The latest changes to Facebook's News Feed have made organic reach practically impossible, and provide a clear signal that many marketers need to change their approach once again.
And while paying for Facebook ads is always an option (one that you should be using, I must add), it may be too expensive for companies struggling with a small budget. Luckily, there is a lower-cost, engagement-driving alternative: Facebook Groups.
Now, Facebook Groups are nothing new, but many marketers have yet to take full advantage of what the feature has to offer. In some ways, groups serve as an engagement loophole, making it incredibly valuable - particularly since recent changes allowing Page-linked groups and providing group analytics.
If you haven't plunged into the world of Facebook Groups, here are five things you need to consider.
1. A Focus on Collaboration
While a traditional Facebook Page is predominately considered a one-way broadcasting platform, Facebook groups are more focused on open and equal discussion. The experience is meant to be collaborative, with participants having the ability to take part in the conversation.
I know what you're thinking - "How are Facebook Groups valuable if they focus on collaboration?"
Initially, this may seem like a drawback from a marketing perspective, as Facebook groups are not ad-centric. However, it actually gives you a chance to engage with users in a meaningful and authentic way.
Group members have a definite interest in the topic covered by the members. This enables you to gather a range of information and talk directly with a targeted audience. That's what makes Facebook groups great for discovery and connection, particularly as engagement levels fall for brands and publishers.
2. You Can Create a New Group
If you need specific feedback, or would like to have discussions in a particular niche, then you can create a group designed to do just that.
What sort of reasons would there be to start a group? Nearly anything.
A product or service launch is one excellent example, letting you drum up interest and learn the thoughts of potential customers. You could also create one to push an upcoming event, coordinating conversations with attendees.
Looking for feedback on an existing offering? Create a group and get the information you need. The possibilities are essentially endless.
A Note on Facebook Group Settings
When you create a group, you have the ability to set it to "public," where anyone can see the posts; "closed," where anyone can find the group but only members can view the posts; or "secret," where members have to add a person directly for them to gain access.
You can also control whether anyone can post to the group or if those rights should only be given to group admins. Ultimately, which options are best depends on your goals, so consider what you want to accomplish before making a choice.
If you're looking to drive engagement in general, then a public group where everyone can participate is your best bet. For providing support to customers after the sale, a closed group where anyone can post could be a better choice.
This approach provides members with some serious value, without you having to risk a forceful takeover of the group's purpose.
3. Or Join an Existing One
In some cases, a Facebook Group will already exist within your target market, such as a current events forum for your industry. In those cases, you can request to join it if you want to be part of the conversation.
Why would you want to join an existing group? For the built-in audience.
An established group already has members, so you're tapping into a pre-existing resource. That means you get to reach out to potential customers without having to source them yourself.
4. Contributing to the Conversation
When you join or create a group, you may be tempted to get your sales pitch out there - after all, that's what this is for, right?
Wrong. Just like you need to create quality content for your Facebook Page, you shouldn't blanket the group with blatant advertising.
Instead, engage with others, take part in discussions, answer questions, and establish your account as an authority. This creates a buzz surrounding your brand, drawing in Facebook users and separating yourself from poorer performers.
5. Bypassing News Feed Armageddon
One distinct benefit of using Facebook groups is that new posts appear in more areas than just the News Feed. Yes, the News Feed appearance is still there, but it's easy for new information to get lost there.
Where else do they appear? In the user's notifications.
That's right, they get a separate notification when new information is added. No more getting buried in the News Feed.
Just be forewarned that a high level of activity (resulting in a plethora of notifications) may lead some users to disable the notification. And, since the posts can get lost in the News Feed, they may forget the group exists.
This means you want to be strategic about groups, especially the ones you start, to keep engagement high. If you aren't prepared to make sure the group provides value to others, then this isn't the right option for you.
Are Facebook Groups the Answer?
While getting involved in existing groups or creating new ones might not be one-stop shopping for all of your marketing needs, Facebook groups can be incredibly powerful tools, brimming with opportunity.
In the end, they're an excellent way to combat some of the losses everyone is going to experience after Facebook's News Feed changes - adding them to your repertoire gives you a new way to engage with users in meaningful ways. In exchange, you'll gain access to valuable feedback, and the ability to promote your company as an authority.
Since the feature is free to use, there really isn't any risk to giving it a try, so why wouldn't you take advantage of Facebook groups to help forward your marketing efforts?
It doesn't take a lot of time to get started, so explore what's out there or create your own. Any option that can increase engagement is worth exploring, including Facebook Groups.
A version of this post was first published on Inc.com.