5 Secrets to Getting the Most Out of Facebook

Most small businesses today are on Facebook. Unfortunately, most small businesses don't use it effectively. A recent survey from social networking site MerchantCircle showed that while 70 percent of small businesses use Facebook for marketing, only 37 percent recognize it as one of their most effective tools.

That's a shame, because when used properly, Facebook can make a significant difference for many small businesses. MyKidsTime, an Oranmore, Ireland, business that helps parents find activities for their kids, is a case in point. Over three months, the company's Facebook page added a welcome page, video, a location map, special event notices, live Q&A sessions, and more. The result: The number of Facebook fans for MyKidsTime jumped 62 percent, and the traffic going to the company's website from Facebook doubled.

It's not always that easy, of course. Boosting your company's Facebook page with customized content is essential, but that's just a start. Managing your Facebook page properly means following at least five best practices designed to keep customers happy, your page relevant and useful, and more business coming in.

Facebook Best Practice #1: Be Accessible

Lexi Mills, a spokesperson for search marketing firm Distilled, recommends adding a customer support tab that includes an FAQ or Q&A section, plus practical information such as how to return a product. In addition, make sure it's easy to find your company's contact information, including phone numbers, business address, and website details.

Contact fields on the default Info tab of your Facebook page make these items simple to add. An easy way to create an FAQ or Q&A tab is with the default Notes tab, which requires no special app installation. You can format your Notes just like a Word document with bolding, numbering, underlining, and so on.

Jill Holtz, co-founder of MyKidsTime, says the company uses its Facebook Wall for live Q&A sessions, posting comments at a designated time and date. "This enables a strong interaction between both the expert and the parent asking the question and also the rest of the audience watching, who can add their own comments or responses to the discussion," says Holtz.

Facebook Best Practice #2: Craft a Rapid Response Plan

Not surprisingly, social networks work best when you're social. Facebook offers the potential to tear down the wall between you and your most loyal customers, but it's best to be prepared. Jascha Kaykas-Wolff, vice president of marketing for Involver, a social application developer and online marketing firm, recommends crafting a consistent response plan.

"Make sure you always write in the same tone," says Kaykas-Wolff. "Respond in the same voice or [if your organization is big enough] through a group of people that you clearly articulate are responders." When questions or complaints arise on your page, he says, immediately direct the messages to your complaints team -- even if that's just a single person.

Doing this immediately is the key. Unlike old media, where companies routinely "lost" complaint letters for days or weeks before bothering to respond, delays can be dangerous in the fast-moving world of Facebook. Mills says response times should be gauged in minutes or hours, not days.

Facebook Best Practice #3: Don't Overpost

Spider-Man had it right: "With great power comes great responsibility." Nothing turns customers off faster than being inundated with Facebook posts. Too many posts (more than a few per day) will make your customers' Walls look like spam folders.

One easy fix is to keep your Twitter and Facebook updates separate and unique. Twitter is more conducive to real-time conversations, so you don't want your Twitter feed posting every @reply onto your Facebook Wall. Instead, set a schedule for Facebook posting and stick with it unless there's a good reason not to.

Mills advises mixing short posts of videos, images, and product information that are of interest to your customers. Of course, don't pester your company's fans with sales content or aggressive calls to action. "As with traditional PR, the onus is on the business to make the message relevant and spoken in the right tone," says Mills.

Facebook Best Practice #4: Engage Your Fans

Who is your best Facebook fan? MyKidsTime picks one each month based on how much interaction they see. "We like to reward fans who engage regularly with our pages, and we can see that from the level of posts and comments they make," says Holtz.

MyKidsTime announces their Fan of the Month on Facebook through a video (posted from YouTube) and even sends the winner a little something in the mail to show their appreciation. Your engagement can be just as effective through a simple text post. The key is to keep trying new engagement techniques, and then keep using the ones that show promise.

Don't be afraid to engage fans on topics not strictly related to your business. "In social media, companies aspire to speak with their audience about the types of things they do with friends through [conversational] chat and [by] sharing content of interest," says Mills. For example, if you know most of your customers are men between the ages of 18 and 40, you could ask them to post their favorite sport on your Wall, even if your business isn't sports-related. This shows your customers you understand their interests and can participate in conversations that keep them involved and engaged.

Facebook Best Practice #5: Measure Your Success

It's one thing to work hard following Facebook best practices. It's another thing to understand the value you get for that effort. And make no mistake, there is value there.

One figure that represents the value of a Facebook fan: $71.84. For a given product, Facebook fans spend an average of $71.84 more than people who are not fans, according to social media management firm Syncapse.

The best place to start measuring Facebook's value to your company is Facebook's own analytics tool, called Insights. This allows businesses to see the number of impressions each post receives, individual post feedback (comments and likes), the number of new (or lost) fans, and more.

There are other ways, too. MyKidsTime's Holtz tracks the YouTube videos she posts on Facebook. "We had several goals in mind when creating our videos," she says. "First was to capitalize on the fact that video clips gain higher rankings on Facebook's EdgeRank [the formula behind Facebook's status updates], so are more likely to be seen by our fans."

Third-party tracking tools include Kaykas-Wolff's Involver apps. And don't forget to use your own website's analytics tool, such as Adobe SiteCatalyst or Google Analytics, to monitor the traffic being driven to your website from Facebook.

For many small businesses, the ultimate measure of success isn't traffic or even engagement, but sales. Fortunately, you don't have to leave Facebook to complete or track a sale. Many e-commerce tools offer sales and tracking capabilities from your Facebook page, including Payvment, ShopTab, and ShopVisible.

With all these tracking tools, you'll know exactly how much your fans are worth. Who knows, it could be more than $71.84.

A Word of Warning

Finally, it's worth thinking about the price of uninformed action. These days, doing Facebook right isn't really optional. Distilled's Mills warns, "If businesses do not adhere to best practices, they could cause their brands damage rather than adding to [them] through their engagement with social media."

You don't want that to happen to your business, do you?


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