Posted by GregStrandberg

ESL stands for English as a Second Language, and it’s a huge industry in China. Just about every parent wants their only child to go to America to get into business and strike it rich. Learning English is seen as a critical step in making that happen.

For five years, I taught English to kids in China. I started my ESL teaching job in 2008, and by 2012 I thought I had learned enough about my field to help other ESL teachers. Many were struggling like I once had; I thought a website with helpful advice, games, and free handouts would save their sanity.

The site, called ESL Adventure, started in October of that year. It published three posts before I threw the towel in and the blog went silent. I didn’t pick it up again until the following January, when I got in gear and started posting consistently. Soon, there were more than 100 posts on the site, and the traffic started picking up.

Now, when I say picking up, I’m talking about 100 to 150 unique hits each day. Yeah, I’d finally reached the big time.

Joking aside, the site was turning a profit. It might have been minuscule—about $10 a month at first—but it came from people buying things I’d made from scratch, things other teachers were finding to be useful. It felt great, and I wanted more.

Choosing Google+ for business

So how would you get more?

Getting more traffic to the site seemed like an obvious course of action, so I started looking for ways to do that. Starting a social media group seemed like a good bet. (I use group and community interchangeably). I ending up choosing Google+ for my group.

Whoa… Google+? Why would you choose that?

Obviously, I hadn’t heard the network was dying, or should have died, or was going to die soon… dang it!

Yeah, I’d heard all that, but remember, I’d also lived in China. That’s a country where Facebook and Twitter aren’t allowed. YouTube was taken away from us teachers in 2009, and it was a very useful classroom tool.

So I knew that my best bet for my target audience—frustrated English teachers in China—would be Google+. Sure, Google has some problems in the Middle Kingdom as well, but it’s allowed—or more aptly, tolerated by the government.

Like anyone creating a social media group for the first time, I dove right in without doing much in the way of research or planning. The result was my Google+ community, ESL & Bilingual Teacher Resources (see screenshot below).

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That’s correct: 401 members.

Yep, 401 members might not seem that impressive, but ESL & Bilingual Teacher Resources is actually the seventh-largest ESL community on Google+. For comparison’s sake, the seventh-largest SEO community on Google+ has over 18,000 members.

That’s actually a lot of people. Leading a community like that can really do a lot for your website and/or business.

Creating your plan

Do you have a Google+ community like that, or a social group on another network? If so…

  • Is it good enough?
  • Is it as good as it could be?
  • Is it driving traffic to your website?
  • Is it converting website visitors into registered users?
  • Is it generating sales for your business?

These are all questions you need to think about. I think about them a lot. I use Google+ everyday, and posting to my group is part of that. The membership number might be low, but the same principles for increasing membership apply to communities of all sizes.

After you give these questions some initial thought, you’ll want to come up with a plan for to increasing your traffic and generating more sales. To help you create you plan, I’m going to give you five dead-simple tips that will work across all industries, niches, and social media channels.

Here’s an overview:

  1. Do your market research
  2. Consistent content
  3. Staying data-relevant
  4. Fair moderation
  5. Varied content.

Now let’s dive into the details.

Tip #1: Do your market research

Whether you’re working in ESL or some other niche, you want to do your market research. A big part of that is spying on various social media groups to see what’s working for them.

When I started my group more than a year ago, I didn’t do any of that. I saw them after I started my own group. Remember how I mentioned that I dove right in? When I finally pulled myself back and started to look at the landscape I’d become a part of, I saw these other groups that had huge membership numbers.

But you know what? I already had an ESL website with ESL products, and I wanted to get more visits and more sales. So I started my group, and then went back and did the research. That’s when I found out who my competition was: The largest, most popular ESL communities on Google+.

These are the main Google+ ESL groups:

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The largest ESL group on Google+ has over 7,100 members, and the smallest one has two members. The page keeps scrolling down, so there are tons of groups; but after the top twelve, the membership numbers fall into the single digits.

It takes time to go through those groups, and maybe that turns you off.

Perhaps recording what you find is a bummer, and best not started upon. It could even be that when it gets right down to it, you’re not interested in seeing your social media group do better. After all, when you see how much work it can take, perhaps doing nothing is the best approach.

That’s what those groups in the single digits said, and that’s why they’re at the bottom. That’s not where you want to be.

Tip #2: Consistently post content

You want to consider the posts in a group. You might have a group with thousands of members, but if it only has hundreds of posts, it might not be worth your time.

We all know that Google+ will index your content faster than any other social network, as Cyrus Shepherd pointed out in an August 2013 post. That’s why it’s so important to post and share there. If you have a group, it’s even more beneficial.

Posting isn’t always easy, of course. I’ve kept on top of it by always having fresh content. What’s more, there’s very little spam in my group, and I will crack down on it as a moderator. The only one flagrantly selling anything in that group is me. Hey, I made it, I can do what I want!

No one commented or posted in the group except me for a long time. I’d like to think that’s because English is their second language, but the membership levels continued to increase. It was slow and barely noticeable, but I kept at it. I knew I was getting an increase in traffic and sales to my website, and I could see the referrals from Google+ going up.

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A closer look at my Google+ ESL community

Though right now I’m the seventh-largest Google+ community for ESL, if I can get another 65 members, I’ll be the sixth-largest. If I can double my size, I’ll be the fifth-largest.

It’ll take time; but like a wheel rolling downhill, it’ll pick up speed and momentum, and make quite the impact when it’s all said and done.

But that’s the thing—with social media groups, it’s never done. That scroll or feed or whatever, it never ends. It goes on forever, full of posts and new information and chances for you to be noticed. I’m still surprised when I get a Google+ notification on a post from a year ago or more. It’ll be a +1 usually, but sometimes it’s a comment.

Most of the time, you’ll forget about those posts, but Google won’t; that’s usually because of your group sharing information. Google+ communities help with that, so think about starting one in your niche today.

Tip #3: Keep content up-to-date and relevant

If you’re not putting up new and relevant content, why should I care about you? Let’s take a look at one of my competitors in the ESL Google+ community pages.

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This group has about 60 more members than mine, but you can see a problem right away. The posts are dated. The last post was May 24. Additionally, the pinned post is from January.

That doesn’t really inspire confidence, and it’s a clear sign that this moderator (and ,in turn, this group) has dropped the ball.

The worst is if it’s date-sensitive information, like a promotion or giveaway. Each time you visit, you see it there, a reminder that the group has lost value to you.

Tip #4: Moderate fairly

You might have noticed in that first image in this post that I have the notifications turned on.

Yeah, I’m the moderator, so I want to know when someone posts to my group. The reason for this is spam.

We all hate internet spam, but we know it’s a fact of life. The good news with social groups and communities is that you can get rid of much of it.

It’s a lot easier when you have a small group, like I do, as opposed to one of those larger groups, like the 18,000-strong SEO community I mentioned. In the former, you might get one spam post a day or week; in the latter, they appear every hour, even every minute at times.

What are you to do?

Moderate, that’s what. You have to be vigilante, tracking what’s put into your group. You also need to clearly set some standards for what makes it into your group.

  • What qualifies as an acceptable post, and what’s strictly forbidden?
  • What are the guidelines for posting in the group, and are they listed on the sidebar for all to see?
  • Who is allowed to sell, how often, and what? After all, you’re surely taking that privilege—it’s why you started the group—so doesn’t that make you a hypocrite if others can’t do the same?

These are all good points to think on, and I don’t have all the answers for you. I block a lot of posts in my group, probably more than I allow.

Many months ago, I got ticked off when another ESL group deleted some of my posts. I was trying to post (i.e., sell) my stuff in their group.

It used to rub me the wrong way when I was on the receiving end of some moderator’s distaste, but now I look at it differently. I’m looking after my brand, after all, and I need the 400 people that put their trust in me to keep that trust with me. Cutting down on or eliminating the spam they see goes a long way in accomplishing that. Still, how does that offending poster feel, or do you even care?

Tip #5: Vary the content

No one likes seeing the same things all the time. Alternating between blog posts, videos, images, and songs are great ways to keep your content unique.

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If you’re in a niche like ESL without a ton of competition, you’ll often see the same posts in all the top groups. How do you differentiate your group?

Here are a few things I’ve done with my group:

  • Promo Posts. The prime purpose of my group is to sell my products. A great way to do that is by writing blog posts about a product and then sharing that post in my group.
  • Other Groups’ Posts. There are lots of great ESL websites out there, and many have quality info for teachers. I often include information from these groups in my posts.
  • Infographics. I love ESL infographics, and so do teachers and English language learners. Vocabulary items work best, like an image of the body with words pointing to “lips” and “knee”. People like that, and those things get a lot of shares, which pulls more people into my group.
  • Videos. I like to include fun, helpful videos for teachers, and silly (including stupidly funny) videos for students. It’s different from the same-old, same-old, and people respond to it.
  • Songs. When I say songs, I’m talking about old music videos on YouTube. I usually post slow ones with subtitles, as these are good for students. Its a good fit for my niche. I bet you can think of something that works equally well for your niche.
  • Images. I got into the habit of ending my posting sprees in the group with an image. This would always be some exotic landscape. Eventually, I bundled the images into a PowerPoint presentation that I let teachers download from my website free of charge.

This is simply what I chose to do based on my niche. You’ll have to brainstorm and test to figure out what works best for you.

No matter what you decide, though, consider doing additional market research to determine what’s likely to resonate in your neck of the woods.

Conclusion

Google+ is still a happening network. It has 343 million members, according to a June 26 post on Social Media Today called Social Media Addiction Statistics [INFOGRAPHIC]. You want to capitalize on those members and make the network a pivotal part of your social media strategy.

Having your own community on Google+ is a great way to do that. Searching out existing communities is easy, and figuring out what posts work won’t take you much time. Soon you can begin posting your own varied content, and in a relevant and timely manner. Membership will increase, as will traffic to your site. If all goes right, your sales will see a boost, too.

This is what social media marketing is all about, and Google+ is a great way to get started.

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