The following article is based on an excerpt from The Digital Handshake: Seven Proven Strategies to Grow Your Business Using Social Media (www.thedigitalhandshake.com).
Much the same way a power company connects homes and businesses with electricity, Facebook is a "social utility" designed to facilitate connections between people as well as businesses.
Accordingly, it can be highly useful as a business tool. This article addresses various ways that businesses can market using Facebook.
Facebook Public Profile
A Facebook Public Profile (aka a Facebook Page) is an ideal place for businesses to establish a beachhead within the social network. It is, also, one of the most overlooked.
I've noticed that many companies use other parts of the platform (Groups and personal profiles, in particular) to set up a presence, but they never bother to create a Public Profile.
One possible reason may be that Facebook lists Public Profiles under the advertising category, which may lead people to believe it is a premium feature. It's not. Businesses can set up a Public Profile at no cost.
Facebook Public Profiles, which mimic user profiles in design and function, allow users to express their support of your business by adding themselves as fans. They can write on your Wall, upload photos and videos, and join other fans in expressing opinions on topics introduced in discussion groups.
You can send regular updates to fans, and, unlike personal profiles, which are limited to 5,000 members, the number of fans you can have on a Public Profile is unlimited. In addition, you can set up a business page without having to provide a personal profile.
One of the best reasons to have a Facebook Public Profile is that it can be indexed by search engines. That is no small consideration, because Facebook is one of the most highly trafficked sites on the Internet.
If getting noticed on Google and other engines is an important part of your online-marketing strategy, then using Facebook Public Profile makes perfect sense. After you set up a Facebook Public Profile for your business, make it your base of operations from which all other forays into the network extend.
Another useful Facebook feature, one that can be launched directly from your Facebook Public Profile, is Facebook Events. With it, you can let fans and others know about upcoming events and activities your business will be hosting.
A restaurant can use Facebook Events to promote appearances by musical acts. A B2B company can promote upcoming webinars or workshops. Nonprofit and civic groups can enlist support for fund-raising activities.
Remember, activities that Facebook members engage in are reported in the newsfeed, so word about the events can spread quickly and virally.
Facebook Groups allow you to create or participate in as many as 200 affinity- or geography-based groups. Each can serve as a viral channel for extending your presence within Facebook, and each can be used as "fishing pools" to help you find prospects and build relationships.
Before you set up your own group, however, participate in two or three groups to learn how they operate. As with Facebook Events, use Facebook Groups to supplement your business page, not act as a substitute for it.
Facebook Ads resemble Google AdSense ads in that they are primarily text based, but they do allow inclusion of a small graphic.
You can opt to include Social Actions, which are stories about a user's friends that are related to and displayed alongside your advertisement. Whenever a user takes an action associated with the ad, that user's avatar and screen name will appear along with the ad on the friend's profile pages. That result implies endorsement, so use the component wisely.
The problem with using ads on Facebook Ads or other social networks is that members rarely click on the ads. The average click-through rate for Facebook Ads is estimated to be an abysmal 0.008%. That means for every 10,000 times an ad appears, it is clicked on only 80 times.
People don't visit social-network sites to view advertising; they visit to be social. Still, Facebook Ads provide another way to extend your presence on the site, so they may be worth considering.
One of the first things you'll notice when you begin participating in Facebook is the bevy of widgets (what Facebook refers to as "applications," or "apps" for short).
The apps, created by third-party developers, number into the scores of thousands and cover every conceivable category, from games to music to travel to just plain fun (and just plain stupid).
It's easy to get caught up in the hype, but sooner or later "app fatigue" sets in. My son, a veteran "Facebooker," told me to forget all those extras and concentrate on the basics: the Wall, photo galleries, and status updates. That's good advice, if you ask me.
Some applications can be used to promote your business inside Facebook. One way to do that is by developing branded applications, or "appvertisements," that connect your company and the people you wish to reach in a more useful, meaningful way.
For example, Buddy Media, a company that develops branded applications, has launched dozens of campaigns for leading brands. Its data shows measurable success in engaging users.
"In particular, users spent an average of 2 minutes and 35 seconds engaged with our branded applications per visit, or 75 times greater than the time consumers spend interacting with traditional banner ads and five times greater than the time spent watching a typical TV commercial," said Buddy Media CEO Mike Lazerow.
You don't need to develop applications yourself.. You can incorporate many of the business-oriented applications already available in the applications directory, such as business cards, networked blogs, and testimonials, to help promote your business.
It's worth looking through the business category to see which applications might be useful for your business.
Lexicon is Facebook's answer to Google's Zeitgeist. It is a tool you can use to spot and compare trends inside the network.
In Lexicon, you input single words or two-word combinations and compare as many as five strings per query to mine and analyze millions of Facebook Wall posts.
The results are returned as a variety of graphs and charts. For marketing professionals, the results gleaned can provide valuable insight into what's on the minds of Facebook users on a daily basis.
Lexicon pulls only aggregate information, and the privacy of its members is never violated.
Facebook Share is a small button or hyperlink you can add to your website that lets visitors share the site with their friends on Facebook. Essentially, it's a way to drive traffic. Facebook Share is easy to install, but it does require a minimal knowledge of HTML.
Facebook Connect is the next evolution of the Facebook platform. It provides a way for members to log in to other websites using their Facebook account and "connect" their Facebook identity, friends, and privacy settings to those sites.
For sites that use it, Facebook Connect means never having to create another online profile. (Can I get an "Amen"?) You take your online identity with you wherever you go.
To better explain how Facebook Connect works, let me cite as an example Kudzu.com, a website that aggregates user reviews and ratings on local businesses.
You can log in to Kudzu using your Facebook account, and from there you can interact with all your Facebook friends. When you write a review for a restaurant, for example, you'll have the option to publish that story on Facebook, where your friends can see it.
For business owners and marketing professionals, two aspects of Facebook Connect are important:
- First, Facebook, once a walled garden, is now open to the entire Web via third-party sites. And when we're talking about third-party sites, we could be talking about those you own.
- Second (and this could be the most important factor for you), Facebook Connect is not just a registration system but a marketing channel that comes complete with a built-in audience of multiplied millions, some of whom may find their way to your door.
Facebook Connect does require a slightly more extensive knowledge of HTML and programming, but implementing Connect should not be difficult with the assistance of the many Facebook application developers available.
In social media, people relate better to other people than to brands. Face(book) it: We like to do business with people we know and trust.
An ideal scenario is to have a brand or company presence via the means outlined above, and to supplement and extend that business presence with a personal one.
Though your company can create a Facebook Public Profile or ad without creating a personal profile, there are many reasons to have a personal presence: to network with colleagues and peers, to find business contacts, to build business relationships, to grow your personal brand, to target your niche audience, to increase traffic to your website, to enhance your Google rankings, and so much more!
Having a personal profile is a way to extend that digital handshake and get to know people in a more casual, nurturing environment where you can make friends.
For many reasons, Facebook can be used effectively as a tool for business. Start by setting up both a personal profile and a Public Profile (Fan Page) to showcase your business.
Consider running some ads to drive attention to your Page. Although they may not result in loads of clicks, at least they are inexpensive. Judiciously and cautiously leverage your network of friends, encouraging them to become fans and to invite others. (In other words, don't overload them with invitations.)
What benefits can be accrued? Quite a few: brand awareness, personal engagement with your customers and prospects, a network that allows fans to easily and quickly share your message, and inexpensive advertising to boot. What's not to like?