If you use social media, which most of us do, the chances are that you’re a member of some online groups, whether on Facebook, LinkedIn, Mighty Networks or another platform.

Some groups are active and welcoming, while others are prone to friction or, conversely, silence. It depends on how well they’re run.

With the right approach, it’s easy to see why online groups are so popular – they bring together communities of people united by a specific interest, purpose or profession. The privacy settings are flexible and you can get really targeted about who joins.

You’ll find groups dedicated to bands, books, TV programmes, animals, rare diseases, hobbies, business legislation and much, much more. In fact, if you can imagine something, there’s a good chance there’s an online group somewhere out there dedicated to that ‘something’ already.

The advantages of online groups for trainers

Personally, I love running an online group because it enables me to:

  • Get to know my audience/community
  • Provide a safe, confidential space for people to talk
  • Offer peer support, coaching and mentoring
  • Create a setting for conversations, advice and championing each other

How trainers can use online groups

The first step is to think about where your potential community spends its time online and to create a group within that platform.

I recently moved the Trainer Talk community hub from Facebook to Mighty Networks because of the extra features and integration with the Trainer Talk website. However, Facebook served perfectly for many years and LinkedIn is also effective. Only you can decide what suits your business right now.

If you think that an online group might work for your audience, here are five ways that you could use a group to grow your training business:

1. Support a training programme

You could create a group that’s associated with a specific training programme. Rather than making the group public, just invite trainees to join. This provides a confidential setting where people can share experiences, ask questions and tap into advice.

Many group owners offer to run a live online Q&A session at a specific time each week/month/course to group members only, either by video or a text chat.

Alternatively, you could pop into the group regularly to answer questions and provide advice or information as the need arises. It’s up to you to work out what you can commit to and what the right approach is for your audience.

Encourage members of the group to interact with and support each other so that the group keeps ticking over, even when you’re not online.

Top tip: Create a schedule and clear boundaries about how the group will operate. It’s easy to lose hours answering comments and chatting so you may need to allocate set time slots to be present.

2. Create a place for past and present course delegates to stay in touch

Another idea is to create a private group for your course alumni to keep in touch with one another once the training is over. This is especially appreciated by people who have made strong connections on a course with people who have similar careers or experiences.

This kind of group may not need much input from you as it’s just a tool for people to stay in touch. Still, it’s important to set clear group rules and keep an eye on what everyone is posting to make sure that members respect your guidelines.

Top tip: Pop into the group to start conversations and see how people have got on since their training.

3. Create an online networking group

Many people dislike the idea of face-to-face networking or their schedule, circumstances or location mean they can’t attend meetings in person.

An online networking group can be the perfect alternative, giving members somewhere to come at any time of day or night to connect with other people.

The benefit of an online networking group is that it isn’t restricted by geography or time zones.

Top tip: With this kind of group, it’s helpful to know a bit about each of the members so that you can put people in touch with one another and make online introductions/referrals.

4. Create a feedback group

I’ve known a couple of coaches and trainers over the years who have set up small online groups with a view to trialling new courses or services to a handpicked selection of people, be it other trainers or potential clients.

The idea of these groups is to do a test run of a course or service and invite constructive feedback before launching the training into the public arena.

In exchange for their feedback, you might offer group members training at a discounted rate or the first opportunity to book a service before it’s released more widely.

Top tip: Create a sense of exclusivity by making this a secret group open to invited members only.

5. Run an event group

If you’re someone who trains at conferences or at other events, you might want to set up an event-focused group that lets people know when and where you’ll be, what your training is about and how to attend.

You can make the group public or invite people who are on your mailing list to join and then keep everyone up-to-date with your plans.

Top tip: If other trainers are involved in an event, encourage them to promote the group too so that you can all reach a wider audience who have expressed an interest in attending.

Will online groups work for your business?

Although online groups can be incredibly powerful, they aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. They can take up a surprising amount of time and energy, which is why it’s so important to set group rules and enforce them.

Don’t feel you have to start a group for the sake of it or because you think everyone else runs one. However, if you are interested, it can be a fantastic way to stay in contact with clients or add value to your core services.

I find people speak more openly in member-only groups where there’s a high level of relevance and engagement.

My advice is to be clear about your purpose for creating an online group.

  • Who is it for?
  • Why does it exist?
  • What will they get out of it?
  • What do you want to get out of it too?

If you can be clear about your reasons for creating the group and the benefits of joining for every member, it will be easier to promote it and create a community of which you’re proud.

Do you run an online group or are you a member of a group that makes a difference to your business? What platform do you use? What do you think are the pros and cons of running or joining online groups? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

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