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Lessons Learned from Running an Enormous Baby Sleep Group on Facebook

how to run a facebook group

Two years ago I launched the Precious Little Sleep Facebook Group on a whim. I would like to tell you I had a mindful strategy for it, but that would be a lie. As I frequently do I figured, “Sure why not!” and launched it. I expected a few hundred people to join and the group would give them a place to troubleshoot sleep issues and support each other in the struggle.

Within a week there were 1,000 parents, with another 500 waiting in the approval queue and I immediately made this face:

So I did what any rational being would do, I immediately made a few other people admins and then emailed them to let them know I had given them an unpaid job. It’s exactly this sort of behavior that makes me so beloved among friends. That and my propensity to persist in the use of “on fleek.”

The group quickly blew up. In 2 years we grew from nothing to 31K members and are currently adding over 1K a month. It’s been a crazy journey of mostly great things. But also some not great things including:

  • Getting trolled by other groups that exist solely to troll other groups
  • Keeping out a host of icky spammers
  • Having 1,473,280 discussions on “is CIO child abuse” (TL:DR no, no it is not)
  • Handling a relentless barrage of complaints (why did my post not get an answer, why did my post get deleted, why don’t you personally answer all questions, who are you anyway, why can’t you spell)
  • Navigating some pretty challenging discussions around postpartum depression, anxiety, unsupportive partners, single parenting, etc.

Which all sounds pretty terrible doesn’t it? I see why community builders get burnt out. It’s all so relentless.

And also awesome…

  • An amazing and dedicated admin team who are not just enormously helpful, they’re my friends
  • Hundreds of gold star members who pop in daily to lend a hand
  • Thousands of people reaching out to each other with kindness and grace
  • Understanding, intelligent discourse, and adulting that renews my faith in humanity

In the past two years I’ve spent an unconscionable amount of time on the group but I think it’s been worth it. That it’s been a vehicle to foster connection between good people. And that it’s made a people’s lives better.

And I’ve learned a lot.

Key Lessons Learned

So. Many. Lessons.

  1. Most people are awesome. It’s easy to focus on the complainers, the freeloaders, people who come ask a question and leave. But most are so great. Really, really great. And great people are what makes a great community.

  2. Facebook is a terrible platform to manage a group.  It’s like trying to make dinner with a spoon and a sandwich baggie. You can make it work but it’s awkward, time consuming, and nobody is entirely thrilled with the final product. But we’re stuck with it.
  3. Moderating a large group is hard. Moderate too little and desperate people with time-sensitive pleas for help get lost in the shuffle of “what do you think of this sippy cup?” posts. Moderate too much and people bristle, because it’s hard for them to see the bigger picture.

    For example we started turning off comments on questions that had been answered. Not to be mean or shut down discourse, but because doing so created the opportunity for unanswered posts to gain more visibility. But regardless, shutting down comments gives people the feeling of being “shut down” so we had to back off on that.

  4. Community culture needs to be cultivated. It took me a long time to come around to this truth. As a rule I try to be inclusive of all parenting/sleep philosophies so people would join the group and want to talk about the sleep lady shuffle, Babywise,  essential oils, and all sorts of things that are not my thing. And what started happening is that the core philosophy of the group got diluted. We moved from the “Precious Little Sleep Group” to the “Whatever you want to talk about group.”

  5. Ironically it was this odd little video about the Red Yo Yo club that really coalesced the issue for me. It’s not that those things are bad, it’s just that they’re not who we are. We’re about safe, evidence-based, effective approaches to improving sleep outcomes for families. We’re the RED Yo Yo Club.

  6. 50% of the people in the group don’t know who I am or that they’ve joined the Red Yo Yo Club. This gets back to “Facebook is terrible at groups.” There’s no good way to convey information within the group. The header art is pretty clear but is virtually unseeable on the phone. It’s very hard to be the Red Yo Yo club when a substantial population of the group doesn’t know they’ve joined the Red Yo Yo Club.
  7. The group only works due to the persistent and dedicated team of admins to keep it working. It’s not about me, it’s about them. Full stop. And it’s incredibly draining for admins to constantly orient thousands of new parents each month about who we are and what it means to be in the Red Yo Yo Club. That independent sleep is essential. That sleep training is OK. That we can always find ways to make things better. This is an essential part of keeping the group cool, but it leads to admin burnout.

Change Commeth

This last lesson is leading to some changes in 2017. When the book comes out (it’s so close you guys) the group will be changing so that new members will need to be book readers.

No this is not to sell copies of the book. The book will sell itself, because it’s awesome (she says of the book she wrote – HA). It’s to enhance the community culture by establishing that while you don’t have to buy into everything PLS, this is in fact the PLS group and not “a random baby sleep group.” It’s to discuss specifically tactics and strategies suggested by the PLS book/blog/podcast. #redyoyoclub

Until the book is available new members will have to nominally visit the blog one time to fill out this brief form. They’ll have to at least peek at what is probably the most essential piece of information baby sleep available and answer a one word question about it. Yes this is a bit of a hassle and not nearly as fun as simply clicking the “join” button on Facebook. But hopefully this change will help reduce the amount of new member orientation required, will help keep the admin batteries at full charge, and will help us stay the Red Yo Yo club.

As always we’re trying to keep the awesome and we hope these changes will do just that. If you’ve got any thoughts, questions, or insights I would love to hear them in the comments!