With more than700 million members and even a popular movie based on its origin, Facebook is one of the most popular Web sites on the planet. If you're a business, that's a whole lot of potential customers. How do you tap this market? And how can you focus your marketing push to special segments of that market? We're going to explain what the Facebook business page buzz is all about, how to get started, and how you can make the most of your time.
That brings up a fundamental question. If you're a business or organization, why would you want a Facebook business page? Isn't Facebook just for telling people how you spent last weekend? It's true there's a lot of wasted time spent on the site, but your schedule doesn't have to suffer the same fate. Played right, you can use the site to access a bigger market than you've ever seen before. Plus you'll build your network and expand visibility by targeting specific demographics.
Before we get into how to do that, we should explain what a Facebook business page really is. At the most basic level, it's a profile of your company or product. In that sense it's very similar to a personal profile. Only instead of being a person, you're referred to as a page as you interact with the Facebook site. Don't expect to be able to casually explore individual profiles the way you can as a person. You're a business, and while you want to build individual relationships, Facebook permissions only allow businesses to see the Big Picture, and individuals see and interact with the business on their terms.
Getting started is easy, and you have a few options. If you already have a personal account, you can create a business page from that account. This is great for small businesses and sole proprietorships. The down side of this for larger organizations comes when the person who manages the page leaves their job. Your Facebook presence is suddenly adrift. Better to create a personal profile based on a position in the organization rather than a name, and build a business page off of that instead. That way, access to the page is not controlled by a single individual.
If you're ready to create your page, don't. Not yet. First, let's take a hard look at who's going to be responsible for it.
Setting Up a Facebook Business Page
So you've decided that you want a Facebook business page. No problem, it's easy and you don't even need any documentation to do it. But that's just the beginning. A Facebook business page isn't something you can just turn on and walk away from -- not if you want any positive results.
You'll need someone to manage your Facebook page on a daily basis. Make that hourly, depending on the amount of traffic you're getting. Think of your business page as a garden that needs constant tending. You want to grow a following, so keep watering it. We'll talk about what kind of attention to give it later on, but for now keep in mind that it will need attention.
If it needs more attention than one person can handle, you can easily add additional administrators by clicking on the "edit page" button, then "manage admins." They'll need to "like" the page first. Each admin should make sure they're set up to post as either the admin or under their own identity (your choice).
If you're thinking this is a bit much, and "How can I ever do this?" you're not alone. That's why you can find so many third parties who are happy to sell you tools and services to manage your page [source: DiMarino, Lasica]. For a basic business page with posts and links, there's no reason any non-programmer can't do it themselves. The fancier you get, the more likely you'll need some help. Considering that your customers will probably like interactivity more than a static page, you'll want to consider getting outside manpower.
Now that you have some idea of what you can do with the site, it's time to think about what you really want out of it. What can you really expect from your foray in Facebook?
How to Use Facebook for Business
You wouldn't dive into a pool without knowing if there's water in it, would you? Well, jumping into a social media enterprise with no plan could be just as damaging to your company's image.
What is it you want your page to do? If you want to instantly gain thousands of followers, you might be disappointed. Facebook business pages are all about engaging your current and potential customers in a social setting.
As soon as you begin to create your page, you'll see you have several options. Are you a band? A coffee shop? Do you just want to market one of your specific brands? They're all considered business pages, but they're not all the same. For example, setting up a community page will severely limit your options and won't allow you to edit content, whereas establishing a local business, company or brand will give a lot more flexibility and control (you'll need this).
Early on, focus on building up your following. As it grows, you'll gain the flexibility to engage them more as a group with contests and other activities that require a greater level of participation. Remember that for most voluntary organizations, and your followers are most definitely there voluntarily, a participation rate of 10 to 15 percent is not uncommon, so don't expect all of your followers to jump in on your next event. It's frustrating, but it's also a fact of life. If you get a higher or lower level of participation, learn from that for the next time as you decide what your customers like.
Once you've established your page, you'll want to spice it up and sell it. It's time to look at some of the many ways you can do this.
What good is the best page in the world (as yours surely is) if nobody knows about it? It's time to tell the world -- or at least your corner of it -- that you're ready to interact. Fortunately, Facebook offers ways to define that world and engage potential customers.
Try creating an advertisement. A nice feature here is that as you define your demographic Facebook lets you know exactly how many people your ad is going to reach. You can define this demographic using geography, age, gender, interests or other parameters. Just watch out that you don't narrow your customer focus so much that you end up advertising to only five people. Costs for ads vary based on a bid system, so take time to learn the system and watch your budget [source: Facebook].
Once you've defined your market demographic, how do you engage them? Besides updating your status regularly -- an absolute essential -- be sure not to treat your posts just as advertising space.
That doesn't mean you can't plug your stuff. If you do it in a fun and engaging way using contests or special coupons just for your followers, you'll get a much more positive reaction and sound a little less desperate. You're a business, not a charity. Use the available Facebook apps and social plugins to help jazz up your page and make it more interactive [source: Silverman, Shin].
Another great way to increase your exposure is to tag other businesses in your posts. Just type the @ symbol right before the name of the business you want to tag and your post not only appears on your page, but also on the page of the business you just tagged. This lets you be seen by their fans as well. Done right and in a relevant way, it scratches the back of the other business back so they can scratch yours in return [source: Lawson].
Once you get the word out and your page is ready, what happens when people start following your posts and "liking" your business? We'll look at how to handle user feedback in the next section.
One of the worst things you can do to your new business page is handle comments poorly. It's a tricky situation. Do you even allow visitors to your page to post comments? Will deleting negative comments tell people you're unresponsive? Will not deleting them tell people to avoid your apparently horrible business?
As a business, you should be speaking with a single voice. Even if you have several people authorized to write posts, your page manager should be responsible for making sure nobody's contradicting anyone else, writing duplicate posts, or otherwise making you look silly.
And speaking of looking silly, if you plan on making any major move that your customers could construe as unfavorable to them, then you can learn a lesson from Netflix. When they reshuffled their pricing structure in July 2011, raising the monthly subscription for many of their subscribers by more than half, their Facebook page got slammed [source: Suarez]. Most businesses won't have as many customers as Netflix, but you might still consider temporarily turning off user posts before making a major move. On the other hand, keeping access available could provide you with invaluable feedback for rethinking what you offer your customers.
Note that we haven't mentioned moderating posts, because that's one thing Facebook doesn't let you do. A few checkboxes let you limit the type of content users can post, and if they can post at all. You can also choose what keywords will block a comment entirely. Some companies even sell Facebook page management tools to help you keep up with your page.
Whether or not you choose a third party tool to help manage your page, you'll still need to figure out how to respond to user comments. Positive comments don't require a lot of management, though acknowledging such comments is important to make people realize you appreciate such things. Unfortunately, these aren't always the majority.
Negative comments can easily cause serious damage to your brand if you're not careful. Responding to valid complaints and suggestions can just as easily help your image. You either delete negative comments or, if you can determine a theme, leave a representative comment and respond to that one.
It seems like a lot of hard work, and it is. So how do you know when you're succeeding? You have tools to help you there too, as we'll see on the next page.
As you've seen, it takes a lot of effort to build up a page and manage it well. How can you find out if all that work is paying off? If you're responsible for managing the page, you're going to want to show some solid numbers, not hunches.
Facebook provides something called Facebook "insights" to compile and display those numbers. The easiest way to use this free service is to click on the "insights" menu option on the home or profile page. This dashboard provides basic data for numbers of new and total users and how they've interacted with your page [source: Lawrence].
But like the content you put on your page, the real value comes with some work. The basics of Facebook insights are easy to use, and accessible with a single click. Statistics on individual posts are accessible 24 hours after posting. However, you don't get a lot of variety or depth in the content that comes up.
Facebook's query language (FQL) is a tool that lets you get all surgical with the data, pulling out tidbits like who checked in recently, demographics of your active users, who's using what application or plugin, and so on. Once you have this data you can use it to get a better idea of what parts of your page are generating the most interest and adjust your page to take advantage of this information. Offering your visitors choices of things to do on your page is a good way to help you see what they prefer.
If you decide later on that you really need more detailed statistics, but don't have the internal expertise to slice and dice that data, you can always hire it out. You'll find no shortage of companies out there that are more than happy to help you make the science of social media metrics easier to digest [source: DiMarino, Lasica]. Some are more expensive than others, so take a hard look at what you really need before diving into a contract. Many offer free trial services. Take advantage of these, but not before doing your homework and deciding what kind of information you really need and what is just fluff.
As we mentioned earlier, your business page is a tool to help you grow your business, not a stand-alone product. How can it fit in with your actual business?
The Big Picture
While you're making all this effort to build your Facebook business page, don't lose sight of how it fits into your overall business plan. The page is there to help you, so make sure it does. There are a number of ways to do this.
First, don't forget to link to your business page from your main Web site. Same goes for your blog or other online initiatives you might have. Invite people to join in the discussions and special deals going on with your new Facebook presence.
On your business page itself, be sure to include links back to your main site. As we alluded to earlier, you should only include such a link in your posts when you have something specific and relevant to refer them to. Otherwise, it's like the boy who cried wolf. You might get them to go once, but then they'll think you're just unabashedly trying to drive traffic, and that won't win you any friends or customers.
Ultimately, the goal of your page is to increase revenue. Odds are this won't happen directly, but the more people you can engage and get interested in your business, the more likely this can happen. Promote special events held at your business. You can even use the occasion of responding to a user's comment to link to a relevant blog post or page on your main Web site. If the content and volume matches well enough, you can even kill two birds with one stone by feeding your blog post to your business page status updates [source: Belicove]. Don't rely too heavily on that though, because the redundancy is more likely to put off anyone who also follows the blog.
In the end, many Facebook business pages don't generate the traffic their creators hoped for. So what do you do if yours doesn't work the way you want? You can always drop it like a hot potato with the delete key, which if you have no followers is pretty risk-free. Maybe your customer base isn't online as much as you thought.
In most cases, it's more a matter of trying another approach. Take another look at your whole plan. You did make one, right? Though the site is free to use, it doesn't mean that you shouldn't spend some resources developing it. Like a lush garden, it takes nurturing and plenty of attention.
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