Face(book) Time

The latest community connection is online, and you can use it to reach lots of new customers.
by : 

Cindy Odorizzi and Charlie Odorizzi

May 1, 2011

MySpace is passé; Twitter is limited and quickly becoming dominated by self-promoting celebrities. So, the verdict is in: Facebook, the greatest phenomenon of 21st century social networking, is the place to be.

By now we’ve all heard of Facebook—the website created by Yale students as a college network, which turned into a worldwide juggernaut that now surpasses the 500-million-member mark. With the film about Facebook’s founding, The Social Network,
winning several Academy Awards and creator Mark Zuckerberg named Time magazine’s 2010 Person of the Year, there’s no escaping Facebook’s notoriety.

And it’s a phenomenon for a good reason: It appeals to all demographics, from teens (chatting with their friends) to middle-aged people (reconnecting with high school friends) to grandparents (posting photos of their grandchildren). And yes, your customers are using Facebook, many of them visiting the site several times a day—at least. The most avid users leave the site open in a dedicated browser window on their computer at all times and check in on their mobile devices whenever they have a free moment.

A new way of marketing

Why so much Facebook traffic? Despite all our electronic communication—cell phones, texting, emails—it seems people still long for human contact. It may be ironic that we turn to yet another form of electronic communication to provide that interaction, but Facebook is different: It offers a chance to be part of a community. That makes Facebook the perfect marketing tool for your business because, just as your aim is to foster relationships with your customers, the site is dedicated to building relationships among its members.

If you’ve spent any time on Facebook, you already know it’s quite easy to build your community merely by sending “friend” requests and having them accepted. It’s even easier to build a fan base for your store; once you create a page, your customers and customers-to-be can click on “Add as Friend,” and they’re automatically added to your list. The people who “friend” you likely will fall into one of three categories: loyal customers, potential future customers, and individuals who found your Facebook page and wish they had a store like yours in their town (and they may end up shopping at your Web store—but more on that later).

When we first created a Facebook page for our store, Next Millennium, we were hesitant about it. But our two college-age sons convinced us Facebook was a great tool, and now, nearly 10,000 fans later, we have to agree. It’s definitely worth the minimal effort required. Granted, our Facebook page probably won’t collect 15 million followers like Red Bull’s has, but what would we do with all those people if we did? What’s more important is that you can make your Facebook friends feel like part of your store’s community, no matter what the size of your friend list.

So, if you haven’t established a Facebook presence for your shop, now is the time to do so. Best of all, it’s free!

Getting started

Setting up your store’s Facebook page is as easy as creating a new (free) account with your store’s name and address. Simply go to www.facebook.com and select “Create a page for a celebrity, band, or business,” then click on the first box, “Local Business or Place,” and fill in the information fields. It’s quite simple and only takes minutes!

While it’s not difficult to establish a Facebook identity for your store, there are certain rules to follow to ensure the people who “friend” you can find the information they need when they visit your page. Don’t forget the basics: the store’s address, phone number, website URL, business description, and hours. After you set up the main page, you can add tabs (other pages) for photos, videos, more information (your business philosophy, owners’ names, or anything else you think is important), newsletter sign-up, and map of your location.

Once your Facebook page is up and running, you’ll want to let people know about it in order to build your friend list. Ask your existing Facebook friends to click on the “Suggest to Friends” option on your wall. Existing fans are your best promoters.

Include a mention of your Facebook page in your newsletter. The two work well together—your newsletter is the proper format to convey longer, more detailed information, articles, and reviews, which will allow you to keep your Facebook page focused on shorter, frequent (daily) interactions.

Be sure to provide a link to your Facebook page on your website. It’s easy to include a “sign-up block” (Facebook icon) on your site; go to http://facebookicon.net, type in your Facebook profile ID, and you’ll receive automatically generated HTML code you can add to your site. The icon links directly to your Facebook page where new people can friend you.

And don’t forget your email correspondence; our signature includes a blurb that says, “Join us on Facebook for new products, sales, and specials!”

The page is up—now what?

Once you have your page set up, how do you fill it? You have many options. The most popular element of Facebook is the “status update,” little bits of interesting information that appear in everyone’s news feeds. Each status update is limited to 420 characters, keeping the post succinct and thus more likely to be read—and to elicit responses. The interaction so prized by social media comes in the form of “likes” and comments. If your friends like what you have to say, they will click on “like” below the status update, and each click gets added to the total number of “likes.”

What should you put in a status update? Anything you think would be interesting to your friends. Because the news feeds are always shifting, always refreshing, there’s a certain amount of competition to getting your status noticed, so you might want to post a “no-brainer” update, such as “Who is ready for warm spring weather?” or “We love Nag Champa incense!” to get a large number of “likes.”

If you find you’re stumped for what to post in a status update, try some educational topics—nothing huge, just little tidbits of information. For example, recently an eagle flew over the store, so we posted about that and included a bit of information about eagle totems. If it’s a full moon, we might point that out as well. If you just received a shipment of rose quartz, you could explain the meaning of the stone. These little posts often get the most “likes” and generate the most comments.

Don’t let your status languish. Be sure to keep your page fresh—and at the top of your fans’ news feeds—by posting regular (but not too frequent) updates. You also can post photos, links, and videos in your status updates, which is a great way to generate feedback in the form of comments.

Getting comments is going one step beyond collecting “likes.” If you ask a question about your products, for example, people are likely to respond in the “Comment” box, giving you instant, valuable feedback. And they may start talking not only to you, but to one another. Ask a question such as “What color candles do you burn most frequently?” to engage your friends and get a conversation going. Whenever we post something new, we get “likes” and comments literally within seconds of our post going up.

Although Facebook shouldn’t take the place of your website and newsletter, it is another avenue to get news and event information out. We post details of events like our readers’ schedules and upcoming classes and workshops. Our customers can ask questions about the events, giving us the opportunity to answer those questions instantly, and the replies can be viewed by others, as well.

In the picture

To add variety to your status updates, post photos and videos. Photo albums are one of the most viewed areas on a Facebook page. We have posted hundreds of pictures, and some customers comment that they view every single one! This is a great venue to show customers new items in stock. Post pictures and let them make comments about your new treasures. Invariably, when we post new products on Facebook, we almost immediately have customers come into the store asking for those very items.

We also post pictures of the store, our employees, our customers, and shots from various events, as well as pictures from our travels. When we attend trade shows such as INATS, we post photos so customers can experience it, too. When we attended the Denver Rock Show, we shared pictures of 10-foot-high geodes, enormous fossils, and tables full of stones.

We get great feedback when we post fun stuff, like photos from our visit to the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colo., which inspired Stephen King’s The Shining. The pictures had nothing to do with business, but our customers loved them. Even more fun—we posted a picture of a small hole in Charlie’s shirt and joked that if we had a good sales day, Charlie would invest in some new clothing. Our customers couldn’t wait to get to the store to tease him, and we had one of the best sales days in quite a while!

We’ve also made some short videos of the store and uploaded them to YouTube, then embedded them in status updates. We’ve posted our store’s commercial, as well. We give customers the opportunity to check out videos of music we sell; if they liked the song from a Celtic music CD, for example, they knew they could get the CD in our store.

And, because the best Facebook communication goes both ways, we encourage our customers to post to our wall as well. If you do the same, you’ll find your customers will send notes, post pictures, and add links for some great interaction. (You do have to monitor what’s posted to your wall, though, to make sure you’re not being spammed with links like “how to make thousands of dollars working from home,” and offers of “cheap Viagra.” If you check your page regularly, it’s not a big deal to clean these out.)

We especially love it when customers post pictures of themselves with our products, perhaps wearing a dress they bought from us or displaying our statuary in their home. We also love seeing pictures of children and pets. We usually comment on their photos, thanking them for sharing, to show that we are honored they want to share part of their lives with us. We want customers to know they truly matter and we care about each of them—that they are not part of a nameless crowd, like they would be at a big retailer.

Facebook-exclusive offers

Although the communication opportunities on Facebook are nearly infinite, there is one thing you should avoid: direct marketing. Your Facebook followers get enough of the “hard sell” in traditional forms of media (TV, radio, newspapers). Facebook is different. Remember, it’s not called “social media” for nothing. You can do some marketing, but don’t use your page to only promote your business and products, or your friends won’t stick around for long. Instead, talk to your Facebook followers like the friends they are.

Even though your Facebook friends might be skittish about being blasted with marketing ploys, they do appreciate being notified about sales and special offers, both in your store and on your website, so go ahead and post those. Then you can take it one step further by offering specials available only to your Facebook followers. The special offer can be an in-store discount, a free pack of incense, or anything else you’d like to offer, with the coupon for it available only through Facebook or, if you have a store on your website, you can offer the discount on online orders. This encourages more people to join your network of friends.

You can also hold contests. We do a different giveaway each month, with the winner chosen randomly from our friends list; a recent prize was a set of three Nene Thomas fairies. When you announce a contest, be sure to post the prize, the rules, the starting date, and the ending date. Anyone who signs up to be on your friend list by the ending date is eligible to win. This gives older friends a chance to win while encouraging new friends to sign up.

What about paid advertising?

Have you ever taken a close look at the paid ads in Facebook’s right-hand column? They’re highly targeted, and if you choose to purchase advertising on Facebook, that level of targeted marketing can work to your advantage. Unlike Google and other advertising venues, you can reach your demographics directly. Facebook allows you to direct your ads based on the criteria you designate and allows you to determine the budget you would like to spend per day. You can select from categories such as specific cities, sexes, age groups, and areas of interest. For instance, you can specify you would like to target females in your city, age 35 to 69, who are interested in tarot, and your ads will appear on those people’s pages. That way, you can cultivate a relationship with this group, and when they are ready to buy, you will be the one they turn to.

Cross-promotion also works wonders. You can promote other local businesses on Facebook to encourage your customers to buy local; lots of people “liking” a business’ page really shows support. It seems to be a perfect fit—young people use Facebook quite a bit, and they’re the demographic that is most interested in supporting local businesses. Also, work with complementary businesses to promote each other on Facebook, just as you would “IRL” (in real life). Healing centers, massage therapists, natural food stores, and restaurants are great partners, and they’re most likely already on Facebook as well.

Facebook is indeed changing the way we market our businesses. New apps and tools are being developed constantly, and the reach of Facebook will continue to grow. While trying to figure out how to market your business can be overwhelming, small-business friendly and easy-to-use Facebook can take some of the pressure off. Try some of these ideas, or come up with your own. You will see it’s not only effective, but a lot of fun, too!

Cindy Odorizzi and Charlie Odorizzi own The Next Millennium (www.next-mill.com), a book and gift store in Omaha, Neb.