The Idaho Business Review occasionally prints columns I write about public relations. The paper was kind enough to print this on July 20, 2009. Apparently it was only published in the print edition and is not available online.

Do-It-Yourself social media for the small business

These days, it seems like everybody is on Facebook and the more adventurous are on Twitter. But did you know many of the “people” on Facebook aren’t even people, but small local businesses?

I’m a relative newcomer to social media and I don’t hold myself out as an expert. But over the past few months I’ve put food on the table setting up and maintaining Facebook pages and Twitter accounts for clients. With a little dedication, any business owner can benefit from social media.

Even the best Web site is just a brochure with limited abilities to network and engage customers. Social media are word-of-mouth advertising and if your business isn’t at least taking advantage of Facebook, you’re missing out a free way to build and reach your customer base.

When it comes to social media, LinkedIn has been compared to the business meeting, Facebook to the hallway chat, Twitter to the cocktail party and MySpace to the smokers in the alley. It’s a good analogy, because each medium requires you present yourself in certain ways.

Here is how to get your business started in Facebook:

  1. Set up a personal Facebook page. Head over to http://www.facebook.com. More than 200 million people are on Facebook, so it must be easy to use. Anyone with basic computer skills can teach themselves the basics: find and make friends, upload photos and videos, link to Web pages, write on walls, post notes, tag photos, etc. Don’t worry about messing up, as you can delete any mistakes.  Collect as many friends and colleagues as you can, at least a few dozen over a couple of weeks. If you get stuck, ask for help from a friend or a professional consultant.
  2. Set up a business Facebook page. Click on the Groups link at the bottom of your Facebook page (silhouette of a couple of people). Click on “Create a new group” in the upper right. Fill in the information, upload photos, link to favorable reviews and your own Web site, add trivia, hours, etc. This is the fun part, so talk about your business and what makes it special. You can always add and change information.
  3. Prepare to invite people. Once your business page is presentable, invite your friends to become fans. To prevent spamming, Facebook only allows people to invite their confirmed friends to a business page. If you have a customer email list, you can upload that to Facebook and invite these people to become your friends, then invite them to become fans. To do this, type “search” in the search box, then click “Friend Finder” in the top middle of the page.
  4. Use your page. Install the Memorable Web Address application (it is easy to do) to make it easier to send people to your Facebook page.  Put the Facebook logo on your Web site and link it to your Facebook page. Email your customers and tell them. Put Facebook on your sign out front, on your advertising, on your menus, on anything you give customers. Give people a discount for becoming a fan and writing on your wall.
  5. Consider advertising on Facebook. Facebook ads are on the right of the page and unobtrusive. Facebook pays attention to the words people write and uses that to targets ads. Talk about your favorite books and music and ads related to them will start to appear as if by magic. Facebook advertising is very inexpensive and can be tightly targeted.

For a good example of a local business page (and my handiwork), see http://companies.to/carwash.

So what’s next? Update your business page regularly with photos, videos, links and notes. What about your business is interesting, fun or fascinating? Do you have history, machinery or processes that people can geek out on?

Get fans to write nice things on your wall because this will show up in their status updates for all their friends to see. Ask your hardcore fans to invite their friends. Think about alliances: If you’re going to donate money or hold a charitable event, find the beneficiaries and related groups on Facebook and get them to talk about it.

Keep in mind not to bug people or message your fans too often. Engage customers and talk to them – it is a precious thing when someone thinks enough about your business to become a fan and write on your wall. If you get a negative comment, do not delete it, or you will lose authenticity. Rather, display your ability to handle customer complaints appropriately and you will come out ahead.

If you are new to social media, this can seem intimidating. However, a few hours of effort will reap big rewards and in 2009 and beyond, social media are an essential part of doing business.

Martin Johncox is public relations director for Alexander and Associates. His company’s Facebook page is at http://groups.to/publicrelations and he can be Tweeted @mjohncox or emailed at martin@alexanderandassociates.com.

Advertisements