There’s a digital divide in the small-business world—between those companies that know how to use social networks like Facebook FB +0.52% and those that don’t have a clue.
If you’re on the clueless side, it’s not too late. You can learn.
First, before you even begin a Facebook presence for your business, you need three things, says Ramon Ray, founder of SmallBizTechnology.com and author of The Facebook Guide to Small Business Marketing. You need an appealing website, you need fresh content on your site regularly, and you need email marketing or some other mechanism to capture customer email addresses.
Your Facebook page is the sizzle, your website is the steak. “It’s a waste of time to spend hours posting on Facebook if your site sucks,” Ray points out.
Once you’ve got your Facebook profile up and running,the best way to connect with existing and potential customers is with quality content.
“You can’t just post and say, ‘Hi, I’m in the barbershop today,’” Ray says. “You need to make your content engaging. Create a survey or a photo contest for people who like your business. This is not complicated. You can do it easily on your own. But you need to do it, first and foremost.”
Remember: The purpose of your Facebook page is not to sell stuff to people, it’s to engage them. Luckily for you, that’s simple to do. If you’re a veterinarian, you might post photos of various pets—a dog, a cat, a tarantula—and ask your followers to vote for their favorite.
“The key to Facebook is getting people to know, like, and trust you,” Ray says. Once they do, they’re more apt to buy what you’re selling.
Ray gives an example: Arizona-based bicycle manufacturer State Bicycle Co. State Bicycle builds those fixed-gear bikes that hipsters love. And the company is pretty hip itself—each State Bicycle model is available for a limited time only, then “retired.”
“They wanted to start an open dialogue with customers and potential customers on Facebook and drive people from Facebook to purchase directly from their e-commerce site,” Ray says. “One of the ways they did that was by hosting photo contests. So, for example, the winner of the most-beat-up-bike contest would get a new bike.”
State Bicycle targeted ads at people who “liked” other bike shops and other Facebook bike pages. It targeted residents of hip cities such as Austin, Texas, with ads promoting local bike events.
It’s not rocket science. It’s standard marketing, transplanted to Facebook—and people respond to it.
State Bicycle has been able to drive almost half a million dollars in incremental sales annually through Facebook. Overall, about 12% of traffic to the State Bicycle website arrives from Facebook.
If you don’t have hours a day to devote to Facebook, there are third-party tools you can use. Ray recommends one called GroSocial, which helps businesses build attractive Facebook pages, and create and track social media campaigns.
“You can customize a page with stuff like bigger photos,” Ray says. “You can put a tab in that lets people submit their own photos. Or you can add a tab that says, ‘Like us and get 10% off.’ There are many of these cheap third-party tools that make your page a bit more engaging and take you above the competition.”
Another helpful app is Easypromos, which you can use to design contests and promotions at Facebook for about $15 each. The Storefront Social app lets you display and sell merchandise from your e-commerce site at your Facebook profile. Pricing starts at $4.95 a month for 15 product uploads.
Facebook’s own Fan of the Week app enables you to highlight loyal fans at your page and build buzz. If you want to generate foot traffic to your physical space, Facebook Check-in Deals can attract customers to your store via promos. It’s not a new feature, but it has been reinvigorated by Facebook’s Graph Search.
“I have two main principles when it comes to Facebook,” Ray says. “First is to post, frequently and relevantly. Second, pay a few extra bucks to have sponsored posts that amplify your message.”
Facebook Promoted Posts are posts that appear higher in the News Feed of fans and friends of fans. Promoted Posts cost a flat fee to reach a given number of users.
“Yeah, you’re paying Facebook money, but you can do really good targeting,” Ray says. “If you’re interested in women in the Southwest who like knitting, you can granularly get to them.”
There are also a number of tools you can use to measure your Facebook campaigns. Facebook Insights is functional and free. It tells you about your traffic—where it’s coming from, who the visitors are, their age, gender, and all sorts of other details.
“What I tell small-business owners is to clearly articulate their goals at the beginning of their Facebook efforts,” Ray says. “Is your goal to drive traffic to your site? Or get people to purchase? Or to get more walk-ins to your store? Based on what your goal is, you can find Facebook apps that work for you. And you can do it all by yourself.”
How to Make Facebook Work for Your Business