If you’re looking for a plumber, dog sitter, traffic report or list of weekend events around town, where do you go?
Many may answer “Google.”
For more than 28,000 people around Williamsburg, James City County and York County, the answer lies on Facebook.
Over the last four years, several Facebook groups serving the Historic Triangle have grown in popularity, focusing on hyper-local information, events and recommendations.
Those groups include Williamsburg News and Notes and York County VA 411, which had 10,054 and 18,129 members, respectively, Thursday afternoon.
“I’m really proud of it because it’s become such a great resource,” said Rob Larson, 27, administrator of Williamsburg News and Notes.
Both pages were created in 2014; York 411 started in June 2014 and News and Notes in July 2014. Other, smaller groups include Poquoson “Say what you will” and York County REAL 411.
For Larson, the page was created as an alternative to the typical “trash and treasure” buying and selling groups, although it started as somewhat of a joke, he said. Larson said he posted a question on a local trash and treasure group one day about Busch Gardens and was instructed by an administrator to post those questions elsewhere.
York County VA 411 was created by Pat Thomas as a way to spread word about community events, without business ads or classifieds, group administrator Lisa Kurtz Shannon said.
Growth as a community resource
While Williamsburg News and Notes began as a joke for Larson, he now sees what a valuable community service it has become.
“My mom [Board of Supervisors member Ruth Larson], she’s in public service and she’s an inspiration for me,” Larson said. “My dad, when it comes to storms, he’s the first one out there with a chainsaw. I am kind of following in those footsteps as far as helping people.”
Shannon became an administrator of York County VA 411 shortly after Thomas created the group.
“I sent Pat a message and said ‘Hey, I had thought about doing the same thing,’” Shannon said. “She said ‘Well, do you want to help me?’”
“I said ‘Sure,’ not knowing what we were getting into,” she added.
York County VA 411 sees about 40,000 interactions a month — posts, comments and reactions — and about 200 posts per week, Shannon said.
“I never expected it to get this large,” Shannon said.
Keeping the groups running smoothly requires administrators to be frequently connected and monitoring the pages.
For both Shannon and Larson, they draw the line at hateful comments and posts.
“There’s no second chance on hate,” said Larson, who deletes members from the group when they cross the line. “I don’t have time.”
Shannon removes users from the group who fail to follow the group’s no-advertising, no-memes, no-hate guidelines. There’s also a new option that allows administrators to “mute” group members if they behave inappropriately or say offensive things. Muting prevents members from accessing the page for a certain number of days, she said.
“You can put them on Facebook time-out,” Shannon said with a laugh. “We use that sometimes.”
Political posts also sometimes warrant moderation on both pages, depending on how heated discussion gets.
“Whether it’s left-wing, right-wing, we try to catch that before it gets to the point where it hurts people,” said Larson, who considered deleting the page at one point last fall.
While managing a Facebook group with thousands of members can be a tall order, there are also rewarding moments.
Both said seeing pet owners reunited with their lost pets after posting about it in the group is a relief and reward.
Shannon said the installation of a Mobi-Mat on Yorktown Beach to help those with disabilities get to the water was also prompted by a post on the York 411 Facebook group. The main advocate for the mat, Dustin Ragans, contacted the Board of Supervisors after seeing a post about beach access in the group, Shannon said.
“Seeing those types of things make it worthwhile,” Shannon said.