Why I Chose A Private Forum Over a Facebook Group

Welcome to episode 312 of Hit the Mic with The Stacey Harris.

Today we’re pulling back the curtain on a big part of Hit the Mic Backstage actually. I get a lot of questions about running a membership and how I started it and things like that. What I want to talk about today is not so much how I started something but why I’m changing something.

Up until now, the community part of Hit the Mic Backstage, which I guess I should rewind and say this. Hit the Mic Backstage is a private community full of a library of trainings on everything from Facebook to Twitter to LinkedIn to SnapChat to all the major networks. Plus some content marketing stuff like blogging and video. We have guest experts who have joined us to talk about Facebook groups, to talk about getting publicity from major publications and finances and all sorts of things. It’s a really cool part of my business that I absolutely love running. It’s without a doubt my favorite offering. I have the most fun doing it.

It’s a little more than a year old now. The consistent feedback we get from members is that the most valuable piece is the community because in there we do something called Office Hours where I answer questions. We do profile reviews once a month. I share news as it happens. We talked about last week with the Facebook changes. All that stuff went out to the private community and Hit the Mic Backstage first. Up and until the last couple of weeks, the private community was completely on Facebook. There was the membership area that is on the website with all the trainings but the community part where you connected with each other and with me, that all happened on Facebook and a private group.

Recently though, as in the last couple of weeks, I changed that. It is now a private forum on Hit the Mic’s Backstage site, instead of being on Facebook. I had a lot of questions from members about it and it’s something I thought about for a really long time and struggled with, but I wanted to pull back the curtain and share why with you today. That’s what we’re going to do.

When it comes to building a community for your membership. You want that to be a place where, not only to get engaged and connect with each other but also where they’re getting value. For me it’s one of the easiest ways for me to provide value because I can simply kind of share what’s going on. Hey this is happening. Facebook made this change or SnapChat evolved this way or here comes Instagram stories. These kind of things or quick updates like you know about the fact that Facebook ads might be running you a little more right now. They’re not broken. You’re not doing anything wrong. It’s just what happens this time of year.

I really, really like that. I really like being able to provide that value. Again, it’s consistently one of the top value pieces for members when they talk about why they stay and why they tell people to join. It’s really important to me that I’m able to consistently provide that high quality, high level experience. That gets really hard to do when you talk about building it someplace you don’t control.

Facebook and all of its wonder is a very busy place. There’s a lot going on and there’s a lot of pulls and draws on your attention in that space. I don’t know what they are going to do with Facebook groups in the future. I’m not saying that something’s coming or anything like that. I don’t know. Believe it or not, Mark Zuckerberg does not call me up and ask approval before making these kinds of changes. That would be super cool if he did but he does not. It’s really scary for me to put all of my eggs in that basket when it comes to such an important part of my value because if something happens to Facebook or my Facebook account, or just even my group. Facebook decides there’s something with it and shuts it down or if there’s a bug in Facebook and it gets closed down. I have no recourse there. I have no control. I have nothing that I can do to make that better.

However, by having it on my website that I pay for the hosting and I built and I control. I have a lot more leeway. I can make the rules. I can change the rules. I can change what the environment looks like. I can keep the people who are on the forum slightly more focused. I mean, there’s still the draw of the whole rest of the internet and the forty-seven thousand tabs we all have open. I can do more to make sure that value is actually there. I can make sure that value was easy to consume, easy to search, easy to engage with and easy to be a part of. That’s one of the big reasons I decided on a private forum on the website versus doing something like the Facebook group, moving forward.

Let me say a couple of things moving people from a Facebook group to a private community. The feedback has not been universally, “Oh this is a great idea.” I haven’t had any massive meltdowns about it. Also that’s why I decided to do it now and not later. I’ve seen other people try to make this move and it’s been really difficult because their community was so massive already. We don’t have a humongous community of thousands of people just yet, so now, really is the time to move. The people who are active in the communities now, they’re the people who are going to make the move because they know the values there. That’s what’s going to make it even more attractive for future participants because they’re going to have people to engage with in that space.

I will say, that it was nice to have that core group to move over there with an established “Hey this is what the space is for,” but that it’s not so large that I have to worry about the natives getting restless on hating the idea. The common push back, the common thread is “Well I’m already in Facebook.” That’s something I really debated with before I decided to do it was I’m already in Facebook. From a moderation standpoint, I’m already here. From and admin perspective, my users are already here. They can just be attached to their profile and they don’t have to set anything else up.

That was something I had to make sure I could keep as simple as possible with whatever I introduced. It had to be easy to get to. It had to be easy to sign up for and it had to be easy to use. When it came to choosing a tool, I chose a tool called IP Board. I use the self hosted version so it’s right along side my WordPress site. It is not a WordPress plug in. It doesn’t site inside of my WordPress site. It actually sits next to it. I use a plug in to make them talk to each other. There’s no additional thing to set up.

Whereas with the Facebook group, we had a situation where members would join the community and then have to go to the Facebook group and request access. Now when members join the community they have access to everything because the community sits right inside their membership. Their WordPress login is their community login. When you’re logged in to the WordPress site where you get the membership information, the trainings and stuff, you’re also logged in to the community. It’s all in one domain. It’s all in one place.

That actually moves a step for members. All they have to do is click over to community and start talking, start engaging, start reading. That actually made the process simpler. I also chose IP Board because it has a very social feeling layout. You can like things, you can quote things, you can tag people, you can set up your profile with the profile image and a cover photo. You can have status updates, you can do those kind of things like you would on a Facebook, however, now you can really target it and make it a part of the conversations we have inside of Hit the Mic Backstage so that you can be, again, all in. You can be focused on what’s happening because going back to my earlier point, Facebook is noisy. Facebook is busy. There’s a lot of pulls on your attention there. Whereas with this private community, you come in and stay focused and on target.

I know for me is very valuable because when I’m in education time, when I’m in learning time, when I’m implementing time, it’s really easy for me to get turned off of that by doing something else. I wanted to make this as simple as possible.

With that said, the other pull back from people and concern I had going in was what if it just doesn’t have the same level of engagement because people aren’t used to engaging there. That’s something we’re still in the first couple of weeks but I’m seeing some early success with people feeling really good being there. The thing I’m doing is we’ve moved part of what happened in the Facebook group regularly, in there so that there’s a reason to go and that’s office hours. That’s the place where you get my feedback. We started off with our first office hours and private community was actually our first profile review week. There was really an incentive to come to that place. Every week there’s an incentive to go to that place.

I’m definitely still feeling things out with how things are going to work. One of the things we’ve started rolling out that we’re still playing with every other week but I may move up to every week is a weekly recap of what’s happening in the community. Giving people a reason to come see these posts. Highlighting some of the people who are engaging. I like that because “a” I get to highlight members who are participating, who are taking action, who are doing cool things but also I get to get in-boxes and say “Hey this is what you’re missing. Come hang out with us.” That’s something we’re toying with right now again every other week but we may move to every week. As we build, those are good ways to make sure that people aren’t just forgetting about it but they’re coming on over with us and they’re engaging.

Those were really the big things I was concerned about before going in was, they’re already in Facebook so are they going to just hate this idea. Is it going to be difficult for them. Is it going to be an extra step. In a way it actually made it easier. It actually streamlined the onboarding new member process. Then for my existing members, is it someplace they’re just not go to. We’ve answered that with the other solution of getting people’s in-boxes and e-mailing them and saying hey, “This is what your missing, come hang out.” Also again, giving a shot out to people who are super active in the community. I love being able to do that.

Again I chose to make this move. I don’t know that it’s for everybody. I’m definitely not somebody who’s going to say my way is the only way, but I will say that I’m really enjoying my way. I’m really, really happy I made the choice to move it to a place that I could really make the best it could. For me, at the end of the day, it’s being able to provide the best value I can to my members and this allows me to provide value at a much higher level than a Facebook group did.

Now, full disclosure, I still have parts of my paid program groups on Facebook. The Social Pro group is still on Facebook. The old school rock star guides there are people who are still just customers to that and not customers to Hit the Mic Backstage. Those groups are still on Facebook and Google+. The Google+ group still exists. I haven’t moved everything to a private group. I don’t know that I would ever move everything over to this group but for right now, I’m really loving this group. All right.

If you want to come check it out and see what’s inside of this group. Come see us. Hit the Mic Backstage is a incredible resource where we talk more about stuff like this. I’m super transparent. I’m super all about giving them a behind the scenes look at what’s happening so if you’re interested in doing some of this stuff, it’s a great place to learn more about how I’m doing it, how I market it and how you can do the same. All right. Thanks for listening.

I will see you on Friday.

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