What are Facebook Engagement Groups and Do They Work?
There comes a time in the life of every marketer where they have the idea. Some have it almost immediately, while others take a while to come around. Everyone has it sooner or later, though.
What is the idea? In a world where certain actions and metrics rule all, you ask yourself: how can I get more of these? Facebook likes and comments, Instagram likes, backlinks for a website; it doesn’t matter what the metric is.
The idea is simple. Why not form a group? A group of like-minded people willing to embark on a quest of mutual benefit. This group will remain hidden, like a shadowy Facebook illuminati. When a member of the group makes a new post, publishes a new blog entry, or what have you, the rest of the group will step up to the plate. Each member will add their own link, their own element of engagement, to the pile. In this way, rather than starting at zero, every post effectively has a guaranteed X amount of engagement, where X is the number of members in the group.
Of course, there’s nothing new under the sun. The idea has been had by virtually everyone sooner or later, and many even put it into practice. That’s what an Engagement Group is.
Engagement Groups exist pretty much anywhere a metric can be mutually shared for the benefit of everyone involved. Facebook engagement groups help small pages get more activity and more metrics for their posts, helping them grow. Instagram like-for-like groups do the same thing on the photo sharing platform. Blog-based mutual backlink sharing groups exist, though are potentially harder to find simply because there’s more strict penalties for such link schemes than there are for engagement swaps.
The question today is: does the idea work? Do engagement groups actually give you engagement, or are they a waste of time?
How Engagement Groups Work
There are a few different styles of engagement group, some more formal than others. I’ve seen some that are actually run as closed Facebook Groups, where to join you must pledge to like/share/comment on posts made by others in the group. Group members link to the posts they want boosted in the group, whereupon others in the group descend to boost the metrics.
These are probably some of the least effective versions of the group style, for two reasons. The first reason is that Facebook’s algorithms make it harder to see when a new post is made to a group. You can turn on post notifications, but even then, some will slip through the cracks. The second reason is because Facebook groups tend to have sizable turnover. Members join, get their engagement, and leave. If some mechanism is put into place to prevent this kind of exploitation, like a requirement to engage with X number of posts before being able to post one of your own, the group still has to contend with members that lapse in attention or leave for one reason or another.
Other engagement groups are run through instant messaging platforms. I’ve seen groups organized through Telegram, Facebook Messenger, Skype, and Discord. These don’t have to worry about an algorithm messing up visibility for posts in the group, but they still have to be careful with their membership and have active moderation to prevent rampant exploitation.
Another form I’ve seen on sites like Twitter and Instagram is a like-for-like hashtag system. An individual group, usually called an Instagram Pod on the photo sharing site, will create their own special hashtag not used by other people. When they post new content, they use that hashtag in their block of tags, and members pledge to check the hashtag feed and engage with everything in it on a regular basis. This doesn’t work so well on Facebook, where hashtags are a rarity.
You may have also heard of some web-based engagement groups that actually add money to the equation. These are more often circular groups abusing PPM advertising, but you might run into them nonetheless. Essentially, they build websites where users browse through a frame window that tracks their engagement and pays them in credits that they can either use to “buy” their own engagement or cash out for payments. Needless to say, these are highly frowned upon by site admins and tend to be banned on sight when detected.
The Quality of Engagement Groups
Different engagement groups will vary wildly from one another in terms of quality, for a variety of reasons. One such reason I already mentioned, which his the need for moderation in such a group.
Some groups grow large and bloated with open membership. These groups tend to have few if any restrictions on joining, and little if any moderation. As such, new marketers join and post their links to get engagement, without paying much attention to whether or not they need to engage with others as well. This leads to groups with thousands of members where, when you post a link, you get half a dozen likes and maybe one share out of the deal.
Some groups have strict moderation policies. They require that users engage in a verifiable way on multiple posts before they’re allowed to post their own content for engagement in return. This generally ensures that at least some minimum level of engagement happens, though it also means these groups have small membership. You might only have a dozen or two people in such a group.
I’ve also seen comment pods on Facebook that focus on comments, not just likes, and limit themselves to 15 people in a given level of activity. These tend to be the most heavily moderated, because they emphasize relevance and quality of engagement over volume. You might not find a group that focuses on your niche, but if you do, you know that the engagement you get is coming from other people who share that niche. That way, comments both look more legitimate and have the possibility to include actual relevant content. More than once, I’ve seen members of these groups spin off on their own to establish partnerships or even friendships.
The Quality of Engagement
The problem you almost always run into with engagement groups of any sort, except for the most dedicated and narrow-niche comment pods, is the quality of the engagement. A like is a like is a like, that much is true, but a like also barely matters. You could get 10,000 likes on a post you make and it won’t bring you any extra conversions and barely any extra visibility. Facebook has devalued likes to such an extent that they’re more of a social metric for friends than a useful metric for businesses.
Shares are a lot more valuable, if and only if the shares go to an audience that cares. All of us who use Facebook know that often times you can find something very interesting to you and share it to your profile, only to find maybe three out of your 300 friends engages with it. Sure, the share gives the post more visibility, but that visibility isn’t large. You would have to participate in a lot of engagement groups to get the kind of snowball effect that lets a post go viral, and even then, your post has to be good enough to go viral in the first place.
As for comments, well, I guarantee you’ve seen the bad comments that show up on pretty much every post of a certain level of popularity. A lot of low-quality engagement groups don’t put requirements on their members, and so you end up with a lot of comments consisting of a single emoji, or a generic phrase like “love this!” or “this post is great!”. I know it’s great, I made it, you don’t need to tell me! Oh, and also, it’s an irrelevant comment. No one will reply to it, no one will engage with it, it may be reported as spam, and it certainly doesn’t help much.
You may also encounter some members of engagement groups that simply post the same comment on everything, so they don’t have to think about their engagement. This is easily detectable by the social network in question, and it’s not uncommon for Facebook to blacklist that user from commenting, either temporarily or permanently. I’ve seen accounts get suspended for participating in too many engagement groups with too little variation; at that point, they might as well be bots, and Facebook treats them as such. Which brings me to:
The Risks of Engagement Groups
Using an engagement group can be risky. Instagram is usually the primary target, with Instagram pods, but I’ve seen punishments on Facebook as well.
Obviously, to a certain extent, engagement groups work. You will get engagement out of them, it’s just a matter of whether that engagement is worth anything. And, in a lot of cases, you won’t. It’s not to terribly difficult to detect fake engagement, especially over a long enough period of time. More importantly, if you’re able to find an engagement group, so are the Facebook police.
In fact, recently, Facebook took action against a number of engagement groups, primarily those focused on Instagram. After some of these pods were reported, Facebook suspended the groups themselves, as well as banning some of their membership. Now, as far as I know, no legitimate accounts were banned, just those that were indistinguishable from bots due to how they spammed engagement on posts day in and day out.
There’s an open question, however, as to whether or not engagement groups are safe moving forward. Facebook can, at any time, step in and ban a group and/or suspend as few or as many of its members as they want. Engagement groups are against the terms of service of basically every social network, and those networks are well within their rights to suspend your account for breaking the rules.
Do Engagement Groups Work?
As I already mentioned, engagement groups work, for a certain definition of “work”. Participating in an active engagement group will get you engagement, just as it will require you to engage with others in the group. The question is, is it worth anything to you?
Most of the time, the engagement you get from an engagement group is going to be virtually valueless. The likes won’t be worth anything. The shares only share posts to largely jaded or spammed users who probably muted the person already. The comments will often be generic and look more like spam than like legitimate comments.
The only exception are the most rigidly policed and narrow niche engagement groups out there, many of which are difficult to find, and some of which are invite-only. These groups are careful to keep their membership small to avoid detection, and they put requirements on the niche of the content shared to the group to ensure the organic look of their engagement. Functionally, they become small communities of like-minded individuals, rather than exploitive systems-abusers.
These kinds of narrow engagement groups can be great for getting some engagement, but given how difficult they are to find and the fact that they’re almost always quite small, it might not be worth the effort. You’re probably better off putting that time and energy in other forms of group-based marketing or outreach to influencers, to reach larger engaged audiences and build your own community.