Saturday, September 17, 2011

Facebook Lessons For Business Owners

Recently, the five small businesses that won American Express OPEN's Facebook Big Break contest spent two days at Facebook's offices in Palo Alto, getting advice on how to use pages, analytics, ads and platform plugins to help grow their businesses.

The attendees—Darquia and Gordon "Big Daddy" Biffle of Big Daddy's BBQ, Bud and Lisa LeFevre of Distinctive Gardens, Mark Carson and Eric Quan of Fat Brain Toys, Dawn S. Grosvenor and Kate Dunn of HOPELights Media, and Stephen Fraser and Gart Davis of Spoonflower—already had considerable experience with Facebook.  They used a variety of tactics to generate votes during the contest, such as running sponsored story ads and creating "voting" events in their hometowns. Being in the room with the Facebook experts—and with each other—brought out more best practices and ideas.

Know your community

Think people first, content second. Don't focus on what you want to tell, instead concentrate on what the customers want to hear—or share. As Mark Carson told me, "The power of social media is in the two-way interaction. We've built up a great base of customers who have great things to say, but we weren't doing a good job of giving them a podium. We've taken that lesson to heart and have already had success in truly engaging our customer base."

It may help to ask yourself: How does this tie into our mission? Rather than think about promoting your products and services, what is your business really about? How can you connect fans to that? In the case of Spoonflower, their business is producing fabrics designed by customers. But their mission is enabling creativity. So with their Facebook page, they're looking for more ways to showcase their customers' talents. Again, it's about putting people first.

Another point to consider is that user-generated content is an inexpensive and less time-consuming means of adding fresh content to your page. Setting up constructs that continuously generate good quality new content is critical to making your page dynamic.

Follow best practices, including:

  • Offer something exclusive. Not everything you post on Facebook has to be distinct from other channels, but don't simply re-broadcast, either. Think about what unique content you can offer, like sneak previews of new products or special offers. A member of the Facebook team shared an example of a bakery that offers "whisper specials" for half-priced items. A fan would learn that day's password from the Facebook page, and then quietly share it with the sales person.
  • Encourage participation. Big Daddy's BBQ looks at Facebook as their "one-on-one" time with customers, accepting ideas and feedback on new menu items.  You can start by simply asking questions.
  • Engage. Talk to your fans and get to know them. Reply to questions and comments, even the negative ones. Again, the community needs to be heard.
  • Make time. Once you start attracting fans, it's critical to keep the page active. At the same time, you don't want to inundate your fans. You should find a posting schedule that works best for your fans, but a general recommendation is start with 3-5 times a week.

To help with this last point, create a content or "conversational" calendar. Among the challenges that some winners cited was the time Facebook takes from their already busy schedules. But advanced planning can actually save you time. Rather than spending time each day thinking about what to post, create a schedule of themes, like Fat Brain Toys who runs a "Free Toy Tuesday" contest, giving away a toy to one visitor each week. On OPEN's Facebook page, we post "Fill in the blank Fridays." Remain flexible to allow for timely announcements, but in general, spend a few minutes on content at the beginning of the week to make updating much easier.

Build on what works

Facebook's Page Insights helped some winners identify surprises in where their fans were coming from, what days and time of day they visited their pages, and what types of content generated the most engagement. Knowing more about your fans and what resonates with them can help you direct your efforts. Still, keep your core business and customers in mind. Even if you have more fans outside of your geographical area than within, that doesn't mean you should completely exclude those who actually come to your store. But you may be able to identify some content that works for both.

These were just some of the recommendations I wanted to highlight; more will soon be available in the Big Break webisodes we filmed during the program (coming soon).

Thanks to Julie Fajgenbaum / Open Forum / American Express Company


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