You might think you're better off without Facebook -- that it has become a wasteland of people needlessly expressing political and religious beliefs in long, overly aggressive status updates, sharing pictures of glamorous vacations, or simply the sandwich they're eating for lunch -- and reconnecting with people they forgot existed. But regardless of how you feel about it for your personal life, if you own a business, the importance of using Facebook shouldn't be overlooked.
Today, some business owners insist Facebook and other social media platforms aren't for them -- that spending any time or money on social media advertising and marketing campaigns are a waste.
To get specific in their defense, they may point to articles, like the one recently featured on Fast Company, arguing top brands on Facebook and Twitter aren't reaching very many fans because, on average, "only .07 percent of followers actually interact with each post." But perhaps using isolated statistics on specifics like post interaction shouldn't be generalized to evaluate the effectiveness of social media for business.
But just because something isn't commented on does not mean it isn't noticed (though an increasing number of people, namely the "internet trolls," seem to believe otherwise). When used correctly, social media is an effective tool for business owners of all industries -- key phrase being when used correctly.
Social media offers advantages other types of marketing does not. In fact, "social media has a 100 percent higher lead-to-close rate than outbound marketing."
The main and obvious differentiator is interaction. Many business owners unfamiliar with social media platforms assume the goal is to get as many "likes" and "shares" as possible. There is more to it than that. According to Mark Zuckerberg -- who seems like a pretty good person to take advice from -- says an often over-looked Facebook feature businesses can use for unparalleled customer engagement is Messenger, which provides real-time, instant accessibility for customer support services.
At the bare minimum, businesses should have a Fan Page, which allows them to display basic information such as hours and links to their website, as well as regularly post content to gain a fan following -- for free. The page also allows people to "check in" and update their friends and families of their interaction with the business, simultaneously increasing brand exposure.
Unfortunately, for many small business owners, creating this Fan Page is the end of the road, directing their full attention on search engine optimization, building back-links, and pay-per-click campaigns. And while this is good, it's not the only way to drive traffic and increase sales.
Social shares, comments and, yes, even "likes" can influence how online shoppers perceive a company, and can be effective in persuading their decision to use -- or not use -- a company. As Erik Qualman, bestselling author and digital leadership speaker, points out in #Socialnomics, "93 percent of shoppers' buying decisions are influenced by social media, because 90 percent trust peer recommendations."
There's also the Facebook feature of ad campaigns, which allows business owners to get real-time feedback on analytics and metrics, gain marketing insights, as well as the number of impressions their content has made, click-through rates, etc. -- all while directing specific ads at the users most likely to benefit from the company.
Don't Change the Goal -- Just the Approach
There's no disputing that people are now spending more time online than ever before. Millions of web users spend time on Facebook everyday -- even if it is only for a few minutes. (In my experience, even the people who say they "can't stand Facebook" still have an account they check at least a couple times a week, even if they don't post often -- or at all.)
As Hearsay Labs Founder, a Facebook marketing software company, Ms. Shih, points out, "You can waste a lot of time on Facebook. But if you're a business, you don't have any time to waste. Figure out your objectives first, start small and do things that help you accomplish your objectives."
Again, engagement is not your only option, even if it is one of your goals. But simply knowing there are different applications, features and metrics on Facebook isn't enough to determine which ones are right for you. That happens, most often, through trial and error. And in order to test out the different features and approaches Facebook and social media have to offer, business owners need to first have an audience. As a business owner, your social media presence needs to provide consumers with incentive to follow you.
One of the biggest mistakes businesses make is posting the same recycled and promotional content over and over again, and letting their frustration with the lack of new followers and engagement discourage them from using it all.
So, What's in it for the Customers?
People follow brands on social media because they enjoy the opportunity to provide feedback, directly access customer service, stay up-to-date on latest product and service information, and be the first to receive discounts and promotions.
The problem many business owners face is not that Facebook and other platforms are ineffective -- just that, typically, their approach to it is. It isn't enough to create a Facebook page, schedule posts, sit back and hope the following comes.
You need to establish what your goals are and tailor your efforts accordingly. For example: e-commerce sites, with increased sales as their focus, should use the apps that sync products for sale seamlessly onto their Facebook page and provide customers a way to access and purchase products without having to go to the website.
There is a difference between knowing something exists, and actually understanding how it works. The key is identifying and understanding which features and applications make the most sense for your brand, and which tools and strategies will provide your audience with the most benefit.
As a business owner, you can't afford to be blasé about social media marketing; just because you don't personally use Facebook, doesn't mean your customers don't.
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