Part 2 in a short series about using Facebook for small businesses. Part 1: Is Facebook Right for Your Small Business?
Marketing in social channels requires different tactics than traditional practices. First and foremost, one needs to understand how specific social networks actually work with respect to how information is shared, how messages can gain extra visibility, and how to build a presence that will deliver long term business benefits. Facebook is no exception – it’s an entirely unique entity, and understanding how Facebook operates is essential.
I spent quite a bit of time on this aspect in the basic Facebook plan I put together for a friend of mine last weekend. Her business is a bit unusual – she runs an equestrian boarding and training facility catering to people who show their horses regularly. Because a large number of local and regional equestrian organizations and businesses – as well as horse trainers and riders – are active on Facebook, she’s considering establishing a Facebook page for her barn. However, as I mentioned previously, she’s not really “into” social media, and she doesn’t have a lot of time to devote to marketing. My duty, as I see it, is to give her enough basic information to determine whether Facebook is for her, and to help her make her venture successful, if she decides to go in this direction.
Interactions & algorithms: message visibility on Facebook
Individual Facebook users have two main views of Facebook – their “wall” where they post their status updates, and their “home” view, on which they can view their ‘news feed.” The news feed aggregates posts from their friends, and the brands they follow.
This is the central feature of Facebook, and it’s how information is passed along the network. Once users start “following” a brand, they are not likely to go visit the brand’s page. Their exposure to brand messaging will be via the news feed, and it’s there they are most likely to interact with the brand.
The news feed doesn’t display every single post generated by the friends and brands one follows, however. Facebook uses an algorithm called Edgerank that determines which posts users see, selecting the posts that have generated the most interactions, and it also considers to what degree the FB user interacts with posts from a particular person or brand. Content that generates no interactions falls to the bottom. Likewise, content from people with whom you rarely interact is also less visible.
Interactions play a crucial role
Let’s talk about interactions for a moment. Interaction on Facebook comes in several forms:
- Likes – when someone “likes” your post
- Comments – when someone comments on your post
- Share – when someone shares your post with their followers, thus amplifying your message.
While all interactions are good, they’re not created equal. Likes are the least meaningful of the three, whereas shares are the most. On Facebook, interaction is really important – interactions are what trigger more visibility for messages.
Content that makes it past Edgerank into the news feed has won the lottery, of sorts. Once it’s in the news feed, the content can generate more interactions, driving it into various peoples’ news feeds, and expanding the potential audience for our message, and the likelihood that more people will start following your brand.
Building a following on Facebook – what people want from brands
However, in order to gain any sort of benefit on Facebook, the organization must first build a following, and to do that, it’s important to consider why people follow brands on Facebook.
According to a study by Get Satisfaction (a CRM company) last year, the majority (37%) of Facebook users follow a brand because they are looking for special offers. A large number of a brands followers (33%) are already customers. Eighteen percent are seeking interesting information, and only 5% want product or service news.
So what’s a marketer to make of the fact that the majority of followers are 1) already customers and 2) are looking for a deal? In my mind, the high number of customers represents a real advantage in terms of the sort of viral, virtual word-of-mouth marketing opportunity Facebook provides. Currying the enthusiasm of the customers, inviting their opinions and feedback, is a great way to improve your organization’s relationship with its clientele. Engaged and happy customers who respond to a brand’s posts will amplify the message – and broadcast their enthusiasm to their own personal networks. This is how a brand increases its traction and awareness on Facebook.
Special offers are important, and this is where a small business person needs to get creative, and realize that special offers don’t always mean discounts. Depending on the nature of the business, specials can be early access to an event or sale, the opportunity to see “behind the scenes,” or the opportunity to test a product. The important thing is keeping the follower’s motives firmly in mind when thinking about what sort of content will attract (and retain) your audiences.
Content – the fuel for Facebook
Any good promotional strategy needs to have measurable goals against which the strategy is set, and it’s in that context I like to start thinking about what sort of content might make sense for a brand. And by content, I really mean “status updates” and pictures, videos and anything else a brand would want to share with their followers
The question of content is one I emphasized to my friend – because ultimately, a successful Facebook presence depends heavily on the information the brand shares. As she considers whether or not she should commit to Facebook, I wanted her to ask herself whether or not she can really keep her Facebook page fresh and current.
I framed the issue of content creation in terms of the messages that she’d want to convey, in order to achieve the business outcomes that are the whole point of an exercise like this. In a nutshell, she wants to attract more customers for her boarding business, to the point where she has a waiting list. And in order to get people to want to bring their horses to her barn, she needs to appeal to them. They need to see the amenities her facility offers, the number of professional trainers who teach there, and the care and attention given to the animals in my friend’s care. She needs to convey to potential clients how wonderful it is to keep a horse at her barn.
To help her out, I outlined the following approach:
1. Decide on what messages you want to convey, keeping your business outcomes in mind. So keeping that objective (more boarding and training clients) in mind, I recommended to my friend some simple ideas about the lasting impressions she wants to generate among her followers. They’re pretty simple, but absolutely contribute to the decision-making process when someone is selecting a barn at which to keep their horse:
- We take great care of your horse
- We have a variety of safe and fun places to ride and other amenities for riders
- We have high quality, experienced, well-known trainers
2. Figure out what sort of content you can post on a daily basis that supports your chosen messages. In my friend’s case, I suggested that the messaging she creates to support what she wants to convey could take a variety of forms.
- Illustrate the excellent care they provide with simple photos or videos of horses frolicking happily, snoozing in deeply bedded stalls, grazing eye-ball deep in lush grass and tucked into warm blankets in the winter.
- Show off the amenities for humans with images and video of riders working with trainers, wild flowers blooming by the side of the riding trails, the sun setting over the nearby lake, etc., wild turkeys strolling across the outdoor riding ring, people gathered in the club room, This is the sort of eye-catching imagery she could easily capture and share on Facebook that her audience would enjoy, and is very attractive to her audience.
- Text updates provide the opportunity to underscore the barn’s expertise, while being pithy and interesting – requirements for success on Facebook. For those, I suggested that she start conversations around the topics horse people deal with – tips from the trainers, how to get caked-on mud off your mount, and what mosquito repellant works best for horses, etc. Horse care tips – how to quickly pick a stall, how to encourage horses to drink in cold weather – all the knowledge she’s accumulated in her experience makes great fodder for Facebook, and emphasizes the expertise of her staff and the care her barn provides.
3. Commit to posting content – a mix of text, pictures and video – daily. Information is Facebook’s stock in trade, and the news feeds are constantly refreshed. Sharing updates and information regularly is absolutely essential for success. In addition, brands also need to keep an eye on their walls for conversations and interactions. In the case of my friend, I suggested that daily checks would suffice – she doesn’t need to be a slave to Facebook and constantly obsess over comments, but she should check them nightly and respond to anyone who took the time to post a comment.
Using interesting and fun content to build following and generate attention for her messages would enable her to then issue the occasional “strictly business” type of post, such as announcing the availability of stalls or promoting an upcoming event. I’m not sure how my friend will respond to the mini-tutorial/strategy for Facebook I devised for her, but I think it’s a decent starter plan.
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