300000 Facebook members - a human approach to marketing

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This week, we are joined by Jen Donovan who is the founder of, “Buy from a Bush Business.” She is also the co-founder of “Spend With Us”, as well as the creative one of Australia’s largest Facebook groups with over 300,000 members.

As a business consultant, she has helped start-ups and small businesses in rural and regional Australia grow their brands through hands-on support and her great marketing skills, Jen believes that the currency of community is underestimated in business in 2021, this week, she shares some tidbits with us on how we can leverage human to human marketing to grow our business.


  1. Why Facebook Group marketing is one of the most effective digital marketing channels.
  2. The keys to good Facebook marketing as well as tips and other tidbits for social media marketing in general i.e relevance, consistency, policing.
  3. Jenn Donovan is here to discuss how she used Facebook groups and social media to grow her business, as well as help other people, grow theirs.
  4. Taking a human approach to marketing.
  5. Leveraging Facebook or social media as a platform for an accommodation business
  6. Why small business owners need to make marketing a priority in their business “marketing is everything”
  7. How to cultivate community with Facebook groups.
  8. Can calamities and disasters be an opportunity for marketing in business?


Bart:  Hello and welcome back to the accommodation show, we help accommodation owners like you get the get the Knowledge and Skills that you need to grow your business, improve your guest experience and increase your profitability.

This week, I am talking to Jen Donovan who is the founder of “Buy from a Bush Business.” She is the co-founder of “Spend With Us” , and also the creative one of Australia’s largest Facebook groups with over 300,000 members. Jen believes that the currency of community is underestimated in business in 2021, and is more profound and deeper than so many business owners’ corporate companies and so [inaudible 00:0048] openers realize to the success of their business. This is a fascinating episode. We’ll be talking about human-to-human marketing, how and why she set up her Facebook community as well as its trials and tribulations without further ado, let’s launch into it.

Okay. Hi everybody. Welcome back to the accommodation show. I am super pumped to have Jen Donovan with us. Who is an absolute legend.  I’ve been looking forward to this conversation for quite a while. Jen runs a Facebook group or with 300,000 followers or members at the moment. It’s called “Buy from a Bush Business”. It was set up in 2019, during the draughts.She is also running the “Social Media and Marketing Australia” or “Social Media Market Australia” as a business and a marketplace as well, which is “Spend with Us”. She does all sorts of things. She’s wonderful. Welcome to the show Jen.

Jen : Thanks so much Bart for having me.

Bart: Thank you. Look, I’ve been super pumped to have you on the show. I was talking to my partner this morning. I said, “hey, I was talking to Jen.” “She said who’s Jen?” I’m like, “you don’t know who Jen is, you’re going to really look forward to meeting her once we do this”. So I’m pumped. I’m excited. Before we get into everything and tell everybody what it’s all about. Would love to hear your story, what you’re all about, what you do and how this Facebook group came to be.

 Jen: Yeah, no worries. So, I actually bought a farm in the Riverina of New South Wales. And actually on the  border of New Southampton, Victoria, so dealing with lots of border issues during Covid and but so I ran my social media marketing business from my home office, which has become a little bit more trendy than what it was in 2019 or 2018, when I started I should say, but yeah, so that’s a sort of do you help small business owners really just trying to help them make marketing a priority in their business, because you know, marketing is everything and it can really change your business. If you make it a priority rather than a sometimes activity, as far as the group goes the “Buy from a Bush” business group, it kind of came about from drought. So if you don’t live rurally, then you might not know that, you know, if farmers don’t have money, towns don’t have money. That’s pretty much how it works when you get into, you know, small rural towns and of course the drought had been going on for so long that when I was on a tour of with mark… doing my marketing and social media with small businesses, everyone was really sad and this is probably October 2019.

No one was looking forward to Christmas because no one thought there was going to be a good Christmas and I guess the marketing brain in me kind of kicked in its like, I kept hearing the same problem all week and driving home over the New South Wales plains, so, you know, there’s nothing to see, you’re on your own, there’s barely a radio station to be heard, they have a line to download the podcast and I came up with an idea to start a Facebook group where I thought everyone could just post their own things and I could open them up to a new audience.

So I got home on a Friday afternoon and I opened up a Facebook group and I invited all my clients and the people they’d seen this week that week. I invited my friends and invited them just to start posting. I must admit though Bard, I had no idea the beast I was creating, no idea whatsoever. And of course as you say, you know, as of early January 2021, it’s now got 300,000 people in it. It’s an economy all unto itself and it’s kind of a marvelous little creation that I’m super proud of, that people are supporting rural and regional businesses. Just simply through a Facebook group and the marketplace that’s been with us is, you know, part that as well. So it’s kind of more like, we call it the “The Rural Amazon.” So it’s kind of works, like an Amazon but it’s only for rural and regional businesses. But yeah, so basically, came from just wanting to help people trying to help people that were drought-affected and little did I know that the bush fires and Covid was coming, which, I think is probably one of the reasons why it’s kept its momentum up.

Bart: You’re right because obviously the fires have pitted out since last year and then this year Covid comes along and the…the same sort of needs to… it’s not so much about just supporting because of droughts, It’s also about supporting the local community. And I think that there’s a huge amount of engagement that people I want to have and people want to contribute, they want to give back, they want to support local, but having the right platform on the right medium can be quite problematic.

Jen: Yeah. Yeah it can it can, it can and really knowing I guess there’s been a whole support for by Australian as well. My groups are actually is about supporting small businesses in rural and regional Australia, not necessarily just Australian-made because I seriously believe that if we took out all the shops that didn’t make, bake or grow their own self in rural areas, then we’d have a whole heap of ghost towns, so I do support Australian made, but my group isn’t just for Australia made. Can she …Australian-made business owners.

Bart: Yeah, so it’s about people running businesses that are… of regional… in the regions or rural areas rather than just the products of being sourced locally. And I think you’re absolutely right physically problematic to create a scale and volume and that sort of thing but we do want to support those businesses certainly, that there they can thrive and survive.

Jen:   Yeah, exactly.

Bart: I feel there’s a couple of different areas I think will be great for us to talk about today and I think that when we had spoken last year we talked about human connection and and people sort of coming together and how people interact with businesses and I think that’s something that you’ll have a lot to say or to talk about today. Lets  start off with the group a little bit and then we’ll go into the social media or marketing side of things. With the group why do you think its so [inaudible 00:07:44] to what it is? What have you done Right? And what have you done wrong along that Journey?

 Jen: That’s a really really big question. What have I done right? I think some of it has been about timing. Some of it has been about the fact that we live in a country that is very giving and people do like to support the underdog that’s… you know…I think if you watch a football game and you don’t particularly have someone that you support in that game you often want to support the underdog and that seems to be a bit of an Australian culture thing. So I think you know certainly media talking about drought drought drought and people… donating is one thing but lots of people want to do something a little bit more on the ground than donating $50 to a charity or you know, trying to give you know vouchers or something like that. So I think some of it was about the timing, in that people were looking for something a little bit different or what… different ways to support small business owners, I think some of it was about the catastrophes that were happening and were around the corner but no one knew about being you know…I started.. because of drought and what I was seeing within my business and my local community and of course we faced up to the bushfires of 2019, 2020 and then of course we had Covid which also brought on lockdown so people had to shop online and we’re looking for something a little bit different as well. So I think all those things combinated, but I also think as human beings we want to belong to something whether it’s a local church or a local football club or a protest or a Lions Club or something like that. We have this inherent nature to want to belong and I think my “Buy from a Bush business gave somewhere for people to belong and certainly at the beginning there was lots of messages I was getting from people saying, you know, I felt so isolated, but now I feel like I can go in and and see other people that are going through what I’m going through or you know interact with other people or meet people from across the country that I would never have got to meet before, whether that’s from selling goods or just the hall meeting and carrying on a little conversation.

So I think it’s that whole …also that people want to belong to something. They want a higher purpose than themselves. I think that all rolled into almost the perfect timing of what I was actually doing in a simple Facebook group.

Bart: I guess you’re saying its like that sense of community is something that not only can draw draws people in, its… they become a lot less transactional and a lot more, I guess emotional and draws people in on a empathetic and sympathetic level to create those those connections between each other, is that about right?

Jen: Yeah it is, it is and I think a little bit selfishly, I think as humans we want to feel good about ourselves and I think we get a bit more of a warm and fuzzy buying something from a struggling rural and regional business than perhaps what we do walking down to Kmart and buying something from there. So I think it’s some of us, some of it is our personal nature that you know, we want that little kick of endorphins knowing we have actually helped someone even though we have just made a purchase that we wanted to do anyway.

Bart: Were there any points in the journey of the growth of this community where things really changed? Like big growth spurts, media coverage anything there were were sort of points where inflection points, where you like yeah these, these big things have happened at these times and I imagine Covid might be one of them, the first one to start it all off, but was there anything else that sort of either you hit done or that was an external factor that made things grow stronger or creative, make the community gel better together?

Jen: If you go right back to the start, there’s this little post that says, you know 5,000 members yay! 10,000 members yay! And then I think we got to 100,000 members before Christmas. So within about seven or eight weeks we got a hundred thousand people, but I think that came down to the wanting to belong to something, something a little bit different being able to support rural and regional Australia on a whole different level because the group..the I’d the group grows by other people inviting their friends and their families so they come into the group, they see the amazing products or you know, the community atmosphere that’s in there and then they go and invite all their Facebook friends. So that’s how a group grows and without creating that sense of community or having people in there selling different things or creating the community is such, then it wouldn’t have grown. I guess. There was quite a lot of media attention most certainly, but in saying that there was lots of things like this popping up and there still are lots of things, that are very similar like “Buy from the Bushes,” from the bush is very… in Instagram. So it was about a week before I started I think, the hashtag started to get pushed around a little bit, so there was that momentum and spin with us, which is now part of my market place actually started as a separate entity. It’s just that we’ve joined forces now that sort of came from the bush fires as such. Um-m ,yeah, so there was lots of little things that came up, but I think it was really just humans, humans just wanting to share what they’d found and what they were finding they loved with other people in their lives that has made the group grow and grow and grow.

Bart: Playing devil’s advocate, youve said something that is very important. That there were other people, there are other options for this sort of thing to happen. What was it about this particular group that you hit done or what was the difference that made this one successful above, like you said the idea probably isn’t a new one. But what was there? What would… Is there something that you’d be quite conscious of doing to do that? Was there an engagement strategy that you had or was it all just organic and you kind of lucked out?

Jen: Yeah. Look, I’d love to say that, you know being the marketer and having the marketing brain that I… you know, strategically planted all this way, but I really didn’t and I think it came back entirely to that sense of community and perhaps a sense of ownership, so that’s it. The other platforms that are out there which are amazing and I’m all for a competitive market, don’t get me wrong, but this one perhaps every seller had a little piece of ownership in it because they weren’t waiting for me to post about their things. They actually did it themselves so It was their words, their photos, their stories. So everybody who has sort of sold something through the group has that little bit of ownership through it and perhaps that could be the difference. Other than that, you’d probably have to ask some of the people who, you know were first responders to the group or who have really grown a business from the group and I guess that’s another point in that lots of people didn’t have a business, they had a hobby and all of a sudden then they had a business simply because they were put in front of a much bigger audience because we all know in social media um, you know it’s hard to attract people to your business, you know, it’s a pay-to-play space now, so to do it organically, you know it can be really tough.

Bart: Tell me about the success of some of those businesses, are there are any standouts for you that you’re like, “yep, the the group was instrumental to to their growth?” I mean, obviously we are not taking away from that business owners and emphasis beware. [inaudible 00:17:13] yeah, actually, were quite engaged, they’re great at what they do. Tell me about about maybe two or three of the favorites. Not your favorites, sorry let’s rewind that.  Tell me about two or three of the ones that have been most impacted by by this group.

 Jen: Yeah. Yeah, I suppose and I can’t play favorites most certainly and being that there is 300,000, I don’t necessarily know the the breakup of how many of them is sellers and how many of them buyers and how many of them are sellers and buyers, but it… when you said, you know success stories, I guess one of the first ones that came to mind, was a lady by the name of Amy Dennis and she has a Paper Arts, which is a pieces up towards dubbo. I can’t quite remember off the top of my head the actual area that she comes from but I do know it’s up near Dubbo there, and she had a post in her  my Facebook group just the other day saying, you know her business is 12 months old. So basically 12 months ago when you know the drought…like we’ve kind of forgotten a little bit about the drought with everything that’s happened, but the drought was so severe that you know, that was selling their stock, money was hard to come by and one of her friends told her about this group and said, “how about you just try and put some of your beautiful products in there?” She was a bit of an artist, a bit of a tinkerer, you know, made things for family and friends might have done a craft market every now and then and of course she put one post up into Facebook and I remember her reaching out to me a couple of weeks later saying that that one post you put into my group actually earned more money than what the sheep did at the market, which you know blew her husband away and blew her away to think that you know, her little craft that she could do, you know, is earning more money than perhaps selling the livestock at that particular time to which then, you know her grandma had to come up from Sydney and her mom had to come over the Northern Territory because then she had to make them of course in through so, you know, Amy certainly credits the group for starting her business like all the hard work is hers. It’s just like being a business coach and a mentor that I am, I can tell people how to you know, run their businesses and how to do marketing but the hard work is theirs, so it’s all their accolades, but certainly Amy, you know talks about how the group started her off and certainly showed her that perhaps what she thought was just, you know, making things out of alpaca fibers, found that lots of people loved what she did and wanted to keep buying what she did

 Bart: And, I’m hearing more and more… sort of noise that from a sales perspective, If you can get your messaging right into Facebook groups, you can make significant impacts into your business. It’s maybe not something I want to unpack too much today,

 Jen: Yeah.

Bart: But, any thoughts yeah.

Jen: Yeah. Look, I think it depends on what Facebook group most certainly. There is, you know, there are a lot of big Facebook groups out there that aren’t necessarily great places to be advertising your business and frankly won’t let you advertise your business and you know, they’re more about you know, communicating and community orientated rather than selling as such, so it but Facebook groups. You Mark Zuckerberg said it himself. I think it was like 2018 or 2017 to 2019. I can’t quite remember now.  Time is a bit of a blur but he told us that he was putting more algorithm towards groups. So if you wanted to use the platform then, basically you create a group because that’s where I’m going to put the algorithm, if you can get the engagement and I think that’s another reason why the group perhaps got spread far and wide. I’m sure that the algorithm had something to do with that as well.

Bart: I can see that sort of traction and they started leading more people into it. Okay. I hope you are..

Jen: Yeah, you know yourself if you’re on Facebook that you know, little suggestions come up, you know of on the right hand side like you of little groups or something like that to join. I have no doubt that some people found the group that way being a public group, of course private groups don’t work that way but public groups certainly do yeah.

Bart: And I think they’ve been very vocal even in the past year. So in terms of their marketing and the advertising of what Facebook is putting out say, yes, we are pushing those. Yes people do want to create these communities in these groups and I think that obviously Facebooks’ trying to grow as a business, but the other one, the other part of it is I think they understand that the people want that sense of community and that sense of connection, where before it was sort of you just have your immediate network and I was trying to figure out how to get connection beyond your immediate network with people and these groups, shared interests, shared passions and that sort of thing is what…what they are deeming to be that that glue that sticks everyone together?

Jen: Yeah. Yeah.

Bart: Okay, just a quick question on… so if a seller on your group comes in, how often can they post? Is it free to post today? Are there’s some rules to you have around that?

Jen: Yeah, there are rules around it most certainly. First of all, they have to declare that they are a rural or regional business and that sort of I guess, we police that with hashtags, it is free to post and but it does require admin approval. So anyone who posts in the group for free does actually have to wait for myself or my team of admins to actually approve their posts, and that can take a few hours depending on what we’re doing and you know, and what are our other business because if you remember this is kind of like a side hustle or it’s not really an income generator. So it doesn’t necessarily always get priority every day. But at least once or twice a day all those posts get approved and we do have a VIP membership, which is involved with stem with us, but it does mean that you can get pre-approval and you can just post into the group whenever you want. And we do try and limit it to two times a day that people post into the group and I think that’s more coming from my marketing side because if you see something too often, it loses its momentum on you and you can actually get a little bit annoyed. We’re seeing the same products pulled onto your face time and time again, so there’s that real fine line of wanting to make sure you reach the best potential audience you can and not putting people off by showing them the same thing over and over again great.

Bart: There’s one final question that I have. About about this particular topic and it’s around mistakes. Quite often, we don’t think about them. We don’t learn about it. We don’t want to talk about them. Are there any mistakes you would like to share with our audience?

Jen: Yeah, look, I probably at least twice a week want to give it up, like it’s a huge job. It’s kind of like someone said to me a little while ago, “you’re a mayor of a city and you’ve got to kind of, you know, realize that you know, at 300,000 people in my little city and I’m kind of like the mayor of that City.” So it does get a little bit overwhelming. There are some I’ve…I would have to say I’ve seen the very best and the very worst of humanity through that group. There are some very amazing, beautiful, giving people out there and there are some really horrible people out there as well and they don’t get to stay in group my group very long, I do kick them out and you know, that’s the end of them. I did have an instance where I was actually going to give up the group entirely. I had a couple of admins that were working with me and that were going to take it over, unfortunately that didn’t work out, it turns out that they weren’t really my people and weren’t really nice people. So I ended up taking the group back and onwards and upwards from there, of course, but probably some of the mistakes that I’ve made just… I don’t know what sort of mistakes that I’ve made to retailers, I’m sure there’s a ton of them. Perhaps not being as responsive as I could be. I I I know that I’ve been taught a little bit about white privilege from being the admin of the group and there’s been a few times where things have been branded racist and you know, I’m a white female. You know, growing up in probably somewhat privileged not really privileged, but certainly some privilege and I’ve kind of tilted my head and g, “is that really racist?” and I’ve had to go. “Wow, it might be….” okay, you know, so I’ve learned a lot through the group about you know, other cultures and other groups and you know, a little bit about white privilege as well just through a Facebook group, so the learnings have been enormous.

Bart:  It’s pretty incredible what happens when you throw that many people together from all walks of life and sort of get everybody interacting and then we’ve always grow up with a certain position and when people start to challenge it and how we respond to it, is an absolutely fascinating piece, which I always quite enjoy is being with people and realizing the way things are going…Yeah. Wow.

What I’m going to ask you now is that kind of on the same vein of talking about the group and I know that your core business runs social media and marketing would love to know your thoughts about, sort of leveraging Facebook or social media as a platform for a an accommodation business. I’m going to kind of skew it a bit more towards our particular audience and say and and I would love to know if you’ve got any learnings or any that you could share with the accommodation space on on how to connect and break through to different audiences using Facebook or if there’s any other mediums, I’d love to hear about that as well.

Jen: Yeah, okay, and I’d say accommodation based businesses. Definitely, Instagram/Facebook business, as in you know, very visual on Instagram and sit and they’re engaging on Facebook interestingly, there was a… where I live it… in the Riverine there’s a motel that has been taken over. I went there recently, It was a couple of years ago now but they, you know, started Instagram account and I used to follow it. I still do follow it, but it’s got a little bit better, but I used to follow it and I used to sort of roll my eyes at it because it was so fake. Like they were trying to present their business as something that it simply wasn’t. Now I live near Lake Mulwala, now my lake is a brown Lake, It’s not an ocean and they used to put photos up if you know people sitting what in what looked like, you know, blue sparkling waters, I was just like, “my water never looks like that.”or they would you know present their Motel like their pool, its like, “that’s not your pool.”  So yu’ve gotta be realistic. Yes, you know, you, might sometimes you might need to put lipstick on a pig most certainly, but you do need to be realistic and the other thing I would say, is when was the last time you showed up in your social media? I find that is this one of the things with small business owners that is such a push. Like you said very early on my human-to-human marketing is the answer to so many of your engagement questions. So when was the last time you showed your faces or people heard your voices other than when they check in to your motel or to your hotel or to your resort? You know, who’s the person greeting him at the front desk? And do they know that person before they get to that front desk? I think it’s… imagine having your clients and your customers are walking in and saying, “ hi Paul how are you going?” Because they’ve seen you on 12 Facebook lives or you know, they’ve seen you doing work around the resort and just showing everyday life and things like that. I think that’s probably one of the most important and easily missed marketing strategies that people need to sort of start implementing is showing up as themselves.

 Bart: And I think that you can look at calculus big brands that have figured this out and that use it as part of their marketing strategy. If you turn on the TV for an for a for a few ad breaks, then you’ll see all the companies that are using their staff and are using their people to make adverts. They all don’t look, they don’t have that sheen, or that polish but that’s not what they’re going for, they are going for a… they are trying to find a way for people to relate to that particular person that that’s been on the advert and the person is gonna come into the shop. So I’ll come to the accommodation and that’s really important because your accommodation should reflect yourself and you should come out on the on the marketing side of it. And then therefore people are going to come they are not separate things. Would you believe that?

Jen: Yeah, yeah absolutely and I think that’s a really interesting point and one that I try to make often is watch what the big boys are doing, whether they’re in your industry or not in your industry. Like you know, when you were talking before the biggest one that comes to mind is you particular hardware store that have their staff in the videos. Look at that from marketing eyes and go. “Oh, okay. So that’s why they’re doing what they’re doing,” and you know, they’re the ones with the big budgets and they’re the ones with the big research and start watching people… bigger businesses with marketing eyes and working out why do what they do, while watching those Facebook ads that you engage with and think, “what grabbed me was at the headline? Was it the picture? Was it the actual words that they wrote? And yeah, just sort of opening yourself up a little bit more to think like a marketer because everyone is, if you’re in business, you’re a marketer whether or not you like it.

Bart: Exactly. Hey Jen, I’m going to cut it off there because I think we’ve given everyone lots of little tidbits. I think everyone, I think the biggest learnings for me today was about that sense of community and that sense of connection and it’s more important than ever, especially in this day and age. I think that there’s an awful lot of little tips that people will be able to pick up and use within their own marketing strategies within their own businesses and probably have a good think about what their Facebook strategies gonna to be for this particular year. Yeah, so I really thank you. Is there anything that our community can do for you?

Jen: Yeah. I don’t know what they can do for me, but I might certainly, you know if anyone wants to chat further or you know have a bit of a conversation, I’m more than happy to have a bit of a chat. I do have another Facebook group that does not have 300,000 people in it, but it’s more, it’s still an up and little community on Facebook called “Like-minded Business Owners.” So if anyone is interested in connecting there, that would be great. But otherwise just I guess I’d really encourage you if you’ve heard something today, or if you’ve taken some notes, do some implementing. Don’t let it be something else that you do you hear or you think I should do that and you just don’t make the time and effort to do because it’s all those little one-percenters that will actually help you change your business and grow it.

Bart: Beautiful, you are an amazing person. Thank you so much Jen for joining us. We will see you around the traps over the next 6 to 12 months. I look forward to following everything that you do and we’ll catch you very soon. Thank you so much.

Jen: My pleasure Bart thanks so much for having me.

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