Imagine a Facebook group for your city, packed with editors and journalists who post when they are looking for story sources, where industry pros share information others can learn from, that has zero promotions, and where questions are freely asked and answered without judgment. For the last two years, I’ve been lucky enough to be a co-moderator of a local, private Facebook group of almost 700 public relations professionals and media called @PhoenixPRPros. It works exactly like that. It’s an incredibly successful mix of local editors, reporters, and journalists, along with PR pros at every level of experience. 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 a client in the past year. If you want a tighter PR community on a local level, starting your own group might be the perfect solution. What works (and what doesn’t) From group 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. 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.”
Be diligent and consistent A successful site takes vigilant moderation and fearlessness. Moderators must remove all posts that don’t meet member guidelines. It’s also important to notify someone when his or her post is removed, explaining why. This can get unpleasant, as some simply don’t grasp how to provide value without promotion, so they take it as a personal affront. It’s crucial, though, to keep the group on track. If your group turns into a promotion tool, your retention and growth will spiral down like a goldfish in a 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 that person into the group. Turn down vendors who want to market to the members; that 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 and it became more time-consuming to manage; the number 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.
Who are the @PhoenixPRPro group administrators? It began with founder Joe Cockrell, then expanded to include Pat Elliott, Charlotte Risch Shaff, Jake Poinier, Ryan Narramore, Dianne Elizabeth Price and me. This particular group is not affiliated with any associations or offline membership groups. Go ahead. Start a closed group for your own PR and media community. It can be a fantastic tool. Carrie Morgan is a 20-plus year public relations veteran based in Phoenix, specializing in digital PR. A version of this story first appeared on the Rock The Status Quo blog.