By Chris Maxwell
Is Facebook an effective marketing tool or a time-consuming burden? Experts say it could be either, depending on your firm's approach.
With more than 900 million Facebook users worldwide, half of whom log in every day, the potential business benefits of setting up a page for your brand on Facebook have long been obvious. But a study by US market research firm Compete suggests that globally, companies aren't making their pages engaging enough – with fewer than one in twenty users returning to a brand page within thirty days of having "liked" it.
Skepticism over the tangible financial benefits of setting up and managing a Facebook brand page has also been deterring small and midsized businesses from exploring the strategy further, according to a survey by e-learning specialists MindLeaders. Fifty-four percent claim they would consider using the network more widely if there was more evidence of the benefits. But, experts say there are real financial gains to be made by using Facebook to create awareness, boost customer service, conduct market research, and, ultimately, increase sales.
"People talk about return on investment", says Christer Holloman, author of The Social Media MBA: Your Competitive Edge in Social Media Strategy Development and Delivery. "But the other thing we should stop to consider is what's the cost of ignoring – of people talking about [your] brand and not correcting their misconceptions or posting a solution. Conversations will go on about you on Facebook whether you're there or not."
But, says Charlotte Britton, managing director of the social media agency Optimum Exposure, it's not as simple as setting up a page: "Just being on social media for the sake of it isn't enough anymore. It's about building community, establishing brand loyalty, doing customer research, and then, through that, seeing a return on the time you've invested."
So how do you build a profitable Facebook strategy? Our experts offer the following tips.
1. A Facebook that fits. "People can spend a lot of time and resources on a Facebook page, so you've really got to start with the end in mind", says Steve Nicholls, author of Social Media in Business: Succeeding in the New Internet Revolution. "The first thing I'd say to anybody looking at this is, consider your business goals. First, ask, what is it we're trying to do and how could something like Facebook work as a subset of our business targets?"
Britton agrees: "Focus on your objectives – maybe you'd like to capture more e-mail addresses to reach more individuals, or open a new communication avenue for the customer service team, or make more people loyal consumers of a particular product." But, says Holloman, the biggest consideration should be whether it's right for your business at all: "Does it fit with your brand? Is the demographic you're targeting on Facebook? Are your B2B propositions there?"
Businesses targeting older consumers might be encouraged by evidence that Facebook's user base is aging; the average age rose from thirty-three to thirty-eight between 2010 and 2011.
2. Create compelling content. Once you've decided to take the plunge and set up a fan page on Facebook, the quest for the much sought-after "like" – the endorsement click that will bring your brand to the wider attention of a user's friends – begins. "The number one mistake companies make is that they expect people will just 'like' the page regardless", says Holloman." But no . . . there has to be a reason for the advocacy – what's in it for them? Will you share exclusive news with likers or links to discounts on your products or some kind of service?
"For example, Evans Cycles, a British bicycle retailer, ran a weekly live chat with a repair expert via its Facebook page where people could ask questions and have problems solved. All visitors had to do to access it was 'like' the page first. Personally, I'm a fan of the Range Rover page, which occasionally shares pictures of concept cars and upcoming models with Facebook fans – it feels like I've been let in on a secret. Compelling, useful content keeps you in the mind of the user", Holloman said.
3. Sweeten the deal. Eye-catching, useful content can carry you so far, but if you really want to keep people coming back, you've got to offer a little more. "If you're a mostly sales-orientated business, then offering product discounts for people who 'like' your page by installing the Coupons application is definitely something to consider", says Nicholls. "If you're going to run a giveaway, make sure the prize is relevant to your business or product. If you say you're giving away an iPad, you'll get a lot of people who'd like an iPad but aren't interested in what you've got to sell. Having a million irrelevant fans isn't that useful. A smaller group of well-engaged fans is going to have much more worth."
Holloman agrees that concentrating on quality over quantity is key: "Remember: the average Facebook user has 150 friends, so you only need to engage one person well to reach 150 more – there's a powerful multiplier effect."
4. Promote your page. With a compelling fan page full of useful content and offers, driving traffic there through wider promotion is essential, says Nicholls. "Make sure you download the Facebook widget that you can install on your company website to link directly to your fan page", he says. "And place it prominently. I often find them too hidden."
It's a tactic surprisingly underused, with new research from Internet monitoring service Pingdom claiming that Facebook has a presence in only 24 percent of the world's top 10,000 websites.
5. Don't fizzle out. "It's very common that businesses start out enthusiastically, get lots of people signed up, post lots of fresh content, and then it fizzles out a little bit", says Holloman.
"You then see pages that haven't been updated for days, weeks, or even months, which can obviously reflect badly on the brand. If you're going to do this effectively, and ultimately make it pay for you, it's imperative to have a more long-term commitment and to plough ahead.
A good tactic is to create an editorial calendar for your Facebook page, filled in for the next six to twelve months. Decide how often you'll publish something – some photos one day, a video the next, links the next day, an announcement on an important upcoming date. Staggering and varying the content will keep people engaged."
This article was originally published on our UK sister site, Business Zone.