500 900 million users, Facebook has become an Internet in and of itself. It has also become a must for businesses of all sizes and types.
In this entry (and the talk that it will form the basis of) I’ll look at ten free things your business can do to use or maximize its presence on the ubiquitous social networking site.
Before we start, I think we have to look at why we would develop a Facebook presence as opposed to creating and developing our own presence on the internet in the form of a website.
Let's forget the actual cost of developing and maintaing a website and focus on how people find your website once it is active. There are some fundamental ways in which users end up visiting your website.
- Search engines
- Offline promotions
- Links from other sites / referrals
- Social networks
Each of the above, excluding social networks, requires that a visitor somehow "find" your website. Whether they find it in a search engine, find the URL on your business card or find it on another website, they have to find it, which means you have to promote it. You have to work to get your message in front of the potential customer. You have to work to make your site "findable."
Social networks are fundamentally different because they reverse the relationship between an advertiser and individual. Once someone has become a fan of your page or business, they are essentially subscribing to your advertisements.
Does this eliminate any work on the part of the business? No, but it can decrease the amount of work (and costs) involved in making your website findable because you can potentially eliminate the entire time and cost of developing a website.
The burden shifts from making your website findable and compelling to making your Facebook page compelling and maintaining the relationship between you and your fans.
How can you promote your Facebook pages?
Create a persona or theme for your page
This can require a bit of creativity but once you have developed your persona, theme or voice for your page it can really help you create content for your Facebook page by giving you direction.
For example, I chose the theme of "Where's the Fire?" for the Firebrand Media Facebook page. This theme was part of a larger transition that I was making with the business. From 2007 through 2010 Firebrand Media had a physical location. Starting in 2011, I decided to no longer have a physical location and to really explore working mobile. Facebook has become and integral part of this transition.
The "Where's the Fire?" theme involves using Facebook to post images or information from where I am working on a particular day and asking fans to identify where I am working based on the information I provide. The person that correctly identifies the location wins a small prize (generally valued at less than $10).
How does this promote the business? When a users posts a guess about the location that I'm working, that post is not only displayed on my Facebook page but also on their news stream which is them displayed to all of their friends. It allows my information to reach friends of my fans. It's easy to see how your message can be carried to people you would never be able to reach on your own.
This theme also allows me to post unique content on a regular basis without having to struggle with "what to post?" which is a frequently asked question when I suggest using Facebook as a marketing platform.
Promote through offline social networks
We act like social networks are new but in reality, they've been around forever. They are simply groups of people that gather around a topic, idea or belief.
We are all part of social networks. Most likely, some of the people in our offline social networks are on Facebook. Once you create your Facebook page, use these people to promote your page. Give them the name of the page (or email them that absurdly long URL) and ask them to like your page.
Facebook has built-in tools that use your email address book to help you find potential fans. Use them.
Once you've mined your address book. Get creative when thinking about potential fans. The following are great resources for potential fans:
- Networking Groups
- Chamber of Commerce
- Church or Social Groups
- Post a flyer on bulletin boards with info about your business and your Facebook page. Use the Facebook logo. It catches the eye.
Get a Vanity URL (Username)
Facebook URLs are pretty long and hard to share.
This is the standard URL for my Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Firebrand-Media-Wheres-The-Fire/91649700207
That URL is impossible to remember and hard to share unless you use a URL shortener like bit.ly which would make it more manageable but hard to remember.
That is where Facebook Vanity URLs, they actually call them "user names", come in. A vanity URL is a simplified URL that Facebook will allow you to create once you reach a certain number of fans (or "likes"). Vanity URLs are based on availability so you may need to get creative if your business has a name that is common.
What does a vanity URL look like? http://Facebook.com/firebrandmedia
That is the vanity URL for the Firebrand Media Facebook page. It's easy to remember and easy to share.
Once you reach the threshold of 25 fans, I recommend (INSIST) that you create the vanity URL and start promoting it. We promote our Facebook page on business cards, t-shirts, postcards and any other marketing that we do.
Have questions about Facebook vanity URLs? http://www.facebook.com/help/?page=900
How can you use your Facebook page?
Promote sales and events
Small businesses spend a lot of money promoting sales. This can be a cycle of doom for a small business. A money pit, if you will. Typically, this is how it works.
You discount a product or service that has mass appeal in hopes that the discount will bring customers to your business allowing you to prove how great your service or product is. Ultimately, the hope is that your superior service or product will create a customer for life who you can later recoup the cost of the initial promotion.
You pay the newspaper, Valpak, the radio station or some other direct marketer to promote your discounted product.
You then hope and pray that your message is heard and people respond.
The problem with this is that you are eating into profits for both the discount and the promotion. Generally, profits at small businesses are pretty thin, especially, when it is in a competitive market.
Discounts are a necessary evil. It is often the best way to entice customers. The way we promote those discounts is where we need to look for savings.
Newspapers, radio stations and direct mail have had the advantage of being able to target an audience with your promotion. A well developed Facebook account can do a better job of targeting a particular audience while allowing you the added benefit of being able to do it yourself saving the expensive costs involved in the creation and deliver of mass media. Crap. I'm part of that creative process, so I may be cutting my own throat. Let's think of this as a discount. A necessary evil.
What about events?
Facebook excels at helping your promote events. Facebook has a dedicated app for creating events that allows you to invite specific people (your fans) to an event you are hosting, whether it be an open house or a sale of some sort.
What do your customers think about? What products or services would they like to see offered? Discussions are a great way to do this.
The dedicated discussions app allows you to have a more formal discussion with any / all of your customers. This allows you to get feedback on things like product offerings, locations, new hours, promotions they'd like to see, really anything that requires feedback. This can be a great way to get your customers to take ownership or feel involved in your business which strengthens the connection that they have with you and your business.
Market research. What are your competitors doing?
We all have competition. Often times we are so busy focusing on our own business that we are too busy to keep an eye on what our competitors are doing. This can leave us flat-footed and catch us off guard.
If a competitor is using Facebook, this can be a great way to keep tabs on what they are doing and allow you to keep your promotions or offerings on par with what they have.
Unfortunately, many local businesses are not using Facebook so you may have to broaden your radius when searching for competitors. This is okay as long as you keep in mind that market conditions vary by location and your pricing should not necessarily be based on what others are doing.
Keeping Tabs, Not Keeping Up
We can easily become paralyzed by what others are doing. Keeping tabs on your competition should not take away from what you are doing. Your competitive advantage is the superior service or products that you offer.
Become an expert or more precisely, share your expertise
We are all experts in something. Whether we think of ourselves that way or not, our customers think of us that way. Our expertise is what separates us from the competition. Use Facebook to share some of that expertise.
Use the Facebook "Notes" app to write about topics that are a) topical and b) related to your business.
You may not be able to write. That's okay. That doesn't make you any less of an expert. Consider doing a video. Facebook allows you to upload video in addition to text.
Share links. Being an expert often means being able to discern fact from, well, crap. If there is some doubt or question about something that is affecting your industry, share links (through your Facebook activity bar) to sources of relevant and factual information.
Get a Facebook "Like" Button
You may already have a dedicated blog which you use to write. If that's the case, a) use the Facebook activity box to share links to these blog articles and b) consider adding a like button to your blog entries.
The Facebook "like" button, which is a little hand with a "Thumb's Up" and the word "Like" is a way for users to easily share your content with their friends.
Get a Facebook "Like" button: http://developers.facebook.com/docs/reference/plugins/like/
Promotions and giveaways
I touched on the "Where's the Fire?" promotions that I use for Firebrand Media but there are various ways to accomplish the same goal - to get users to promote your page to their friends.
Ultimately, any promotion you do should involve the user interacting in a way that results in your information being displayed on their news feed. This means that it should involve them either commenting on something that you've posted or hitting the like button for something you've posted.
A great example of this is the promotions that Brandon S. Warren uses on his Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/icanstoptime). Brandon, is a photographer that gets 90% of his business from Facebook. His promotions are generally very simple for the end user to take part in.
For example, a promotion may allow fans to enter to win 50% off of a portrait session by clicking the "like" button on his post. His daughter will then pick the winner by selecting from the list of those that hit "like."
The success of your promotion will hinge on a) the value of the "prize" that you are offering and b) the number of fans that you have that can help promote your business / promotion.
A promotion with a small prize (but a large number of fans) may generate a small number of responses. Additionally, a promotion with a large prize but targeted to a page with a small number of fans may generate the same small number of responses.
Temper your expectations and make sure your prize is in proportion to the number of fans you have. Ultimately, the goal is to get the most bang for your buck. It's unlikely that you're going to run the perfect promotion from the start, but with time you will learn what works and what doesn't.
Make sure users land on the right page
By default, users will land on your wall tab when they visit your Facebook page. The wall tab is like the news feed on a personal page and displays your activity stream. That's a fine place for someone to land because it provide a list of recent activity for your business, but don't miss out on an opportunity to maximize the use of your page by settling for the wall tab.
If not the wall tab, then where should someone land?
I'm glad you asked. When you create your business page, you fill out an info tab that contains information about your business - services, locations, hours, etc. This could be an ideal landing spot for a visitor. As an aside - Facebook calls these tabs because they used to be tabs along the top of your page but a change in the layout of pages has pushed them to the left side of the page under your profile picture.
If not the info tab, then maybe another app would be an ideal landing page. On my business page I have the following apps installed - info, photos, discussions, FBML (custom built page using the Facebook markup language), Livestream (integrated live video app using the Livestream service) and events. It's very easy to see how one of those pages may be a better page to push visitors to. It all depends on how you use Facebook.
And how do I do that?
When you create your page you have the option of selecting the landing page. If you have already created your page, click on the "Edit Page" link and select the tab that you want users to land on there.
Bonus Tip: Use Apps
The Facebook Apps directory is an interesting place to look for ways to enhance your business page. It features apps created by both Facebook and third parties that you can install on your page.
Business apps include:
- Marketplaceby by Oodle, Inc., - Buy, sell, and trade with your Friends, Friends-of-Friends, and the Facebook Community
- Badgesby Momentus Media, - Do you have a non-profit, polical campaign, sports team, loved product? Use a Badge app to let your Fans evangelize your cause and grow your fan base.
- RSS Graffiti - RSS Graffiti allows you to publish multiple RSS/ATOM feeds on your Facebook profile's & pages' walls and automatically pushes them to the news-feeds (Facebook homepage) of your Facebook friends & fans.
- Contests by Wildfire Interactive, Inc., - Contests for Fan Pages enables companies & agencies to easily create & launch branded contests on Facebook Fan Pages within minutes. Available formats: Photo contests, video contests, design contests, logo contests, essay-based contests.
As you can see there are a number of apps that can help you make your Facebook page more than a run of the mill page.
It's easy to see why businesses flock to Facebook. It's often harder to figure how to leverage that audience. The tips above should help you get started using Facebook like a pro. Or at least a trained amateur.