Facebook is an excellent tool for small businesses looking to grow revenue through customer engagement.
But it takes time, thought and a touch of discretion to succeed.
That was the message that Matt Hicks, former marketing and public relations manager for Facebook, brought to an audience of about 150 in Santa Barbara on Nov. 7. Hicks, now an independent consultant, was the last presenter in a series of three business-to-business programs presented by Montecito Bank & Trust.
“Business pages on Facebook can be meaningful for small businesses because of relationships,” he said citing the social media giant’s ability to reach one billion — or one of every seven — people on Earth. Users typically spend one of every seven minutes online on the Facebook site, he said.
But the reach of small businesses amounts to a sliver of that, Hicks said, adding that just 7 million small businesses have active Facebook pages and only about 3 million are posting weekly.
The most successful small business pages present the company by “thinking about it as a person,” he said. That means companies that touch people passionately — specialized bike shops, healthy pet food companies and similar small businesses — can forge deep relationships with customers via Facebook.
But he said a Facebook relationship shouldn’t just end with gathering up “likes,” even though those are key to disseminating news feeds across a broader audience. Hicks described how Facebook’s tracking icon can be used to profile users and he suggested that companies can use timelines and life events to tell the company’s story.
He also suggested “putting people first with customer stories and testimonials,” and possibly including video if customers will give permission.
Other ideas in Hicks’ presentation included a serialized “story of the week” that includes photos to tell what the company has been up to and simple holiday greetings to fans to create a virtual personality or persona for the company.
“Think about what kind of friend your business would be like,” he said. He added that it is important for a small business to know its place in the social and business climate and not overly intrude into the lives of its community members.
For example, customers recoiled from American Apparel and other companies that offered pre-storm discounts in advance of Hurricane Sandy.
In order to gather testimonials from happy customers, it’s important to cue them up by asking questions such as “What is the best experience you ever had with company X?” and by setting a 420-character limit on responses.
“It’s a brand new media experiment,” said Hicks.