Online communities are my passion, and Facebook is where I spend a lot of my time with those communities.
Facebook Group etiquette, as a result, matters A LOT to me.
I consider online communities so important that I host a Facebook Group devoted to sharing the best of my knowledge on the subject and mentoring others who seek to have successful online communities. This is because I know how overwhelming it can feel to build an online community. But the people who manage online communities aren’t actually my top priority.
I consider the collective community and its members to be my No. 1 priority. And if you’ve been in any group I’ve managed, you know I’m fiercely protective of group members.
I’m also a compassionate group leader who is mindful of the learning curve new members go through. It takes time to acclimate to a group’s cultural norms. My compassion — and patience — wear thin fast, though, when I discover someone is in the group with darker intentions.
There are two tactics that I find to be most egregious when it comes to online etiquette, and I call them baiting and fishing.
Baiting in Facebook Groups
You may not be familiar with the term, or call it by a different name, but baiting is the practice of creating a vague post that somewhat connects with the group topic. It’s vague enough to prompt curiosity from others, who might leave a reaction (thumb’s up, heart, etc.) or a comment. That’s when the offender pounces. Typically, the next step is to privately message everyone who interacted with the post with a soft-sell sales pitch.
Real-life example from a group on clutter: A member posted a selfie, stating she’d been on a mission to declutter her body and shared how much weight she’d lost and how great she felt as a result. Members who interacted with the post soon received private messages saying, “I noticed you liked my post in [group name] and wanted to say thank you and to let you know it’s all because of [product name]. I’d love to send you a free sample. Are you interested?”
It took about 24 hours before my notifications went crazy with members reporting the activity to me. They took the bait, but they avoided the hook.Trust in the online space is hard to earn and way too easy to lose. Click To Tweet
Fishing in Facebook Groups
Fishing is sneakier and maybe even slimier than baiting. Someone joins a group and instantly starts assessing the list of members, looking for the best catches. What follows is a methodical and intentional process. The angler might start by sending friend requests to their targets. If the friend request is accepted, a message comes next with a pitch:
Real-life example from a lifestyle group: Within just a few hours of joining a group, the angler started sending friend requests. Upon accepting the requests, people started receiving messages inviting them to join a different group.
It only took 12 hours for the activity to rub folks the wrong way and trigger reports to the admin team.
Why is Facebook Group Etiquette Such a Big Deal?
To be clear, the issue in these examples is not that someone is trying to sell something or trying to grow their groups. We can’t blame people for wanting to earn a living or expand their own platform. The issue here — and the reason these individuals were evicted from the groups — is a matter of trust. Trust in the online space is hard to earn and way too easy to lose.
Activity like baiting and fishing destroy trust and affect the feeling of safety and security thriving online communities have cultivated. If you lead a community, you have to protect your people from predators.
Facebook Group etiquette isn’t snobbery, it’s part of the proper care and feeding of groups you manage and groups you join.
The best practice is zero-tolerance.
Remove the group member.
Message them if you want but consider whether the outcome will be worth it. I’ve never seen an angler accept responsibility for their actions and often see them trying to project the blame on their targets in the following ways: “I was only trying to help because members seemed interested in how I lost my weight” or “I was careful only to approach people who were friends with me outside of the group (ignoring the fact the friend request came moments before the pitch).”
How to Handle Baiting and Fishing in Your Group
It’s almost impossible to prevent predators from joining your group. Paid memberships and private groups offer some protections, but if people have bad intentions, they’ll find a way to act on them. That doesn’t mean you’re defenseless. You can make preemptive strikes by setting clear standards for your community, enforcing those standards consistently with care, and explicitly telling the group what to do if they think others are violating those standards.
It takes time and effort to protect your community from predators, and your people are worth it.
But a word of caution: Don’t go through life, or community management, assuming the worst of people in your groups. If anything, assume the best. More people are out to do good than to do harm. Be one of those people and work to attract those people — and your community (whether it’s on Facebook or not) will be better for it.
What Do You Think?
Have you had these types of experiences in the groups you lead? What have you done? How has it affected you and the group as whole?