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How to Build Facebook Friends and Fans for Your Small Business

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110701-01. Give Before Seeking

In today's social-media-crazed world, small businesses live or die by how many Facebook friends (or fans) they have. Or so they think.

The truth is, though it's great to have tons of Facebook friends, those friends are worthless if they aren't engaged. Services promising you "1,000 Facebook friends by tomorrow for $197!" are selling you digits on a screen, not genuinely interested fans, customers, or prospects.

Here's how to build Facebook friends and fans who actually care about what your company is up to.

1. Give Before Seeking

Small businesses that thrive on Facebook understand that it's not just another advertising platform. Unlike, say, billboard or radio advertising, which aim to immediately close a sale, Facebook is about giving first and taking later.

To understand why, think about why people use Facebook to begin with. Is it because they can't get enough advertising elsewhere? No. It's because they want to find, enjoy, and share interesting content.

If that's why people are there, why would you give them anything else? Most small business owners do not understand this key fact about Facebook (or they realize it only much later). Give people a reason to visit your company's Facebook page, whether interesting videos, how-to guides, intriguing downloads, or even just candid commentary about your industry.

110701-02. Personality vs. Bland Corporate-Speak

2. Personality vs. Bland "Corporate-Speak"

Develop a unique and memorable personality (or "voice") for your corporate Facebook page. People use Facebook for personal interaction—both with their friends and with their favorite businesses.

A status update that sounds like a bland corporate memo is about as effective as sending an accountant instead of a clown to a child's birthday party. You won't have fewer friends; it's more likely you'll have none at all.

Instead, view Facebook as an opportunity to loosen up and share your company's lighter side. Don't be afraid to use humor, candor, or pop culture references in your status updates and pictures. In fact, look for ways to use all of those things as frequently as possible!

110701-03. Strive for 70% Interaction, 30% Pitch

3. Strive for 70% Interaction, 30% Pitch

To close sales on Facebook, less truly is more. Strive to make roughly 70% of your updates about content and interaction and 30% about sales. That isn't an exact formula, of course, but there's a reason for the heavy bias toward interaction. Your Facebook friends see status updates in their news feed. No one will mind seeing your updates if they are interesting, unique, or entertaining. In fact, they'll love it.

But if all your company does is pump out advertising, that won't work. Users don't want their feeds clogged up with ad copy. Before long, any friends you've managed to accumulate will jump ship (by unfriending you) to stop seeing your endless ads.

On the other hand, if you stick to the 70/30 "rule," most friends will likely tolerate the advertising... and some will actually step up and buy!

110701-04. Engage Rather Than Dictate

4. Engage Rather Than Dictate

Never forget that Facebook is an interactive medium. Use it like one! Your friends and fans are not just a statistic to look at and be proud of; they are a valuable source of market intelligence. Consider using your Facebook following to...

  • Run polls on proposed new products and services
  • Seek feedback on new company initiatives or expansions
  • Test new names, colors, or designs
  • Hold contests
  • Recruit beta testers

As you can see, the possibilities are many. Instead of viewing your Facebook friends and fans as an audience to preach to, view them as a source of learning and improvement.

110701-05. Respond Personally to Interested Fans

5. Respond Personally to Interested Fans

What are the average consumer's biggest gripes with businesses? That they're faceless. That they're impersonal. That they're inaccessible.

Facebook offers you a chance to break down those barriers and have direct, personal interaction with your customers. Something as simple as replying to a wall post with a quick, paragraph-long note can instantly change that customer's perception of you. It shows him or her that there's a face behind the name and makes the customer feel appreciated.

In other words, Facebook isn't a "set it and forget it" strategy. You don't have to reply to everyone, but make a point of logging in at least once every few days and responding to interested users. Failure to do so risks alienating your friends and losing them to more responsive businesses.

110701-06. Purge Noncontributors

6. Purge Noncontributors

Will your company's Facebook page be an "open access" community, or will it be an exclusive club? It's your call, but I suggest the latter. People like belonging to groups and communities that not just anyone can join. Who wants to be part of a group that allows members to be obnoxious, disrespectful, or off topic, for example? The same logic applies to Facebook.

For best results, allow everyone and anyone to join at first. Then, over time, start eliminating people who behave contrary to your objectives.

Friends who post irrelevant comments, pick fights with other friends, or (depending on your specific circumstances) simply contribute nothing to the group are all good candidates for removal. In turn, the friends and fans who stick around will feel better about associating with your company online.

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Tim Reeve is a freelance writer for Omniture, a leader at search engine marketing tools. Its business analytics platform enables businesses to better understand customers and increase sales.

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