I'm in a lot of Facebook groups related to my online business. Are you? I belong to groups about all the software (SaaS) I use, blogging, course creation, marketing, non-fiction book writing, planners, women in business, and more.
Not only am I a member of all these groups but I'm scrolling through and posting comments in them throughout my work day. I tend to hop in and out of groups in between my focused work periods; I call these times my 'brain breaks." I find it relaxing and educational at the same time.
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Business Facebook Groups for Lead Gen vs Just Enjoying "Talking Shop" and Helping Others
Some experts/"experts" teach that being active in Facebook groups is a great marketing tactic. Is that why I'm in them daily? No, not really. It used to be, somewhat, when I was a service provider. I was a virtual assistant for 12 years and (using authentic marketing, not pushy or rule-bending tactics), I did get clients from being active in groups.
Actually, that's a whole 'nother blog post ... or possibly course; I have LOTS of info on how to do it successfully.
These days, as a content marketer, blogger, and affiliate marketer, being active in Facebook groups doesn't directly help my business. I no longer take clients or provide any services or coaching. I make money when my blogs (yes, I have multiple blogs) get traffic and when people click my links on social media and make purchases based on my tips and recommendations.
So why do I spend so much time in Facebook groups, leaving helpful comments, participating in discussions, and answering questions with my expertise if it doesn't really add to my bottom line? Because I enjoy it. I like to help people (hence, VA for 12 years lol).
I enjoy learning. I love to dialogue about digital business and all that goes with it. Strangely enough, it has become my hobby and my happy place :)
"Marketers Ruin Everything": How Some Marketers Ruin It for the Rest Of Us
Why am I telling you all of this? I just wanted you to have some context when I (finally!) get to the point of this post: How marketers are "ruining" Facebook groups.
Yep, I said it. I feel like I can call out marketers* because I am one, lol. It's like how you can complain about your mom ... but God forbid anyone else do it 😂 I really do love us marketers. I just wish some marketers would "be cool" and stop ruining things for the rest of us.
I'm also riffing sort of tongue-in-cheek about that saying which you may or may not have heard before: "Marketers ruin everything." If you're a marketer or have hung around them online, you know right away how true it is, ha!
If you've not heard the phrase before, there are all kinds of books, podcasts, and articles articles articles about it. If you've followed Gary Vee for a long time, you've probably heard him talk about it.
The gist of it is that, if given the chance, marketers will "ruin" or take the fun out of a good thing because they turn every channel into a marketing opportunity. In this case, I'm applying that to business-related Facebook groups.
*By "marketers" I mean anyone who uses digital media to sell something - coaches, course providers, authors, influencers, content marketers, affiliate marketers, e-comm owners, bloggers, service providers, etc.
What Had Happened Was ...
Recently, in a very large and popular Facebook group I'm a member of (I use their SaaS), a fellow member who happens to be a friend of mine posted a plea to other members.
She asked, essentially, that we make efforts to return the group to its original intentions of HELPING and SUPPORTING each other vs what it has largely become --- MARKETING to each other. This is not the first time something like this has been posted.
The group rules are mostly clear and the admins do a wonderful job. But even with those things in place, it's a real sticky wicket, isn't it? "Selling, lead capture, promo, and content marketing" may be forbidden per the rules - but is your definition of those things the same as mine? The same as the Admin's? Do all the group admins interpret the rules the same way?
When a group is full of people who, by virtue of using the product and being in the group, ARE selling something, is it impossible to keep marketing to each other out of the group completely? Should we even try? Will our arms fall off from the never-ending game of Whack-a-Mole? 😂
Does keeping the group on task solely rest at the feet of the group admins or can we/should we as members self-regulate?
My friend's post has engendered a ton of great discussion and I'm so glad to see it. I'm happy the group admins have allowed the post to stand and allowed the back-and-forth to continue, especially since it's not all rainbows and puppies. There are negative comments, call-outs (by actions not by name), and complaints.
But there is also positivity and problem-solving. << This is what I live for in groups, when our better selves come out to play ✨
Maybe it's just me but it feels like teacher and principal are on the playground just on the edge of earshot while the kids are working it out. As long as no one throws a dodgeball in someone else's face, I think they'll let us continue.
Again, I'm really grateful that Comments haven't been turned off nor the thread deleted. I have faith that we CAN work it out amongst ourselves and I admire us all for wanting to.
What We Talk About When We Talk About Marketing in Facebook Groups
(Sorry, that title is another homage, to a book I read in college). When we sit down and talk about marketing being done in Facebook groups that forbid it, what exactly comes up? What are people doing "wrong" in the first place? How does that backfire on them in the long run? How do the people feel who are "following the rules" yet being marketed TO?
Well, let's talk frankly about it ...
What Marketers are doing that's against the rules in business-related Facebook groups:
It reminds me of black hat vs white hat vs grey hat SEO, right? Black hat - clearly goes against the rules, white hat follows the rules, and grey hat is a mixture of the two.
The grey hat SEO knows right vs wrong and they're choosing to straddle both sides of the line. That's similar to what some Marketers do in Facebook groups.
Here's an example. A group's rules will clearly state "no external links" are allowed in the group. Someone will ask the group, "What's the best course platform?" and a "grey hat" person will respond with "Kajabi is awesome!" and include their (undisclosed) affiliate link for Kajabi.
If questioned they'd say, "Well, the rules state 'no external links' but they don't say 'no affiliate links' so I thought it was okay." You and I both know that's not true, right? They're playing semantics. They think they can't get kicked out of the group because they didn't technically break the rule. The worst that will likely happen is an admin will remove their link.
Big whoop. They're still ahead of the game because they had their affiliate link present for hours in a group with tens of thousands of course creators and got hundreds of clicks on their affiliate link, which will undoubtedly earn them a significant amount of money in commissions down the road.
Incidentally, the black hat person would've just done their own post about how awesome Kajabi is along with their affiliate link, knowing it would eventually be taken down and they'd possibly be kicked out of the group.
But they don't care; there are plenty of other groups to join and do it again and again, and they can create countless new Facebook Profiles even if they get banned from some groups. The black hat doesn't care about the group, its members, or the culture there. It's merely a barrel to shoot fish in.
The white hat person would've merely answered "Kajabi", maybe given a few of their reasons why, and left it at that, knowing they were helping out the person asking but not getting anything monetarily out of it themselves. The white hat enjoys the group as a whole and wants to respect the boundaries.
So that's one extended example of how Marketers are "ruining" Facebook groups. Here are some other quick scenarios:
- Asking a 1- or 2-sentence question on a colored background (to be eye-catching) with no context or reason for asking, then using the responses for market research, for their own content, and to DM and Friend Request those who comment
- Peppering all of their responses in the group with "my clients", "when I build websites/funnels for people", "my coaching clients", "my course covers", "my students always tell me", "when I earned my client $10K," etc - making sure we all know they have a service or course and they totally rock at it 😂
- DM'ing fellow group members without their pre-approval or Friend Requesting from the group, solely for the purpose of making a sale, immediately or eventually
- Doing content marketing posts, i.e., one paragraph to many paragraphs with coaching, advice, "you should do this"-type content letting everyone know they're an authority on this topic (and we should buy their course or program); often the content posts are just repurposed blog posts
- Sharing earnings dashboard screenshots, humble brags about how much money they make or have made for their clients; disingenuous "celebrations" of their milestones
- Answering questions with a link to their paid product/service or to their gated info or opt-in
- Posting how-to videos with their branding, CTA, etc. "just to be helpful"
- When someone asks how to do something, telling them they shouldn't do that or they should do this instead (to demonstrate their authority and provide unsolicited coaching)
- On a thread asking "what is your course topic?" or "what's your elevator pitch?" and a clear request for "No Links Please", they're "that one person" who includes their link (because the group rules apply to everyone but them)
I could go on and on. I'm in a lot of groups and I see all of the above every single day and then some. Depending on the group and their specific rules, many of these things aren't technically against the group rules.
But are they against the spirit of the groups? YES. Do the group owners want these types of posts in their groups? NO. Do the people who are just in the group to learn, to help, and to commiserate with other business owners like these types of posts? NO.
How blatant (or veiled) marketing in Facebook groups actually works against those doing it:
Here's the HUGE irony to all of the above tactics: WE SEE THEM. We take note. It backfires, trust me. We're not stupid. We're turned off and tuned out. We're DM'ing each other about them and vowing never to send referrals their way. They're ruining the vibe of the group and we wish they'd stop.
Paradoxically, if they put that energy into SERVING instead of SELLING .... they'd make even more money, they wouldn't have to put over on people in Facebook groups because they'd have people clamoring to work with them, and they'd sleep better at night.
Here's a secret I feel like they don't realize yet: Helping people purely for the sake of helping people ... feels reallllly good!!
The negative impacts on those NOT marketing to others, and the effect on overall group culture:
In that thread my friend started which I referenced above, I'm really glad to see members speaking out who feel they've been silenced in the past. It saddens me to think that people - who have every right to be active in the group and have their voices heard and questions answered - give up on all that because of the actions of others.
Here are some sad byproducts of Marketers ruining FB groups.
Members become afraid to ask questions even though they need help or want to have meaningful discussions
One thing that has come to light is that many newer members have stopped asking questions and more experienced members have stopped answering questions, based on past negative experiences from Marketers in the group.
For instance, a newer member may have asked how to do a specific thing and instead of helpful instructions got a load of unsolicited advice from people too eager to demonstrate their coaching skills or funnel expertise.
Hearing people say that made me realize that I've done something similar in groups before. Someone will ask a question about a topic that I'm knowledgeable about. Instead of just answering the question with a how-to, I'll try to talk them out of doing that and do this instead because it's "better" (at least according to me, lol).
But then I realized, "Hey, that's not what they were asking." I hadn't come from a place of trying to market anything; I genuinely wanted to help them avoid a pitfall or be more successful. But that doesn't make it right. I'm really making an effort now to just answer people's questions without injecting my own opinion if I don't agree with what they want to do. I don't want anyone to feel talked down to.
Experienced members get aggravated, new members get taken advantage of (then feel stupid)
Those of us in business-related Facebook groups who have more experience in the industry and more time observing these group dynamics get pretty irritated by the whole scenario. We hate to see our fellow entrepreneurs being taken advantage of. (As an empath, this is by far the hardest part for me).
For example, now that I've seen shady scenarios like a competitor coming into a group and using member "complaints" about the product IN THEIR FACEBOOK ADS ... WITHOUT CONSENT, I know not to ever post a complaint in the group.
If I have one, I take it up with Support (which is where product complaints should be directed anyway). But new people have no way of knowing and may bet caught up in embarrassing situations like this.
I've also seen countless complaints about members purchasing services from others who market themselves in groups who then ghosted or didn't perform the work agreed to. It leaves a really sour taste in their mouths and fearful of working with even the legit people in the group.
Eventually, the newer members become more experienced at group dynamics but they "feel stupid" after being taken advantage of by Marketers - having their response to a question be used as an invitation to be DM'd about someone's product; being spoken down to by a Marketer who corrects their behavior; having their question or response be screen shot and used outside the group without their consent; etc.
The more experienced folk watch all of this play out and are genuinely heartsick about it. We feel like a big family and don't want harm or bad experiences coming to our brethren. But what can we do? When Marketers skirt the rules in just the right "grey hat" ways to avoid getting in trouble, well, we're helpless.
Marketers Who Get Away with Bad Behavior Engender More Bad Behavior
When people post veiled marketing, DM members without prior consent, use content shared in the group for their own purposes, etc. and they're not called out by other members, reported, or dealt with by admin, the cycle just continues on and on.
Others see this behavior continuing and assume that it's obviously okay "because everyone else is doing it". And even those who wouldn't have naturally gone this route start thinking, "Why am I following the rules when they don't have to? Why am I being good and they're not?" It starts to play with our minds and engender some FOMO.
Here's an example where it even gets the best of me sometimes. In one large business FB group I'm in, people often sneak in their affiliate links - to things I'm also an affiliate for (like Kajabi, how meta). They might answer a question about the best course platform by saying, "Kajabi is the best one" and add their Partner link.
Not only are affiliate links rarely if ever allowed in groups but people also usually fail to disclose them, which is against the law and punishable by heavy fine. If the group owners don't delete them, they too become liable. Anyhoo, affiliate links are not allowed yet people sometimes post them anyway.
How do allll the other affiliate marketers who DO follow the rules feel? Pretty terrible 👎🏼 We can imagine all the dollar signs we're missing out on by NOT sharing our own affiliate links. We have mouths to feed as well. It's hard and it creates animosity amongst group members who are your peers and should be encouraging you in business not making you feel like crud.
Some people will give in and that's too bad. But that's what I mean about bad behavior unpunished engenders more bad behavior.
What's the Big Deal? Don't We All Have a Job To Do: Market and Sell Our Products?
You may be reading this whole post and saying, "So what? You're being too sensitive! What's the big deal anyway? People are just hustling for their business. Who cares?" And to some extent, I agree with you. There's absolutely nothing wrong with asking questions, interacting with people, and making new friends through digital marketing. That's awesome!
... the place for all that other stuff is on your own Page or Profile, not the group of 35K that someone else has spent YEARS and THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS creating, nurturing, and admin'ing to market their own business and to provide a value-add to their customers
... don't break group rules to do it
... don't lose trust with people right off the bat by being deceptive
... "read the temperature of the room" as they say; there are Marketer behaviors that may be par for the course in the ClickFunnels group (one reason I left it) but in most groups, it's highly frowned upon.
In fact, we JUST had this huge thread I mentioned up above where people complained again and again about hating this kind of marketing and wanting people who do it to be warned once and then kicked out.
Let's Wrap This Up: What Are the Bottom Lines for Marketers in Facebook Groups?
Realize They Aren't the Only Person Trying to Make a Living
I often think, when I see a Marketer Marketing to Marketers in a Facebook group, "What if we ALL did that?" What kind of group would this be if every member who has something to sell did nothing but try to sell us their stuff in here?
It would be a group of pitches, that's what. No one will ask questions. No one will learn anything. No one will feel at home. No great discussions will occur. And I assure you (I've seen it happen), all the most active, best group contributors will leave.
What remains is like a radio: Advertisements blasting out while listeners change the channel to something they want to hear about, not pitches. We're pitched to all day, every day, in our regular lives. Wouldn't it be grand if business-related Facebook groups remained an escape from that?
Follow the Rules, Both Written and Implied
I studied Admin of Justice in college (before switching to English/Poetry) and one thing I learned early on that has always stuck with me - and has informed my personal philosophy - is the concept of The Letter of the Law vs The Spirit of the Law (via Wikipedia):
The letter of the law and the spirit of the law are two possible ways to regard rules, or laws. To obey the letter of the law is to follow the literal reading of the words of the law, whereas following the spirit of the law means enacting the intent behind the law. ...
Intentionally following the letter of the law but not the spirit may be accomplished through exploiting technicalities, loopholes, and ambiguous language.
An example from policing would be an officer pulling someone over for expired registration tabs but letting the person go with a warning when they show a DMV printout that the tabs were paid just late. The letter of the law would be to give the person a ticket but the officer knows the spirit of the law has been met - the driver is aware of and has fixed the problem.
Do you believe in the letter of the law vs the spirit of the law or is that just for chumps? 😂
Facebook Group owners do their best to communicate the intentions for their group and the rules they'll enforce to make that possible. They have limited space and perhaps not always the best clarity.
But it's their house and their rules should be followed. Just because something isn't explicitly disallowed (e.g., like "no affiliate links" in my example above) doesn't mean we should do it anyway.
Show Respect to Group Owners
Group admins have a big enough job. Let's not make them spend all their time having to constantly scan the group for violations, or having to respond to reported comments and complaints from members.
Not only that but how about helping them get the word out about THEIR products and services when we can. They're providing this fun playground for us; it's the least we can do to thank them.
I'm in several groups where the members routinely answer questions by sharing the affiliate link of the group owner for a particular course, product, or service that would be helpful. I think that's awesome! What a thoughtful way to show our appreciation for the time and aggravation that goes into hosting a Facebook group 💕
Use Our Own Platforms to Market Our Business
Marketing our business is not bad. It's necessary and we all have to do it. But instead of taking advantage of other people's hard work (building and maintaining a Facebook group), let's build up our own platforms!
Here's a list of places we can demonstrate our expertise, share our affiliate links, do market research, post content marketing pieces, etc.:
- our Facebook Profile, Page, Group
- our Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Instagram
- our YouTube, TikTok
- Quora, Reddit (?? well, maybe, ha)
- our website, our blog, our sales pages
- our mailing list
Be a White Hat Marketer and Have Faith
I'm gonna' go all Pollyanna on you and say - let's just do the right thing and good things will come our way!
Check out the rules for the business-related Facebook groups you join. When in doubt if you're allowed to post something, re-read the rules then ask the Admin if you're still not sure. Report rule-breakers when you see them. Admins need our help!
Lean on our fellow entrepreneurs in these groups instead of trying to sell to them. Entrepreneurship gets hard sometimes and no one understands that better than our fellow group members. Ask for genuine help and let them genuinely support us.
Create our own spaces where we can market our hearts out and no one will mind a bit. Start our own Facebook group and set our own rules!
Before we hit Enter on a post or comment, ask ourselves, "Is this truly to help someone with absolutely no agenda or benefit to me? Or am I really trying to subtly market my course/service/thought leadership? Our conscience knows the REAL answer.
Help others. Believe in Serving Over Selling and I guarantee great things will come our way!! xo
PS: This post was full of things that needed to be said but, let's face it, there was a lot of negativity and callouts and a lot of DON'Ts. I usually like to focus more on positivity and the DO's ... so stay tuned for that, which means - how to utilize Facebook in an authentic way that attracts people to you and your offers without doing icky stuff. xoxo
Disclaimer: Please know that this post was written with a sense of humor and irony intact. I hope it comes across that way. At the end of the day, "it's not that deep." But if every Marketer who reads it takes away one little nugget, maybe together we can all make the world a better place 🌏😊
PPS: It's 10 days after I published this post and - again, how meta - I received an email ... from META ... entitled "Find New Customers in Facebook Groups." Oh em gee, I thought, even Facebook is in on this diabolical plan and they're telling us how to misuse their own groups! Aye yie yie.
But I'm happy to report that, in a nutshell, they offered great suggestions:
- Find interest or location-based groups with members who may find your business helpful.
- Join as your Page [most business-related FB groups don't allow this, thank goodness].
- "READ THE GROUP RULES ON PROMOTION" [emphasis mine]. Post on weekly share threads.
- "Join conversations when you have relevant help or advice to give."
- Don't oversell and get feedback from other members.
So, phew! Facebook itself doesn't oppose the sentiment of this article after all. I'm so glad they're not promoting the bad habits of "grey hat marketers" in business Facebook groups. Annnnnnnd now I'm really signing off. For good.