I am in a number of Facebook Support Groups pertaining to specific disabilities, special needs, parenting styles and the like. These groups have been a saving grace a time or two, but the old adage, “If you’re not helping, you’re hurting” could not be truer.
In these groups, we are safe. There is safety in numbers, after all, but there are dangers lurking, too. From well-meaning parents who overstep their boundaries, or strong opinions taking over, to lead, moderate and maintain a Facebook Support Group can be a full-time job.
In the past, I’ve been in groups where members share important information, photos, or even tattle on a parent to a local school/church/rec center they had a grievance with! This is not just detrimental to the targeted people, but to the group morale as a whole, so when asked recently: How does one start a support group, I knew I needed to share my five starter tips.
Facebook Support Group How-To
- KEEP THE GROUP CLOSED so each person has to be approved by an admin. While you can’t keep the group 100% “safe” (nothing in life is) you will have the knowledge of who is joining your group. It is the first line of defense in making sure all of your members are there for the right reasons.
- VET EVERYONE who asks to join. Start setting the expectation in the ABOUT section. Put a blurb about the group as well as a request that people asking to join message you first. If you get a request with no message, contact them before approval. Often this will deter people from wasting their time, keep the group copacetic, and members feeling safe. If it seems like safety is a concern of mine: IT IS. Reasons I stop participating in groups are: I don’t feel like what I say is valued, protected, or respected. No one has to share the same opinion or think I am right, but they must protect my words as a community. If that trust is broken, more people stop trusting and participating and the group slowly becomes less valuable as a resource.
- Have multiple admins who you trust so there is always someone to moderate.
When you have a Facebook group, you’re bound to have members from all timezones. This is WONDERFUL for diversity and terrible for tracking posts. Having trusted moderators in your group can mean all the difference in a thread getting out of control, or being shut down immediately. I even suggest a contract to write out expectations so your admins and moderators know what is expected of them. Often, in my groups, we have set times of day where we are to check-in. If we get a notification during that time, we know that’s ours to monitor.
* NOTE: Moderators moderate. Admins: Can change group settings. Here’s a quick overview of who can do what on your page:
Admin Editor Moderator Advertiser Analyst Manage Page roles and settings ✔ Edit the Page and add apps ✔ ✔ Create and delete posts as the Page ✔ ✔ Send messages as the Page ✔ ✔ ✔ Respond to and delete comments and posts to the Page ✔ ✔ ✔ Remove and ban people from the Page ✔ ✔ ✔ Create ads ✔ ✔ ✔ ✔ View insights ✔ ✔ ✔ ✔ ✔ See who published as the Page ✔ ✔ ✔ ✔ ✔
- LAY DOWN THE RULES prior to breakouts. Take the time to imagine a billion different scenarios where things could go awry. How you will aviod them before then? The idea that sharing information, photos, or even “tattling” on another parent in a support group is hurtful. These actions can lead to the disintegration of a whole online community. From disability to fitness, people long for camaraderie but only on their terms. If they’re joining a group to share information about their child, an illness, or even their personal struggles or goals, they have joined a group under the pretense of support. Lurkers/trolls or people not willing (or able) to keep the information shared in the group WITH the group, must leave. Offer your group as a place to be heard, gather information and support, and ensure to the best of your ability, that what is said in the group stays in the group.
- DON’T BE AFRAID TO SHUT IT DOWN. Comments, questions, shared photos, trigger warnings. When you’re running a group you are responsible for keeping it safe. We are all adults, sure… but try telling that to over 150 raging humans behind the anonymity of their computers. I have multiple groups and some are easier than others to moderate. For this reason, I choose to have some groups where only I can post, and others have to comment on those posts. This can be easier to track responses and keep chatter to a minimum, allowing members to see the information at hand. However, this action can also limit their exposure to other people’s experiences.Try and experiment with post approval, too. This is where members can post, but only after an admin approves. I find this feature to be a great assistance in letting me, or another admin, get back to everyone who asks a question or shares something personal. I never want members to feel like they’ve posted and then get crickets on their comments. To make everyone feel valued, find what works best for you and the other members to feel heard. In groups where anyone can post anything without approval, check in multiple times a day. You don’t have to spend hours on this, just pop in the group so your presence is known. Make sure to check out what’s going on in your group. Is there a lot of action on a post that’s blowing up your FB alerts? Go check that out immediately! Could be interesting… or could be something that needs attention!
There are a million and one ways to run a group. And a million and two ways to alienate and destroy the very community you are looking to build. I am always looking to learn what works best for others as I pass on what works best for me, so please share! What is your best tip on running Facebook Support Groups?