Over Labor Day weekend I received an invitation to join a college alumni Facebook group. This was not a traditional alumni group, but one titled “I partied in Isla Vista, (year range).”  From the name alone, I knew this was not a group focused on fundraising or providing generic updates about college achievements. While supporting my alma mater is important, and hearing the latest accolades definitely makes me proud, I am not going to opt into a private social media group to find out this info. Instead, I will follow a page to keep updated on the latest news.

Clearly, I was not alone in this thinking. The group was created on 8/27/20 and, as of 9/28/20 had over 12,000 members. There have been weekly posts about this growth –  “it’s over 7000!” “10,000!” etc. and with each post, more joy and connection is being created between people who have one thing in common – a love for a lifestyle and the experiences shared while living in a small, 1 square mile college community.

The pull of Groups is that they can connect people. In this specific group, a former UCSB student and now DJ with the Bay Area’s WILD 94.9 talked about the good vibes that were emanating from joining.  An abundance of posts have declared all the feels – joy, happiness, humor, sentimentality – that many of us have been searching for over the past 6 months.

Additionally, quickly after this group was created, hundreds of posts have been shared about members purchasing UCSB swag, gear, merchandise, mementos… to physically capture the emotional connectivity of the group. Purchases have been made not only regionally but internationally. I even saw an unconfirmed post that a bookstore employee had noticed a jump in orders.  Beyond UCSB’s direct sales channel, Etsy entrepreneurs are also capitalizing on this brand loyalty by creating clever swag (yes, I ordered a hat)!

Not only am I so grateful to have been reminded of a joyful part of life through the stories shared by strangers near and far, but this group has given me a real life opportunity to illustrate how brands can use groups to create loyalty.  Meaningful relationships can be created around brands. Groups, formed by brands, can target conversation funnels that provide insight into a who a brand’s customer really is and what they prioritize. Brands can create and share content and get real responses. The content should not be a push for product or service sales. It should be content that is valuable and creates real conversation.

Groups provide an opportunity to identify and support advocates. Not all influencers have their own reality TV show. An influencer can be your everyday consumer, but one who is active and vocal on social media; he or she may have an opinion within a group and become an active, and supportive, participant. There will, and should be, opportunities to reward these types of members. Do so by sharing discounts, early product offerings, first access to limited services, access to key brand ambassadors, and more.  Remember, exclusivity can be a reward – create unique events, such as mastermind class offerings (a curated guide of the best soft good retail offerings in a shopping center or interior design tips from your kitchen design experts).

Within your brand’s group, unique content is key. Content can be as simple as a new product photo with labeling options or name suggestions. It can be video clips offering access to the behind-the-scenes and giving members a sneak peek into the inner workings of a business. Or, it can be beauty routines recommendations for skin care services or spas – by the spa employees or even clients themselves.

Think of a group as a community hub. When you create this community, establish clear rules that provide a safe experience for members and think of the value you want to provide.  Since groups are targeted to users’ interests, carefully consider what attracts your ideal customer and authentically create a page that offers value to that user.  Once this has been established it is essential to engage regularly, ask for feedback, and listen to your members. If created and managed correctly, the demographic insight you gain can be very helpful as you build product or service lines. Also remember that anyone can create a group, but the best option is to have the control of the group as the company itself. (If groups are made on behalf of a company, ask to join and be an active participant!)

Ultimately, the feedback you receive will help. Create conversation and keep it going. In the long term, this feedback will become a part of your broader marketing strategy and communication.

Now, back to reliving my glory days… and spending countless hours laughing at the memories.

~ Marjorie Large, Proud Gaucho