepreneurs with their pressing business problems and has encouraged entrepreneurs to keep moving forward. The group has even spun off other groups, such as Women Entrepreneurs of Sioux Falls and Marketing Sioux Falls.
Over the last month, a few people have asked me how I’ve been able to grow the group in such a short period of time. Here are the strategies that I’ve used to develop the Entrepreneurs of Sioux Falls Group on Facebook:
- Make your group a “closed group”. If posts in your group are publicly-searchable on Facebook (e.g. it’s a “public group”), you will attract spammers and con-artists to your group.
- Make it so that you must approve new members before they can join the group. You can stop spammers before they ever join your group. They are easy to spot, because they usually don’t have a profile picture and joined Facebook within the last year.
- Create a pinned-post in your group that explains the purpose and rules of the group.
- Seed your group with people that you know are already interested in what the group’s about. Don’t just add all of your Facebook friends, because that will lead to an unengaged group and lead to people asking “Why did you add me to this?”. Facebook likes to promote groups that have strong engagement rates.
- Post an open-ended question or an interesting link to an article relevant to your group once per day, preferably in the morning. Consistency is key.
- Use Buffer.com to pre-schedule content to your Facebook group. This will allow you to write a month’s worth of Facebook posts at once and publish them once-per-day like clockwork.
- After a while, ask people in the group to add 5 people to the group they think would be interested in it. This will help your group expand beyond your immediate social network.
- Use a unique header image that communicates the brand of your group.
Growing a community on Facebook is not difficult and does not cost any money, it just takes consistent effort over many months. As people engage with your content and with other people in the community, it will naturally grow and your community will too have a central hub for sharing ideas and fostering social interactions.