Facebook, with 1.65 billion users who on average spend about 50 minutes a day on the site, remains the world’s leading social media platform. Once a gathering place for primarily political rants and cute photos of babies and puppies, Facebook is now a leading strategic marketing channel for small businesses.
“Small businesses need to think about the importance of social media. Too often this is the area of their business that they tend to put off and undervalue, but this is a huge mistake,” says Gretchen Fox, a co-founder of the[made to order] agency and a social media coach for small businesses and entrepreneurs. She says sales through social media were about $30 billion in 2015, but 47 percent of small businesses are still not using any kind of social marketing.
“Every small business that faces the public needs a Facebook page,” Fox says. “Facebook is one of the first places people search for ‘social proof’ that a company is credible.”
Making Facebook work for your business
Marketing through Facebook is more than posting a picture and waiting for the customers to roll in. Social media and advertising veteran Jeff Sweat, founder of Mister Sweat, a Los Angeles-based PR and marketing firm, says it helps to work out your plan before you use all your energy posting on all social media sites.
“The biggest mistake businesses make is trying to be everywhere on social media. Your most important asset as a small business owner is your time—and you don’t have time to learn about multiple social media channels. So just pick one,” Sweat says. “In general, Facebook works best for people who are already fans, while Twitter and Instagram help you reach out to people who should be your fans but don’t know it yet.”
However, once you move to paid Facebook posts, that reverses. Because of Facebook’s algorithm, it’s harder for consumers to see your content without paid marketing—even if they “like” your page.
“Facebook can work for a broad range of businesses, but not without investment,” says Kat Eves, Bay Area-based publicist-turned stylist and fashion blogger. “It’s definitely a pay-to-play platform these days, even if the page is still technically free.”
Because the platform has such extensive information about its users, Facebook is especially good at targeting ads. If you want to reach 45-year-old women in Galveston who love Johnny Cash, for example, Facebook can deliver your message directly to them. “You can even target people who like your competitors,” Sweat says.
How to get started
Sweat says to start simply with your marketing efforts, and test often. “Try a little bit of money and see what works. Facebook lets you start with a small budget, so this is easier there than other places.”
Eves likes that Facebook ads can be tested inexpensively. “If you own a boutique, spend $5 to advertise three different items and see which item gets more click-throughs. Or if you’re testing out a new company slogan, run an ad with the same picture but different messages, and see which one performs better overall.”
Facebook is also the perfect place to rally your fans. “A combination of content, special offers and an amplification strategy can really supercharge a business and generate the traffic, leads and sales every business needs to be successful,” Fox says. As an example, one of her clients, a 100-year-old building materials company, saw an increase of 1,300 subscribers to its newsletter and more than 15,000 visitors to its website from this “magic combination” in just three weeks.
Brett Lechtenberg, a Utah-based entrepreneur, martial arts instructor and business coach, uses Facebook marketing as part of his “funnel system” to capture leads and convert those who are merely curious into becoming customers. He says Facebook works well in tandem with other channels, such as online coupons, guest passes, and a comprehensive referral system, and credits the combined efforts for a $30,000 bump in sales.
Making Facebook work for your business
As with any social channel, you’ll need to get a good understanding of your audience. “Don’t post unless you truly have something interesting to share, period. This goes for any social media platform though, really,” Eves says.
Other ways you can maximize your Facebook presence:
1. Analyze your impact. Use an analytics tool, like one through Hootsuite, to best understand the effectiveness of your posts.
2. Don’t overpost. Facebook users may rebel if they sense a hard sell. See what content does well on your other channels and go with those kinds of posts.
3. Ramp up your engagement. Encourage friends, customers, and employees to follow you and engage with your content by liking posts and adding comments. Promptly and transparently respond to customer comments—and don’t automatically delete negative ones. Being open to feedback can actually help your brand.
4. Add Facebook plug-ins. Make sure people can easily find your Facebook page by placing prompts on your company website and other collateral.
But perhaps the best marketing advice comes from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg himself: “Don’t give up.”