As a writer with a slightly unhealthy addiction to social media, I realised I would need to channel that addiction, so that I could justify the amount of time social media sucks away from my ‘proper’ writing activities. I was a member of many groups on LinkedIn and Facebook, but noticed that they were quite American and internationally oriented. Wouldn’t it be great, I thought, if there was a place I could go to that would give me information that was specific to Irish writers. There didn’t appear to be any, so I decided to set up my own.
From my experience on other groups, I knew that Facebook groups were far more interactive than pages. I already had previous experience of the power of groups to bring people together through the LinkedIn group I had set up, but to be honest, Facebook is more popular than LinkedIn and I knew a few lively souls who were on Facebook but not on LinkedIn and who would be sure to interact in a Facebook group.
What are Facebook Groups?
This probably explains why Facebook groups are taking off in recent times. Groups are very similar in structure to pages. But while pages give businesses, community organisations and non profits the chance to promote the services, groups are all about building communities and finding a common ground. As a result, the interaction tends to be livelier on Facebook groups than on pages. They tend to centre on mutual interests or locations. Groups give you the chance to target your social media communication, and if you set up your own group, you get to decide who to interact with and what to say.
In late January, I set up Irish Writers, Editors and Publishing Professionals on Facebook. It was like lighting a match and whoosh, flames light up the night sky. When I posted, I got instant replies. I asked the group members to suggest a cover photo for the group, as they’re not my strong point. Within minutes, a member had kindly given me permission to use this beautiful, quirky picture of a bookshop in a phone booth!
Structure of Group
I wrote a description of the group, outlining its goals, membership criteria. Essentially, the group is an information point for people in the book industry in Ireland, in any form, where they can make contacts and share information. I chose to make the group a closed group, which means that posts are only seen by members and that people have to request to join. Members can invite people to join by email, and these requests will also be approved by the admin.
The posts I encourage in the group include information about resources, celebration of good news, like awards or publication deals, and discussions about challenges that writers and book-industry professionals face. If members have questions they’d like to ask or topics they want to discuss, they can use the group as a forum. My description states that overt plugs for books will be removed, unless they’re to announce that the book has just been publish
Because I feel there are already enough groups for American, British and international writers and book professionals, I’m quite strict about the Irish criteria. Members must be Irish people living in Ireland, foreign nationals living in Ireland or Irish people living abroad. I will consider people whose parents are Irish, but further back, the Irishness becomes diluted.
When people request membership, I look at their profiles to see if they have friends in the group or if their profile mentions writing or books. If it doesn’t, I send them a message asking them what their background is in writing or the book world. If people don’t seem to be Irish, I ask them about their links to Ireland. Most people answer, and then I let them in through the hallowed gates.
Evolution of the Group
A lot of my Facebook friends are writers, so the group acquired over 100 members right away. Membership has grown steadily since then. As admin, I feel it’s important to keep the conversation going, but I haven’t had to worry too much about that. Members regularly put up posts and sometimes there are three or four posts a day. As admin, I can see who has seen the posts, and they’re getting a lot of visibility, but the replies are what counts and overall, people are pretty generous in their replies.
There have been a few challenges, like what to do about people’s writing. IT is a group for writers after all, and some people want to get feedback. Far be it from me to censor anyone, but at one stage, posts containing poems and stories dominated the group, pushing the more information-based posts downwards. I felt thatgiven that the group is an information point, I wanted those posts to take priority, so people would get the answers they needed.
Facebook doesn’t let you set up sub-groups yet, which is a pity, as it would facilitate people who want to use the group for their writing. I tried to organise the writing into a thread, but a lot of people didn’t see the thread, even though I pinned it so it would appear at the top of the page. Some members put up their writing. While I’ve no desire to censor people, and it’s good for people to get feedback, I felt the group was becoming dominated by the writings. So I left the writing as it was, and left a few comments encouraging people to comment on other people’s posts as well to build relationships, which in turn would give them the feedback they needed.
While I have had the odd overt plug or nuisance post, the group has remained spam free. I genuinely hope it’s a valuable resource for the people who use the group and I’m delighted that so many of them post so enthusiastically. It’s nice to feel I’m not alone in the universe and to get a response to the questions I post up. It’s also gratifying to see other members get the answers to their questions and share their achievements. I look forward to watching it grow over the next few months. I enjoy it so much, I’m afraid it may become yet another social media addiction! If you’re Irish, a book professional and have a similar addiction, here’s the link to the group.
Do you participate in Facebook groups? Have you set one up? How have you found the experience?