Facebook has become an indispensable tool for large brands, but many small businesses are still sitting on the sidelines. Many -- if not most -- small businesses have Facebook Pages, but one recent study found that 70% of such pages are inactive, meaning they haven't been updated in the last month. As Facebook continues to gain users at the astonishing clip of 250,000 per day, this inactivity is an increasingly important missed opportunity.
Local businesses fear Facebook for a number of reasons, from concerns about losing control of their brand and their customers, to the simple fear of wasting time. To calm those fears, consider the following.
#1 - Facebook is an unparalleled resource
The single best part about Facebook is its scale. With over 1.1 billion users, more than 2 billion connections between local businesses and people, and record-setting engagement measured by time-on-site, Facebook is the single best place to interact with customers online. It's the only website that you can safely assume your customers use on a regular basis. By contrast, traditional business websites, while arguably necessary to provide information and show legitimacy in the 21st century, usually get very few visits and see very little engagement.
With the introduction of Facebook Graph Search, people are increasingly searching for local businesses on Facebook. At a minimum, you should ensure that they can find your branded Page, complete with vanity URL, hours of operation, contact info, and other basic details. In today's world, anything less is negligent.
#2 - The power of referral networking
For most small businesses, a large percentage of new business comes through referrals. In some industries, like financial planning, business owners consistently report that more than 90% of their new business starts with a referral. If you're not prioritizing tapping your existing client base for referrals, you're missing the best available opportunity to grow your business.
The average person sees around 400 advertisements daily. Word of mouth cuts through the noise, but as society becomes increasingly reliant on Internet resources, it's ever more important to convert word of mouth to online reviews that people can find, especially in high-stakes businesses that depend on a high degree of trust between professionals and their clients. Facebook has a huge role to play in the process of bringing genuine word-of-mouth referrals to the web.
#3 - Facebook can help protect you from brand risk
Everyone knows that sensational news stories sometimes take on a life of their own, and when that happens to a major brand, franchisees and other local business affiliates sometimes pay a hefty price. For example, Chick-Fil-A franchises around the country were recently left scrambling to do damage control after President Dan Cathy made controversial anti-gay comments. A strong Facebook presence can help protect your business from such bad publicity by creating a meaningful distinction between the national story and your local branch, and by giving you an avenue to reach out to customers directly with the message that you want them to hear.
#4 - You can no longer effectively opt out
Like it or not, as a business owner, you're a public figure, and people can and will talk about you on Facebook regardless of your participation. You can fight it, or you can recognize that the sharp distinctions between friend, colleague, prospect and customer are disappearing, and that for many small businesses, the personal and professional spheres are converging.
A broad network of supporters who care about a business can make the difference between its success and failure, so just as you'd give an important client your personal cell phone number as an indication of your commitment to their satisfaction, it's only natural that you should open up on Facebook in the same way.
Many successful businesses are adopting an "open book" policy where they share both the good and the bad about their business publicly in an effort to build trust with customers, and for independent professionals like real estate agents, it's even possible to display business reviews on your personal Facebook profile.
Facebook is not going anywhere, and as a small business owner, it's one of the few place where you have the ability to take control of your business' story and reputation. Embrace that advantage, and you'll be well-positioned to succeed going forward. Resist, and you will inevitably fall behind.