Browse our range of digital marketing courses which are designed and validated by the digital industry. View Courses

Foster Social Media Communities

by Alison Battisby

Posted on Apr 3, 2020

How can brands create real value in their social media presence and earn a loyal community? Our host Will Francis talks to social media consultant Alison Battisby, founder of Avocado Social.


The full podcast transcript is also below or you can download a PDF of it.

Podcast: How to Foster Social Media Communities


Will: Welcome to "Ahead of the Game," a podcast brought to you by the Digital Marketing Institute. This episode is a big Q&A, where we explore an area of marketing through a leading industry expert. I'm your host, Will Francis, and today I'll be talking to Alison Battisby. She is the founder of Avocado Social, a social media training and consultancy firm working with a range of brands to build more meaningful relationships with their audiences and drive business growth through social media channels. Alison has experience working with the key players in a number of sectors, and today, we're going to specifically talk about fostering social media communities around our brand. Alison, welcome to the podcast.

Alison: Hi there. Thank you very much for having me.

Will: My first question for you is quite simply that, in my experience, community is one of the most overused words in social media and mostly not used particularly accurately. Can you really build a community around a corporate brand?

Alison: Absolutely. I'm a true believer in building valuable social media communities. I think that's actually a really important word there, valuable. So many businesses, as you know, I'm sure, are using social media just to promote their services, promote their products, but aren't actually thinking about valuable, meaningful content for their audiences. So when you are building a community, you have to think about that, give-a-bit-take-a-bit attitude. And so, I would say the key thing corporate brands need to think about is what they could offer their customers that's valuable. Maybe that's useful content, perhaps it's discounts or exclusives and offers. And rather than just pushing out your message all the time, you need to be thinking about how to reward that audience member for being part of your community.

Will: But in my experience, that's the great rewiring that a lot of marketers have to do is go from wanting to push their promotional stuff out there and switch to actually making it about the audience and asking themselves, "Is this objectively useful or entertaining?" So it's useful like, yeah, as a discount code or something, how to do something, or it's just entertaining. So that's true. But what else happens, what else have you seen happen when people successfully build like a genuine community around a brand?

Alison: I think one of the most interesting things I've seen happen is where a brand can create really positive affinity to their brand by, like you say, creating entertaining content. So their customers are often coming back to the community just to get that extra fix of exciting or humorous content. A great example of that is Innocent Smoothies, and the way that they have built up such a community, particularly on Twitter, which is their platform of choice, where actually now they're finding customers are going back to their channel regularly to get that fix of content because it's so good, and also to share it and to have conversations with the brand as well. And so, where you can be extremely responsive to your customers and join those conversations, rather than just pushing out your message, that's where you can begin to see the magic in community building.

Will: And they are a good example, aren't they, Innocent? And it makes me wonder, how big a part of community building is the ethos and the values of a brand? Is that inherently easier for a brand that has a mission statement, like Innocent, you know, like Patagonia and The Body Shop and those kind of real, kind of, value-led brands? Because it's harder for brands that don't have that to build communities, but is it still possible?

Alison: Yeah. It's tough, I've got to say, because you have got to think about what is it that people would be coming back to us for. But I do think it is possible. I think the first thing you really have to establish is who your audience is and what their preferred communication type is, so what tone of voice would appeal to them the most, what kind of content is going to capture their attention in the newsfeed. An example I'm thinking of now is actually Mailchimp, do you know Mailchimp?

Will: Mmh.

Alison: They create a brilliant community online, and they're essentially an email software provider. But because they have such a fun, bright, exciting, tone of voice that's often poking fun at itself, they've managed to create a very lively community of customers who are brand advocates, who would champion the brand and would do anything for the brand because of the way that they are being spoken to by Mailchimp.

Will: Yeah. I mean, a similar example that I really like is AdEspresso. I don't know if you ever use AdEspresso.

Alison: Yes.

Will: It's a tool for running social media in Google Ads. And their group on Facebook is called the AdEspresso University. So it's not about values, it's about, you know, helping people to get more out of the product. It's very functional, but very useful so people get value in different ways, I suppose. But what that then comes down to, and I'm sure you must get asked this a lot, what's the ROI on a social media community? Is there one?

Alison: I think, ultimately, you've got to think, why are we doing this, you know, what is the purpose of our activity in social media? And the value, ideally, of a community is that awareness and that affinity to your brand. So if somebody is having a great experience within your community or being part of your community, they're going to have a positive association with your brand, they're going to see you in a much better light to perhaps how they saw you before, or they're just going to simply think about you more often than what they would normally. So if we go back to AdEspresso, you might not be thinking about them daily, but actually, when they are creating really useful, meaningful content in their community, and that's being fed out into your news feeds, you're going to be thinking about them on a much more regular basis than if they weren't doing this.

So I would say brand awareness is probably the biggest return that you can get from running a community. But of course, there are other benefits as well. So if you were particularly looking for conversions, there could be a specific event, a specific product or service which you promote to your community when done in a very valuable way to the audience member. So, I find it very interesting that Innocent...I think they almost have like an unwritten rule that they don't sell their smoothies through their Twitter account, but they do find ways of subtly talking about their flavors, their decisions in terms of their ingredients, or even some of the work that they're doing in terms of giving back 10% of their profits to great causes. So there are ways that they are subtly convincing us that buying Innocent is a great choice.

Will: Well, they're so engaging so much of the time that they've earned so much license to talk about a new flavor. And you know they're going to do trust that they'll do it in a fun and relevant way. You never feel like you're being marketed that. You don't have that horrible, dirty feeling you've been marketed at as a consumer. And maybe that is the real key to a community, isn't it? That people never feel like they've been hoodwinked into engaging with marketing. I think that's the worst thing you can do to people.

Alison: I agree. Although, you know, sometimes it can be difficult if you look at it from a business to business perspective, like AdEspresso. I'm sure once in a while, they are going to want to actually send traffic towards the landing page, which is selling their tool, but it's choosing those right moments to do it and giving a very compelling reason why.

Will: I think seasonal offers. But I think largely the people in their community...what's interesting about their community, as far as I can tell, they all seem to be users, so they're all paying, subscribing users. The fact is all those users, myself included, will say to friends and colleagues, "AdEspresso is great and when you, you know, use the product, you get all this help," and you almost forget, well, actually, I could join the Facebook group, you know, without subscribing. But that would be of limited use, of course. But it's the fact that they make themselves so much more recommendable. They make it a lot less likely that I'm going to cease using the product because they're increasing the value I get out of the product week in, week out, you know what I mean? 

Alison: And also, if you join that community, which you could for free, without being an AdEspresso customer, you probably would get a bit of FOMO if everyone else is talking about this amazing product or, "Hey, guys, have you tried this new feature?" and you're the only one in the group that doesn't have that affinity or have that experience. You're gonna feel quite left out.

Will: Yeah. I think so. And obviously, that content will bleed out beyond the group because people like and share it, and comment, you know, engage with it in various ways. But, yeah, they've certainly done a really good job of that. And so, you know, we've seen lots of different approaches from brands and creating communities, and sometimes the unexpected can happen in these places. How should a brand know when to step in? You know, we'll want to get to the bottom of how should a brand balance fostering and hosting a community and then going in and actually getting involved. Where do you stand on that?

Alison: I would always know, often if something is almost becoming trending within your community, if it's very quickly becoming a popular conversation topic, I would almost be tempted just to leave it be. Because if something's already gathering pace, actually stepping in as a brand might hold that or stunt its growth. And so, I like to sit back and watch these sorts of conversations just happen very organically, unless there is some need for the brand to actually confirm something, answer a question, or perhaps deny something as well. So I think you'd have to very carefully conduct some social listening to sort of decide on what tone is coming up within that viral conversation. So...

Will: So do you think that, in general, it's better to let the group sort of self-regulate, essentially?

Alison: I do actually. Yeah. I mean, obviously, it depends on the type of social media that you are running, so on which platform. In something like a Facebook group, it's very easy to step back and let conversations run, whereas on a different platform like Twitter, you might feel like actually jumping in would help maybe confirm or deny some misinformation or perhaps it's about bringing the conversation back to its original theme or thread. So it's quite hard to say a hard and fast rule because obviously everything is so different. But I am erring towards that, just let it run and let people have these natural organic conversations without your brand having to step in unless there's need for you to step in.

Will: Yeah. I agree. Now, of course, you have your own community.

Alison: I do.

Will: I use it as examples, in my training courses, have done recently, as a fantastic example of how a brand, a company, has moved away from publishing from their own page and more to fostering a community of like-minded individuals that can all gain value from each other, as well as the company that hosts it, which I think is great. Tell me the story of the Avocado Social Media Hub, to give it its proper name, which is a Facebook group that's become really successful and that you own.

Alison: Yeah. I mean, the group has been going for about six years now. So it's something that actually one of my training course delegates suggested. I do a lot of training. And so, when I was running a public workshop once, actually a friend of mine, Gabby, who works as a marketing executive at Bill's Restaurants, was actually on the course. And we'd all got on so well that day, and she just said to all the other delegates, you know, "Should we just still keep in touch? You know, what's the best way of doing this?" and somebody actually suggested a Facebook group. So I established it, created it, and invited the, you know, six or seven people who had been on the course.

And so it started very organically. And it quickly became a great place for us to drop interesting links, articles, and examples that we were supporting in social media. So I began to grow the community by promoting it either on social media channels I was running, or I was doing a lot of face-to-face mentioning of the group.

Will: So at the end of your courses and talks and things like that, you'd mention it.

Alison: Absolutely. And actually it's my main call-to-action. So as a last slide at an event, it's always just a screenshot of the group. And I just say, "For anyone interested in social media marketing, come and be part of this community."

Will: What do you tell them they'll get out of it?

Alison: Help and advice, feedback, support, and just to chat with other social media geeks as well, you know. We do get quite interested by problem-solving, or getting to the bottom of why a brand has made a certain decision as well.

Will: I see that. Yeah. There is that communal, getting to the bottom of something. And again, you know, you get involved with quite a light touch. I've noticed that.

Alison: I'm always quite conscious of how involved I should be. It can be quite tempting, you know, when somebody has asked a question to just go through and answer all the questions in the thread, not to say that I would be able to answer them all properly, but I could at least, you know, give someone a hint or say what's worked for me. But sometimes I do restrict myself and I think, "No, actually, I'm just gonna let the community answer that one and not get involved." Because actually, I think it's good for the community not to see my name come up on every single post and thread because then it almost feels like I'm controlling the community.

Will: And it makes it more clear that you're perhaps trying to promote yourself through the community and people might suspect that there are ulterior motives to you hosting it, I think. But do you think, if people out there are thinking of setting up their own Facebook groups, specifically around a company, do you ever get the license to promote in those groups?

Alison: I do, actually. I do get the odd person saying, "Would anyone recommend any social media courses?" or, "Would anyone recommend any social media consultants?" And I'm like, "Hello."

Will: And you're like, "Hello, have you noticed which group you're in."

Alison: Exactly. But it's funny, you know, sometimes people don't actually realize it is the business behind the group, even though the name of the business is in the name of the group. So in those cases, I do jump in and let people be aware of our workshops and our services. And then if I've got, you know, a couple of places left, or a discount, or something a bit exclusive for a workshop that I could give someone, then I will drop it in the group because actually, I feel like I have got license to do that as long as I'm not doing it, you know, every day.

Will: Yeah. Exactly. Just post in the fact that you are running a course next week in London, you know. There's no reason for that to be there is that...whereas the things that you've mentioned, you're either responding to something there's a need for or you're offering a particular special offer or something.

Alison: Yeah. And actually, I know that it works as well. You know, I can fill those places by putting a link in the group, and it genuinely works. It's interesting, when I first set up the group, I had a couple of people say to me, "Gosh, you give away a lot of free insight in that group," you know, almost, "Why are you doing that?" And I did for a moment doubt, you know, am I doing the right thing, actually giving away all of this kind of knowledge and expertise? But actually, I found that it just reinforces the fact that we are experts, and it reinforces the fact that we know what we're talking about.

Will: I get that all the time. You know, in my courses with service-based or knowledge-based businesses, people question that a lot, you know. But if you look around you, you look around the world, you know, it's brands who are generous with their knowledge that get the chance to prove who they are, what they know, what they stand for and the depth of their expertise.

Alison: Absolutely. I completely agree with that. And no one ever forgets a brand being generous. But people, you know, I think will remember that you helped them out with that, or they will remember that they solved their query because of the Avocado Social Group.

Will: Yeah. And it's like, you know, a relationship starts best when you got something out of it to start with. Otherwise, you're just, you's that analogy, that classic social media analogy of being at a party. I know it's a massively overused analogy. But you are like the person who just goes to the party and shouts about themselves and what they want, you know, and everybody's like, "Who is this crazy person?" And yet brands think that it's totally okay to do that sometimes.

When I show your group to my delegates, in my training, I make the point that your page has less than half as many followers as your group has members, and that's no doubt in large part because the algorithm has been changed several times to prioritize group content, close friend content, in the newsfeed over page content. So, is that... Do you think we'll see a lot more brands starting to create groups around their brand rather than publishing from their pages? I mean, is it becoming futile to publish from a page?

Alison: I think when Facebook officially changed the algorithm the last time, which was in 2018... I mean, they're constantly tweaking the algorithm, but the last big announcement of a change came in the beginning of 2018 when Mark Zuckerberg made an announcement on his own Facebook page that they were going to reduce content in the newsfeed from brands, businesses, and media and up content from friends, family, and meaningful conversations. So that basically means groups. And so, where they can see that you are providing value through posts which get obviously good engagement, and by good engagement I mean things like comments, and shares, and saves, not just a like, that's where you can really see the magic in Facebook. Pages do suffer from such low organic reach now. I mean, I know my page, although it has, I don't know, over 1,100 likes, I get sometimes less than 50 people seeing a post. So the organic reach on my page is awful.

Will: That's about right actually because the average is about 5% or 6% across the board, so, yeah.

Alison: I mean, it's interesting, the posts that still do well on my pages are the ones that either get comments or the ones that get a lot of clicks. So I've noticed that when I post a picture of me, although it does feel slightly embarrassing, it does get a lot of clicks because people recognize me as the face of my brand. And so that can do very well. However, on the whole, the sort of content I want to be posting isn't just pictures of me, it's, you know, advertisements for my services and courses, and that content just isn't working on Facebook. And so, as I told you, I organically started the group as a way just to stay in touch with delegates, but it's very quickly become one of my main marketing features for my whole business. So I'd say the group now, I can see, gets decent reach, gets great engagement, and I can track how many clicks I'm getting on the links that I post as well, which is far greater than what's happening on my page.

Will: I see that. I mean, I'm a member of the group and I see the content is always in my feed because it's always being engaged with. People are finding a true value to them, you know, and that's the key, isn't it?

Alison: In terms of your question, do I think more brands are going to be starting groups? I think...I've certainly noticed a lot of independent consultants who do this. I've also noticed a lot of big brands who have started groups. So the ones that spring to mind for me are Conde Nast, which is a publisher who has an amazing travel magazine, have started a group, a good few years ago now, but it's got over a million people in it called Women Who Travel.

Will: Wow.

Alison: And it's for female travelers to get tips on, you know, where to go, where feels safe, where's the great cultures to go and visit, you know, where's good for family trips, etc., etc. And so, I thought obviously that's quite an interesting example. They could, you know, be doing that through a page, but the difference with a Facebook group is that community, almost forum feel, where I'm sure the brand actually now doesn't really need to get involved very much, but they still got their branding all over the group.

Will: That's the thing, isn't it? I think that when you set up a group as a brand, it kind of makes you behave differently. In fact, it makes you behave more like we probably should have done when we started those pages, but we misbehaved and we abused it, you know, and we just pushed out content about ourselves. And what we probably should have done, 10 years ago, was foster communities of like-minded individuals. But it's only now starting groups for our brands, we realize that was our role, and that was always really our role. No one ever signs up to a feed of marketing. People sign up to...people use social media to connect with people.

Alison: Absolutely. And that's actually something that Facebook did some research around - why groups were performing so well on the platform. And they found that actually it was that feeling of togetherness once you join a group, you suddenly feel this affinity to the other people in the group. You feel like you're part of a club. And that then encourages you to engage more. Whereas, on a page, because it's almost like out there in public and it's like a notice board, if you wrote a comment on a notice board, you're feeling very exposed and you don't feel part of something, whereas it's different when you're actually in a room having a conversation with a bunch of people because you feel like you're contributing and you're giving and taking from this community. And so, I think that's one of the really clever, almost psychological ways that Facebook has built groups, to essentially be more engaging. And so, I think having that element of asking somebody to join a group almost makes them commit to engaging more.

Will: I agree. It's funny, isn't it, such a subtle difference. It's still just content and news feeds structured in the same way, but there's such a slight difference in the way it's framed and how you come to it, you know.

Alison: Absolutely.

Will: What were the platforms, outside of Facebook, which are a really great platform for community building? What other platforms do you think are really good for building a community around a brand?

Alison: Well, I'm sure...this is one that I've been kind of asking about recently. In terms of LinkedIn, so LinkedIn groups were definitely a big thing before Facebook groups.

Will: Yeah. They were.

Alison: And a lot of corporate brands were using them to either bring together people, like-minded people within different industries, within same industries, and also groups of employees. But actually, groups on LinkedIn became very spammy places. They're full of sales representatives, the bizdev people. And so, very quickly everyone became quite annoyed by groups on LinkedIn. And I speak to people now, and I don't really know anyone that uses a LinkedIn group. However, since Microsoft bought LinkedIn, we've seen a lot of changes on the platform. I mean, they incorporated live video, they've launched events. They're making tweaks and changes to personal profiles at the moment. I think they're going to relaunch groups pretty soon because it is such a great opportunity, having a more corporate professional version of groups.

Will: You think so?

Alison: So I think that will certainly be one to watch.

Will: I mean, I did recently post something in a group for the first time...I'd done it for a long time. And I got more engagement on that than I've got on, you know, my normal feed posts.

Alison: Interesting.

Will: And it was in that group that I think we're all a member's like, I think it's just called like the Digital Marketing Professionals group or something like that, but I've noticed that almost everyone I look at in marketing is a member of this group. And, yeah, that did strike me. I thought, "Hmm, okay, the algorithm is favoring group content," but it is a neglected feature because like I say, we've all got sick of it. We all don't really regard it as a valuable feature, really. So who knows? That's something to look out for.

Alison: I think so. I mean, I'm sure there are some businesses out there that are still using groups and probably using them successfully.

Will: I'd say on local and very industry-specific or micro levels, I'm sure there are groups out there. But those big groups that a lot of us have encountered are just...

Alison: They just became very spammy, didn't they?

Will: Yeah. So I think LinkedIn will probably be working on cleaning those up. The other...well, there's a couple of other sort of communities that I would suggest looking into. The first is actually just hashtag communities. So on both Instagram and Twitter, there are a number of different hashtags relating to specific communities. So whether that's a certain job title you have, whether it's maybe a hobby or an interest, maybe it's something to do with your local community like your postcode, you'll find that there are people hanging out on those hashtags. And so one that springs to mind for me, which is extremely business to business is, I used to run the social media accounts for a project management consultancy. And I discovered a hashtag, PMOT, which was Project Managers on Twitter.

Will: No way.

Alison: And so this hashtag used to work very successfully at getting our content out to exactly the right people. And we used to start conversations on that hashtag and engage with the project managers. So I would definitely suggest having a good old search around both Instagram and Twitter and seeing what hashtags come up.

Will: Absolutely. That's fascinating. I think that definitely, again, works at the niche level, you know. I see that on Instagram as well. I mean, yes, there are communities around things like photography and the broader topics, but it's when you get into that niche level...

Alison: Yeah. There's a great hashtag which I follow to discover influencers. So it's called discoverunder10K, and it's great for finding influencers who have less than 10,000 followers. And then there's an even more niche one, discoverunder5k.

Will: Wow. Nano influencers.

Alison: Exactly. And then you can find hashtags relating to, you know, businesses in specific areas and locations as well. So I like to use hashtags around, you know, female entrepreneurship and female leaders, female CEOs and things like that just to sort of see who else is sharing stories of running businesses.

Will: So yeah, they can be communities in and of themselves, even though they don't exist in one particular place. Can you create a community on some of the newer platforms? You know, can you create a community on TikTok?

Alison: Do you know what, I could imagine that you could through a hashtag because TikTok, their content is organized based on hashtags. So I'm sure there are some TikTok-specific communities. I haven't investigated them much yet. I'm very much in the early days of my TikTok investigations. But here's an interesting one, WhatsApp, you could certainly create a community. In fact, there was a brilliant story of Greggs, the bakery, creating a VIP WhatsApp group for their top fans and delivering deals and offers and exclusives to them in a WhatsApp group format.

Will: I love that. That's such a good idea. That reminds me of, you know the beauty brand Glossier?

Alison: Mm-mm.

Will: Glossier, a fantastic, like, modern brand success story. But similarly, they have a Slack channel just for top customers. And they share just what they're doing internally. It's almost like their top customers and employees, there's like almost a bit of a blurry line, you know, and they'll share internal things they're working on, product developments, new ideas for campaigns...

Alison: That's very cool.

Will: It is very cool. And, you know, how can you not become an ambassador of a company that you already love their products and now they're letting you in to, you know, even more exciting stuff that they're doing?

Alison: That's really interesting.

Will: It is. They're a fantastic case study actually, in lots of ways. But I suppose that leads me on to think, you know, about employees, you know, to what extent...if you have a community around a big brand like Conde Nast, do you think employees can get involved with that, or are they best to steer clear?

Alison: I absolutely do think employees could be involved in the wider community. But I think there does need to be some level of policy or training so the employee actually knows what's expected of them and maybe how far that they could go in terms of involving themselves in conversations. What you wouldn't want is for employees to be jumping in on threads, answering questions on behalf of the brand from their personal account. So when it comes to employee engagement, I would always start by firstly identifying who in your company uses social media and uses it in a way where they would be happy to say publicly that they do work for that company, because obviously many people use social media, but they don't ever want to be associated publicly with a workplace.

Will: Yeah. I get that. You need a really clear policy on it, don't you?

Alison: You do.

Will: And actually, I think it'd be great for some employees who are, you know, fluent in the language and sort of mechanics of that platform. It could be great for them to be part of that boat.

Alison: Absolutely. And then the second thing I do then is the ones that are interested in becoming almost like an ambassador of the brand online is take them through a training session, you know, what's expected, how to protect themselves online, what are the musts and the absolute don'ts of setting up your brand...sorry, your personal profiles in social media. And then how might you get involved in the community as well. So I've certainly seen successful examples where maybe somebody has been working at the company, and then they've put their job title and the company in their Twitter bio, for example, and started representing the brand online.

So for example, the head of policy at the charity Scope is very active on Twitter and uses Twitter a lot to almost lobby and promote the good work that Scope are doing. But it's done in a very considered way where he would never enter, you know, a debate or anything like that, that would be seen as controversial for the brand. And he'd never used his Twitter account to perhaps, you know, talk about football banter either.

Will: Yeah. Exactly.

Alison: It has to be done in a safe environment that the brand is also comfortable with.

Will: Yes. You're absolutely right. So, all this talk of community around brands, anyone listening must be thinking, "Alison, how do I go about creating a community around my brand? What do you think the steps are that someone needs to go through from zero to community hero?"

Alison: I would first of all start by thinking about your target customer, what are their needs, you know, what are they looking for from you? So for Avocado Social, it was pretty obvious that there needed to be somewhere that my course delegates could go to after a course, almost like an aftercare, but that they could continue to talk to each other and help each other out.

Will: So as they put their new skills into practice and questions come up they didn't think about asking on the day, there's a place for them to...

Alison: Exactly.

Will: You identified that need.

Alison: Whereas someone like AdEspresso, there's obviously a need for people to be talking about how they're using the tool...

Will: There is.

Alison: How they're...

Will: Quite versatile. There's lots of different ways you could use it, you know. It's not a linear path to just, you know, using it. You could use it in so many different ways. So, yeah, you're right. There's a need for people to hear what other marketers are doing and how best to use it.

Alison: Absolutely.

Will: So you identify that need, an informational or an entertainment need...

Alison: It could be entertainment, for sure.

Will: ...on behalf of your audience and maybe a bit of an idea of who they are and where they spend their time.

Alison: Which is their preferred social media platform. It's interesting, if you take that back to someone like Innocent, they like to talk a lot about current trends. So when you look at Innocent's marketing or you look at their Twitter feed, they'll be talking about awareness events, you know, what's going on in the sort of day to day world of people living in the UK. That could be anything from the London Marathon, to Pancake Day to...

Will: What's on TV.

Alison: ...what's on telly, the Great British Bake Off or whatever. So they're very kind of cultural. And so Twitter for them works extremely well because Twitter is all about what's happening right now, and it's the place where people go to talk about current trends and news. So for Innocent, Twitter just seems perfect. And using things like hashtags can help to carry their humorous content even further.

Will: True. It wouldn't work the same on Instagram, for instance, would it though?

Alison: No, or Facebook. Even though, you know, they have an Instagram and they have a Facebook, it's Twitter that works best for them. So, yeah, I think you really have to understand what the objective you have is and your audience's need, what you're kind of delivering to them.

Will: Yep. So you know your audiences, where they spend time, what platform works best for delivering know, the solution to that need. You know, what then? So I go and set up my, you know, community, be it a Facebook group, or a Twitter, or maybe a hashtag. I mean, is there any point in setting up...because you do see a lot of brands do this, you know, set up new hashtags, is that a big uphill struggle, is that ever worth doing?

Alison: I think if you can create a hashtag which isn't just the name of your brand, that actually has a brilliant way of bringing people together for a specific reason, whether that's to talk about their job role, or to identify with other people who are going through the same things as them, then I think it can work very, very well. But you would have to communicate that hashtag to a bunch of people to get them using it. You can't just be the only one using it.

Will: Right, because it's about community.

Alison: Yeah. You'd have to really encourage, whether that's incentivizing or whether you're simply asking people in your community to use a specific hashtag. I would say, when it comes to the setup, think carefully about the branding of that channel. If you go too far branded, you might put people off joining. So if you look at some brands out there, Peloton, for example, has a Facebook group which has about 44,000 people in it, I believe, where they talk about their gym equipment and how best to use it, you know, exclusives, offers, etc. It's heavily branded. So you do almost know, if you're going to join that community, you either have to be a customer or have to be planning to be a customer. So I'd think carefully about that branding.

Will: It's a clear marketing channel, isn't it?

Alison: It is.

Will: You're entering a marketing channel like entering a showroom or a store and you're someone has to think about whether they want to do that because it's not right or wrong, but like, it's gonna work better for some brands. I mean, Peloton is a new and very hyped brand. I think they can get away with it being a marketing channel and, like, the physical showrooms they've got. But, yeah, for most brands, that's not gonna work, isn't it? It needs to be clear that you are fostering a're the benevolent host as it were, and you're setting up a place because no one else has got the time to. So you're going to be the person to set up a place for these like-minded people to get together and learn from each other. And in that, somewhere becomes an unspoken promise that you're not going to bombard them with marketing.

Alison: Absolutely. And the branding of your channel, of course, involved how you describe your channel, how you welcome people to that experience as well.

Will: Right. So on your Facebook group, you do have a bit of a welcome note, don't you? What were you trying to convey there?

Alison: I do. I have both...a questionnaire that people have to fill in when they join the group. So Facebook, I think is the only channel that allows you to do this where you can have almost a pre-questionnaire, which could be, I think, three questions. And so, I like to ask people how they heard about the group, which is useful, you know, for my own knowledge of was it from that event, or have people been talking about it.

Will: I like it, always capturing market research data.

Alison: You know, sometimes it's really interesting. You'll find that someone else has been talking about the group in another group, and you get 10 new requests coming from another existing Facebook group just because someone mentioned our one. Or perhaps someone has spoken about it in the office or something like that. So that's quite useful. And then I always like to ask people what their kind of biggest area of need is in terms of what they're looking for help with. That's very, very useful because I can then spot and identify maybe content ideas. So if people are saying, "Oh, I'm just struggling with Facebook ads," or, "I don't know how to grow my followers." Those are sort of key topics I can hone in on.

I do have a welcome message as well, at the top of the Facebook page, and that's just a place to sort of set the scene and allow people to know what the main aims of being a member of the group are.

Will: Your house rules.

Alison: A couple of house rules. I mean, the only rules I have really is the obvious ones, you know, not being abusive...

Will: No spamming.

Alison: No spamming, I'm very clear on because I did actually find a stage, before I wrote the house rules, that people were coming in and selling product...selling social media product to social media managers. And that's not what the group's about. So those are kind of the main rules.

Will: Okay. That's great. So we're all set up. How do you actually get that community growing?

Alison: So I think, first of all, I'd probably established a bit of a posting plan, so how often are you going to post. You don't want to be spamming your new community, especially if it's very small to begin with, but also you want to make sure there's enough content that's going to interest people. So I'd probably have a very light-touch posting plan for your first couple of weeks in social media...

Will: A couple of times a week or some more than that?

Alison: A couple of times a week feels about right. Now that does differ depending on the platform. Obviously, you can get away with more content on Twitter. But if you were doing a couple of times a week in WhatsApp, that might feel a bit too much for some people. So you do have to kind of tread that balance carefully, depending on the platform. And I would also really encourage your community, your business community, to come and get involved. So perhaps you could highlight something that you've posted in an email to someone and say, "I'd love to hear your thoughts on this. Do you mind commenting in the Facebook group?"

Will: Bright idea.

Alison: You could send things out via DM on Instagram. Perhaps you could spread awareness of a hashtag by talking about it in events. So there's lots of ways that you could cross-promote your group.

Will: But you do you need to be proactive by the sounds of things. You really do need to promote everywhere that you have a footprint, but also, like you're saying, sometimes just email people, ask them what they think. And that sort of says a lot about the spirit of the group as well, doesn't it? You know, it suggests that it's a collaborative place.

Alison: Absolutely. And then maybe something like holy grail users that you kind of want to encourage into the groups, so giving them a good incentive or giving them a platform and inviting them to share their opinions would be a good one. I think as well, you know, really communicating that value of the group. So when I launched my Facebook group, once I decided to kind of go public with it, I put a banner on my website actually saying, "Hey, come and be part of this free community." I think free was a really key word there, and that drove a lot of initial people to join the group as well.

Will: Yes, because you were clear that there was something valuable but you were getting it for free.

Alison: Absolutely.

Will: That's great. Thanks. God, I feel like I've learned so much about social media communities.

Alison: Good.

Will: It's great, very enlightening, such good insight. And thanks so much for all that. Thanks for taking the time to tell us about what you know.

Alison: No problem.

Will: And, yeah, thanks very much for coming on the podcast.

Alison: Oh, it's been great to talk to you, Will. Thank you.

Will: If you enjoyed this episode, subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. And for more information about transforming your marketing career through certified online training, head to Thanks for listening.

You can find all our podcasts (and share them) on our public site as well as on all major podcast platforms. Just search for Ahead of the Game, DMI.

Related Articles

Alison Battisby
Alison Battisby

Alison is a Social Media Consultant with Avocado Social, she is a Facebook and Instagram accredited social media expert and founded Avocado Social in 2014 having worked in the social media industry since 2008. Alison has worked with a wide range of brands including Estee Lauder, Tesco, and Pringles. Alison has traveled the world training companies including the BBC, Etsy, Canon, and Cambridge University Press. She offers social media strategy, training, and consultancy at Avocado Social across platforms including Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn and TikTok. 

Upgrade to Power Membership to continue your access to thousands of articles, toolkits, podcasts, lessons and much much more.
Become a Power Member

CPD points available

This content is eligible for CPD points. Please sign in if you wish to track this in your account.