I have noticed that a huge number of crafters are active in various networking and engagement groups on Facebook and Instagram.  For those that haven’t heard of such a thing, these groups are set up to help small business owners gain comments and post likes on their Facebook pages and Instagram posts, in the hope that this will ‘trick’ the Facebook algorithm into thinking you have a popular page that needs to be seen and reached by more people. But is this the true reality?  And do taking part in such groups actually lead to an increase in sales?  I thought that I would write a quick post about the pros and cons of taking part in such groups so you can make up your own mind if they will work for you and your business or not. Before I get started, I want to point out I’m not against these groups!  I do think they can be a valuable tool in the social media tool box, and certainly can breathe life into a flailing page.  But should they be a constant factor in your networking and marketing tool kit?  Let’s look at the pros and cons. Shall we start with some of the pros? •  Community  –  Joining in with comment engagement groups can be a great entry point to connect with likeminded handmade business owners and the small business community.  I have met many lovely people through such groups, many of which I would now call friends.   Sometimes people within the groups will become great advocates for your business.  They may tell someone about you if they see a request for what you sell, and sometimes they may even make a purchase themselves which  feels awesome. •  Engagement –  We all know that engagement on our social media pages is important as Facebook really wants their platform to serve as a great place to actually be ‘social’.  By gaining comments on our posts by engagement group members, it can make a page look busy and the algorithm may pick up on that and want to show it more people. •  Increased reach –  When someone comments on your page, it sometimes shows their friends that you have commented somewhere and occasionally they will take notice, getting your page viewed by new eyes. •  Breathing life back into a neglected or quiet page – Engagement groups are definitely useful to help breathe life back into a flailing page and kick-start it to showing up in newsfeeds again. All sounds great so far right?   But there are certainly other aspects to consider before getting heavily involved in the engagement groups long term. •  Inconsistent Statistics – You are creating artificial and enhanced page statistics.  In reality you are manipulating your business stats so you aren’t getting a true reflection of your page growth and success.   There will be a huge difference noticed in your stats between when participating and not participating in the networking threads.  If you are trying to be consistent and keep all of those lovely arrows pointing upwards and green, you may feel that you have to continuously take part in the threads which is absolutely exhausting. •  Non-genuine results – You aren’t really gaining genuine feedback or reactions to your posts so how do you know what is working?  If people are only liking a post or commenting because they are required to, you are making it harder to know what to tweak and change to improve.   What sort of posts are working for you?   What is gaining the greatest engagement?   What posts are grabbing attention and bringing in the right audience and therefore helping towards gaining those important sales?   The number of reactions and comments can fluctuate purely due to how many people are taking part in the networking thread rather than how fabulous your post is – and that’s really not helpful! And the same can be said about product and page feedback.  If you are asking for people’s opinions on your new make, or checking what people want to see, which colour option they prefer, what product they would like you to make, and all those research questions that help you to improve and grow – you are going to get anwers from your comment thread buddies.  How do you know what are genuine answers and what are being polite ‘I just need to say something nice because it’s in the networking rules’ answers? Both of these issues can really skew your analytics and feedback research, so both can be really damaging to your business. •  Evoke a feeling of mistrust – Sometimes the comments left are repetitive and people will start to notice that the same people are leaving comments over and over.  There is nothing wrong with this if genuine of course.  If you have genuine supporters that adore your page and all that you do, that’s awesome!  But in a time where people are extremely cautious and worried about being scammed online, trust needs to be in place before parting with any money.  If your page looks fake in any sort of way it can become a real issue.  Just think about how you feel when you can clearly see a fake review on Amazon or Ebay for example, you will steer well clear if there is the tiniest doubt about something not being quite right or any sort of inclination of a scam. •  Same people, different day –  One of the positives of engagement groups is that you get to mix with the same people each day.  One of the negatives of engagement groups is that you get to mix with the same people each day.  You can spend hours and hours getting your business seen by the same people over and over – and yes, whilst there is the argument to suggest that people need to see your business repeatedly before taking the plunge to buy – if those people have no interest in what you do, or can’t afford your prices, they are very unlikely to buy no matter how many times they visit.  Yes, before it gets mentioned, I know that new people join these groups all the time – but are one or two new people every couple of weeks really worth the time involved on the off chance they may become a buyer or advocate? •  Time-Sucker! – Participating in such threads can be a real time-loser.  I know people that literally spend hours every day participating in numerous engagement groups, desperate to boost their business sales and get seen.   Even if you are spending a single hour each day commenting on other peoples pages that is 7 hours per week.  When we are time poor with many plates to juggle, 7 hours could make a real difference elsewhere.  What could you achieve in your business if you had an extra 7 hours a week to play with? •  It’s confetti throwing marketing – Unless you have joined a particular group because it relates to your target customer, there are probably going to be very few people in the threads you join in with that are going to go on to become avid buyers of your wares.  It’s harsh, but true.  You are literally flinging your business in front of people that have to see it – not the very people that need to see it, there is a big difference. •  Low conversion rates –  Because of the confetti throwing approach mentioned above, the number of sales you receive in relation to the number of hours you put in each day / week / month / and (scary thought!) year, networking in this way is more than likely going to be very low.  If making sales is your primary focus and reason for joining, then there are better options available. •  Newsfeed content –  We know that Facebook limits who sees our business page posts to just a tiny fraction of our likers, and our posts will often only get shown to people that have taken an active interest and engaged on our page.   When we have commented on a page a few times, the algorithm picks up that we must like it as we visit it more than others and therefore shows us more from that particular page.  It makes sense right?  To give people more of what they clearly want to see?  That’s what will keep us returning to the platform after all. You want genuine potential customers to be taking up that tiny fraction percentage of post shows, those who may actually want to buy! When taking part in engagement threads, the algorithm is tricked and starts showing your page content in the newsfeeds of people that may actually have little or no interest at all in actually buying something from you.  They only keep visiting your page because they have to – group rules right?   The problem with this is that if they aren’t genuine fans of your business, they may just scroll right past your posts that they aren’t required to interact with and completely ignore it – letting Facebook know that it’s a boring post and not worth seeing, so it is best not to show it to anyone else.  This person may even decide to ‘hide’ you from their newsfeed – not out of spite – but because they don’t wish to keep seeing content that doesn’t interest them shown in their feed as it’s potentially stopping posts from their friends and family being shown.   This action becomes a ‘negative’ statistic in your metrics, which is sad.  But things get confused because it can’t be a true measure of your posts and likeability.  If are reaching a ‘forced fan’ that doesn’t care about your content and hides it, again you aren’t getting a true reflection of what is happening on your page and the reasons behind it. •  ‘Spammy’ behaviour?  –  If you are just hurriedly going from page to page to page and writing similar lovely things without really spending the necessary time to peruse, Facebook may pick up your behaviour as being ‘spam’ or fake, and this is frowned upon.  You will probably have seen many reports of people being in ‘Facebook Jail’, sometimes with limitations being put on their accounts and occasionally even the total closure of it.  Not good – obviously! •  Overwhelm and pressures –  I have seen many ‘I can’t keep up with everything’ posts and ‘I am feeling really overwhelmed’ right now ones, that mention struggling with networking and totally stressing about fulfilling comment group commitments and letting people down.   If you are feeling like this, fulfil your current commitment period and stop taking part – or at least reduce your commitments – and re-evaluate.  There is already enough to be juggling day to day, without adding in commenting time which often serves to be unfruitful. Count up how many hours a week you spend writing comments on others pages, and then work out how many sales have come from all those hours you spend.  If you are happy with that number and your profit is large enough to make you do loads of happy dance whoops and pay your bills, then great – continue with what you are doing, it’s working for you.  But if that profit number leaves you frowning with disappointment, it’s time to look at other more profitable avenues to take up your time. I’m not saying don’t ever join in with engagement threads and networking – just choose the most suited to your business and limit your commitments.  If you find you have extra time one day, you can always seek out a daily thread you can do as a one off rather than committing longer term, easing the pressure off you. So what if you decide to reduce your commitment to engagement groups and threads?  What can you do instead? How about… •  Creating content that prompts people to respond to naturally – and build up organic reach rather than forced.  If you do your target customer work, this will help you with knowing what sort of content is going to be well received.  Think of questions relevant to your business niche and audience, helpful things that you think your audience will like and share, things will will evoke some sort of emotion or people will be able to relate to, ask for help with making a decision or finding something you need (people love to help and feel useful), show off work in progress photos or videos to develop a feeling of you being a confident expert, ask what people want to see you provide, etc. •  Use your saved time to start a blog or write newsletters.  I often hear people shout they don’t have time to do these, if you reduce your commenting commitments, maybe you would? •  Work with others that have the same target audience as you.  If you sell children’s clothes, find a hair accessories maker to collaborate with.  If you sell children’s toys – find a children’s clothes maker to work with.  If you sell dog collars and leads, can you find a dog treat seller to work with – you get the idea.  You can collaborate on a particular product idea, or get together to create an online shopping event – or even create a gift guide with relevant sellers.  Just be choosy and remember your target customer focus to get the best results. •  Find out where your target audience is likely to be hanging out – both online and off.  If you have products for children for example, then approach a few of the parenting groups and see if they have a particular day where they allow advertising – or ask if you can offer group members an exclusive coupon code for a discount. •  Seek out opportunities to get seen and grab them!   If you have a great product for a special occasion, check in with magazine publications (aimed at your target customer!!! (yawn, I know!)) to see if they would be interested in featuring it in a gift guide or similar.  Remember that magazines work on editions way in advance and need plenty of notice – so don’t leave it too late.  If you see an event advertised that sounds perfect for you – enquire about it, even if it’s out of your comfort zone.  Sometimes that is where the magic happens.   I know that it’s super easy to just keep on doing what we do, day in and day out, because it’s safe and easy – but is it getting the results we want? Another option – which I totally understand isn’t available to everyone – is paid advertising.  As an example, Facebook ads can be really targeted and if you have a good grasp of who your ideal customer is they can bring in great results for just a small cost – but you have to understand how they work and niche down the targeting or else they won’t convert effectively. Sometimes thinking outside the box leads to the best results.  And often what works for one business won’t work for another, so keep trying new things, adapt and change.  Listen to feedback, get to know your true statistics and see what actions are moving your business in the right direction and increasing your sales. PS.  And I’m going to be really boring here – but remember, a great, quality looking product with fabulous photographs will go a long way to helping your business succeed – along with knowing your target customer of course!


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