Imagine a Facebook group for YOUR CITY that was packed with editors and journalists who post when they are looking for story sources, kind of like HARO on a local level. Where industry pros share ideas, trending articles and information others can learn from. A group with zero promotions. And where questions are freely asked and answered without judgement, beginners and pros alike.
For the last two years, I've been lucky enough to be a co-moderator of a local Facebook closed group of almost 700 public relations professionals and media called @PhoenixPRPros.
It's an incredibly successful mix of local editors, reporters and journalists, plus PR pros from every level of experience and specialties. Not everyone is active and engaged, but the value is incredible. I don't think there is a single PR pro member that hasn't found at least one editorial opportunity for their client in the last twelve months.
If you want a tighter PR community on a local level, starting your own group might be the perfect solution. It's a wonderful way to build connections, learn and find story opportunities to pitch. (tweet this)
Tips On What Works & (More Importantly) What Doesn't Work
From original founder Joe Cockrell:
"What makes this group so successful? Because of the singular focus on being a resource: for journalists looking for sources, for each other by sharing contact information for news organizations, for sharing success stories and thoughtful discussions about news topics and trends. The group thrived because it is very well moderated."
"Some members were blatantly self-promoting their services, companies or themselves - we made it clear that it was not appropriate within the framework of the group. Ultimately, some were removed."
Joe continued on to say, "I launched the group on the first day the groups feature went live on Facebook as an experiment; throughout my 10-year PR career in Phoenix, I would frequently host informal gatherings of reporters and producers, usually for drinks and I invite one or two fellow PR people to join us at those informal gatherings (those who I felt were competent and deserved an invite because they know how to work with journalists).
I thought the Facebook group could be an online version of those media gatherings I had been hosting for years.
I started by inviting a few of my reporter friends and fellow PR folks that I trusted; my idea was to connect local PR folks with reporters, foster thoughtful conversations about our industry and news, and be a resource for journalists looking for sources, info or story ideas. The thought of mixing PR people with reporters in a Facebook group shocked some people at first - and one PR firm in Phoenix blatantly criticized me for doing so, saying something along the lines of "one post in that group could wind up getting you quoted in a story that you don't want to be in." My answer was "well then, don't post something stupid."
Ironically, every single staff member of that firm would later request to join the group."
Co-moderator Charlotte Shaff added, "Have a set of group guidelines from the start, but be flexible as the group progresses and be accepting of change. And if you don't already have one, develop a thick skin. You can't please everyone."
"What are a few situations that threatened to derail the group? Outside vendors who don't do PR or media. Their answers to questions or posts were too much about selling to the group and that wasn't the focus. So we streamlined it to be just for PR and media." ~ Charlotte Shaff
What input would I add after being a co-moderator for almost two years?
A successful site takes CONSTANT moderation and being fearless to remove all posts that don't meet with member guidelines. It's also important to notify the person their post was removed, explaining why. This can get unpleasant as some simply don't get how to provide value without promotion and take it as a personal affront, but is critical to keep the group on track and high value.
If your group turns into a promotion tool, your retention and growth will spiral down like goldfish in a flushed toilet. Or like many LinkedIn groups. Specific member guidelines and consistent moderation are essential to make a Facebook group successful.
It's also important to vet each new member request before accepting them into the group. Turn down vendors who want to market to the members! This ruins a group very, very quickly. Also decline member requests if you google them and look at their LinkedIn profile, but can't find proof they are a journalist or in PR full time. If they don't regularly pitch media or publish content, they don't belong in the group.
A few months ago, the Facebook group went from closed to secret. The number of members hit critical mass as it became more time-consuming to manage, and the amount of new member spam requests exploded.
On the back-end, a secondary (secret) admin group was created on Facebook to handle issues and discuss removals. The collaborative approach made sure activity stayed on track, gave a private discussion forum to the admin for conversations that shouldn't happen on the primary group page, and provided some degree of protection from unhappy members due to the consensus approach.
We also have a quarterly member mixer.
Who are the @PhoenixPRPro group administrators? It began with founder Joe Cockrell, then expanded to include Pat Elliot, Charlotte Risch Shaff, myself, Jake Poinier, Ryan Narramore and Dianne Elizabeth Price. This particular group is not affiliated with any associations or off-line membership groups.
Go ahead - start a closed group for your own PR + media community. It can be a FANTASTIC tool!!