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The power of Facebook groups

December 14, 2014

Photos: Clockwise from upper left, Uwe Martins,  Aiaraldea Komunikazio Leihoa, Henry Tseng, Editor CrazyYatra (CC)

Photos (clockwise from upper left): Uwe Martins, Aiaraldea Komunikazio Leihoa, Henry Tseng, Editor CrazyYatra (CC)

Facebook communities can become powerful entities. Most of the time, they exist to keep people in touch or help with a short-term goal (event planning, fund-raising).

Two Birmingham Facebook groups have received media attention for their size and their accomplishments. One group started as a trading hub, the other as a cause.

Mountain Brook Trading Facebook group

1. Mountain Brook Trading has grown to nearly 55,000 members in a little over 2 years. It’s one of those trading groups where you can buy or sell items with neighbors, or have discussions about where to get your clothes dryer repaired.

Founder Laura Greene Silsbee has taken her closed (as in privacy, not defunct) Facebook group to two new places. The first one is a new online home at VarageSale, a platform better suited for large group interactions and commerce than Facebook. It has 21,000-plus members since opening in July.

The second one is a brick-and-mortar location in partnership with Cyd Quick Ruffino, providing a storefront for consignment sales. It opened earlier this month and received coverage on

It’s amazing to see a Facebook group turn into a full-fledged business for two entrepreneurs.

Save UAB Football Facebook group

2. Save UAB Football sprang into action this month as the University of Alabama at Birmingham eliminated three athletic programs: bowling, rifle and football. With nearly 11,000 members, the closed (again, as in privacy) Facebook group has been a rallying point for students, employees, alumni and residents to fight back.

The UAB football movement has been an online juggernaut, with #FreeUAB becoming a trending hashtag worldwide in the first couple of days. The campus will be quiet for the 3-week semester break, especially after the raucous protests that greeted university president Dr. Ray Watts when he announced his decision 2 weeks ago.

The members of Save UAB Football have brainstormed tactics to win attention, recruit more followers and convince decision makers to restore the cut sports and fire Watts. The New York Times mentioned the group in one of its print/online stories.

It’s impressive to see thousands of strangers band together for a common cause.

I’ve managed my fair share of online communities over 20 years, some more successfully than others. What do you need to do to manage one successfully?

  • Define the rules early on, and post them prominently. New members are always showing up, and this helps put everyone on equal footing.
  • Do your job as administrator. That means weeding out spam, settling squabbles, encouraging participation and a million little tasks.
  • Listen more than talk.
  • Accept a group’s natural evolution. Members will leave, and some groups will wither.

Companies that create and grow powerful online communities accomplish goals they can’t do on their own. They stay connected with fans and critics. They collaborate rather than overrun. They empower others.

Join a Facebook group today to see these dynamics in action. The next community to change the world could be yours.

• • •

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