How Facebook’s Timeline Affects Your Business Marketing Plan

Despite the outcry that’s followed the most recent set of Facebook changes, Mark Zuckerberg, speaking at last week’s f8 conference, has made it clear that we haven’t seen the end of this latest rollout yet.  In fact, over the next few months, it’s expected that we’ll see the largest facelift the site has received since its inception in 2004.  But what does all of this mean for your business’ Facebook marketing plan?  Let’s take a look…

Of all the anticipated changes coming soon to Facebook, the most significant is the introduction of “Timeline”, Facebook’s new system for user profiles.  On the current site, user profiles operate in real-time.  Photos populate a user’s “Wall” as soon as they’re added to the site, and any status updates or Wall posts are listed in chronological order on a user’s page.

Timeline will change all of this.  In some ways, it’s been likened to a scrapbook, as it will allow users to select the information that best represents them to create a “landing page”, of sorts.  According to Facebook, the Timeline will allow users to:

“Share and highlight your most memorable posts, photos and life events on your timeline.  This is where you can tell your story from beginning, to middle, to now.”

Current, real-time updates will be relegated to Facebook’s new “Ticker” feature, which will allow users to access as much up-to-date information as they like – including updates on when.

So what does this mean for businesses marketing on Facebook?

Well, a couple of different things.  First of all, the changes Facebook is making all encourage more sharing, not less.  As has been widely speculated, this doesn’t just lead to deeper relationships between friends – it also results in a substantially larger data set that Facebook advertisers can use to drill down to ideal prospects.  If you currently advertise with Facebook Ads, expect your targeting options to improve as these changes roll out.

But if you don’t use Facebook’s paid advertising service and instead rely on customers “Liking” your business fan page so that your updates show up in their News Feeds, the prognosis on these changes isn’t quite as good for a couple of different reasons.

First, the switch from a chronologically ordered News Feed to one that’s topped by Facebook-determined “Top Stories” will make it easier for users to hide marketing messages from the companies they’ve liked.  While no one’s sure quite how the algorithm that determines what constitutes “top” news is structured, it’s a safe bet to assume that if your updates aren’t engaging to readers, they’re going to get less attention and be featured less often in a user’s Top Stories.

Additionally, the shift to deploying real-time updates via the new Ticker feature means that, while your messages originally only competed with status updates from a user’s network, you’re now competing against every action they take on Facebook.  Because the Ticker tracks not just new status updates but also status “likes”, accepted friend requests and other minutiae, your business posts receive even less eyeball time before they’re buried in the depths of the Ticker.

Of course, it’s not all doom and gloom for businesses that connect with prospects and customers via Facebook.  The anticipated increased presence of apps on users’ Timelines could be incredibly lucrative for some companies.  And because the Facebook API is being opened up more to developers than ever before, it will become even easier to operate in this space.

But if you aren’t interested in creating an app or launching paid Facebook ads, you’re going to need to adjust the way you communicate with your fans on Facebook.  It won’t just be enough to post updates willy-nilly.  Instead, you’ll need to think of every post you make to the site as a unique marketing message that must be engaging enough to pierce the density of real-time updates in a user’s Ticker.  Capturing your fans’ attention will also be vital in order to get your updates featured as Top News stories more often.

As Ian Schaefer of digital marketing firm Deep Focus put it:

“Marketers, who have been told for years that they’re actually publishers now, will have to put that into practice. We need to get people to share and interact with more content.”

By focusing on improving user engagement and making use of the new tools introduced in this latest round of Facebook changes, smart marketers will be able to retain their competitive edge and continue to succeed with this unique form of social media marketing.

Watch Mark Zuckerberg’s Keynote Speech at f8

Business Success Strategies: How Social Media Benefits Your Business

The internet marketing world is abuzz with the promise of social media, and from the way most experts talk about its potential, you’d think that social media would be able to connect you with new members of your target audience, bring you more sales and cook up an omelet at the same time!

Well, unfortunately, it can’t do that last one just yet, but social media can still be an incredibly powerful way to build your brand online.  Let’s look at a few ways to use social media in order to grow your web presence:

Connect with Your Target Audience

One of the biggest benefits of social media is the ability to connect with your target audience in new ways.  For example, consider how market research changes if you set up a Facebook fan page for your business.  Instead of wondering, “Will my customers like this new product?” you can ask them directly by posting the question on your page.  Any users who have “liked” your page will see the question on their Facebook walls, enabling them to respond quickly with the information you need.

Put a Personal Face on Your Business

Social media also helps to “personalize” your business, whether you’re based online or off.  Think about how you prefer to shop in your day-to-day life.  Would you rather shop at impersonal big box stores or at local “mom and pop” shops where the owners know you and your spending preferences?

Most people prefer a more personalized experience, but before the advent of social media, it was very difficult to convey this same sense of intimacy through a static website.  Sure, you could put some information about yourself on an “About Me” page, but this communication was one-sided – there was no real way to reach out and learn more about the people who were visiting your site.

Social media sites change this by allowing you to share more about your business and your personal life with your target customers on a day-to-day basis.  When you’re active on these sites, your visitors aren’t just interacting with a nameless, faceless website anymore – they’re engaging with a business owner they like and respect.

Answer Questions in Real-Time

Although a phone number and email address have sufficed in the past for taking and responding to customer questions, social media provides another outlet to answer your customers’ questions in real-time.  Many online shoppers view engaging via social media to be a “low investment” way to connect – meaning that if they have a question about your product or service, they may be reticent to invest the time in calling or emailing, but more open to shooting a quick question via social media.

One great way to identify users who are asking questions about your business or industry on social networking sites is to use a tool like Hootsuite or Tweetdeck, which can automatically search all of the tweets on Twitter for your designated keywords.  Say you run a business that repairs broken jewelry.  By setting up an automatic search for the words “jewelry repair” or “broken jewelry” (or any other keywords you feel are relevant), you’ll be notified any time someone posts these phrases, allowing you to respond directly.

Demonstrate Your Authority

According to a consumer behavior study by market-research firm Compete:

“Only 6% of consumers surveyed as part of the Online Shopper Intelligence study indicated that they conducted no research prior to their last online purchase.”

And although buyers have many venues for conducting this research – including search engines, forums, review websites and more – social media profiles are being analyzed more frequently to determine if the seller of a product is legit.  This is especially true if you’re selling high dollar value products, where customers must overcome a natural hesitation to forking over large sums of money before they’re willing to pull the trigger.

By actively engaging on social networking sites, you can demonstrate to these potential clients that not only are you a legitimate business, you’re also an authority in your field.  When you answer questions, share pertinent industry information and help people find the information you need, you’re branding yourself as an expert, encouraging both new sales and sales to people who are on the fence about buying your products.

 

Understanding Social Media Engagement

Using social media to increase your business’s web presence can be a great way to build your brand and connect with new customers.  However, before you can begin to utilize these new tools, you’ve got to understand how people use and engage with social media.

For example, what types of information do people share on each social networking site?  And how can you leverage these social sharing habits to build your business with social media?

Let’s start with Facebook…

Facebook is a profile-based site, which means that users create profiles when they first set up their accounts and interact with people using these profiles.  Once a profile has been created, the user can connect with other Facebook profiles by “friending” them and share updates about his life, which will appear on his friends’ “walls”.  He can also use this profile to share information about his interests, activities, favorite movies and musicians and more.

According to a recent study conducted by Bloomberg/YouGov, Facebook has the highest percentage of users who check these profiles daily, making it a great place to get your sales message in front of your customers:

Beyond personal profiles, businesses, websites and other public entities can create “Fan Pages” where they can share information about their businesses, coupon codes and other perks.  People who click “Like” on a company’s fan page will see that company’s updates on the “Wall” in their personal profiles, which is constantly being updated with new messages from friends and “Liked” pages.

So what kind of opportunities does this structure pose for business owners?  For one, it’s important to remember that Facebook users are used to interacting with only the people they’ve given permission to, which can make it more difficult to connect with new customers on this site.

However, Facebook is great for market research and for engaging with ongoing customers.  From a market research standpoint, keep in mind that any questions posted to your Facebook fan page will automatically populate into your fans’ personal news streams, making it more likely that they’ll see and respond to your question.

This also makes Facebook a great way to encourage repeat purchases from your existing customers.  Running a monthly (or quarterly, or any other regular interval) coupon special that’s available only to Facebook fans is a good way to keep your business in the front of your customers’ minds – if they know to count on your regular promotions, they’ll come back again and again to see what new sales you have available.  Just be careful not to send out promotions too often, as users are able to block your page from their walls if they perceive you to be spamming!

Next up, let’s look at Twitter.  Twitter can be thought of less as a profile-driven atmosphere, and more as a conversation-driven site.  Assuming a user hasn’t protected his Twitter stream, anyone with a profile can interact directly with any other user by including an “@” sign plus the user’s account ID in a tweet.

With this in mind, there are a few typical ways in which Twitter users engage with each other:

  • “@” Responses – By tagging another user with the “@” sign, two Twitter users can essentially have a conversation of 140-character tweets back and forth.
  • Link sharing – Many Twitter users use the service in order to forward helpful, informative or humorous links to their followers.
  • Community conversations – Twitter tweets that include a defined hashtag (“# + text”) are visible to any users who are tracking the hashtag, enabling the service to be used as a group discussion.

As in Facebook, Twitter users can “follow” other members of the service so that any tweets by these followed participants appear in the user’s tweet stream.  Celebrities and industry authority figures often have millions of followers who watch to see what these personalities have to say.

As a business owner, the structure of Twitter offers a few distinct advantages for connecting with your target market.  For one, you can follow hashtag conversations in your industry and chime in with responses and resources that demonstrate your authority in your niche.  You can also use tools like Hootsuite or Tweetdeck to search for keywords in tweets that are relevant to your industry to help answer potential customers’ questions.

By understanding how consumers use these two popular social networking sites, it’s easy to see how to structure your business promotions on these sites in order to cater specifically to different engagement styles.  With focused effort and regular testing to ensure you maintain a positive ROI on your social media involvement, you’ll find that these two sites can help grow your business significantly by expanding the reach of your brand online.

Image: daniel iverson

5 Easy Ways to Increase Your Facebook Fan Count

facebook fan page

It’s official – Facebook is no longer just for college kids anymore!  Businesses – both large and small – can benefit from the interactive environment found on Facebook and other social networking sites by expanding the reach of their brand and interacting directly with target customers.

Of course, to encourage these interactions, you’ll need to have Facebook fans in the first place.  “Fans” are people who have clicked the “Like” button on your Facebook landing page, which ensures that your status updates appear on their Facebook walls.  If your fan page doesn’t currently have any subscribers, consider the following strategies to increase the size of your fan base:

Strategy #1 – Offer Value in Exchange for a “Like”

If you’re going to ask people to “Like” your Facebook fan page, consider offering them something of value in return.  By creating an iFrame fan page app, you can hide premium content (like a special coupon code, a free ebook or other bonus) behind an opt-in page that requires people to “Like” your page in order to access these special materials.

Setting up an iFrame page isn’t complicated – you can either follow one of the many tutorials posted online or outsource the task to a Facebook developer for a reasonable fee.  Even if you do wind up paying to have this service completed, you’ll likely find that your investment pays off quickly in the number of fans you’re able to capture and the marketing messages you’re able to disseminate to them in this way.

Strategy #2 – Leverage Your Existing Connections

Chances are you already have plenty of personal and business connections that could make ideal fans for your Facebook landing page.  What about your personal friends and family members who are connected to you through your personal Facebook profile?  Use the “Suggest Fans” feature on your fan page to send a message to these contacts asking them to “Like” your page.

Beyond these existing connections, consider your business contacts.  Do you have an email list that you send messages to?  If so, include an invitation to join your Facebook fan page in your next email blast.  Do you send out a regular newsletter to your clients?  Consider adding a message informing your customers about your latest social media endeavor.

Strategy #3 – Widgetize Your Website

If your business website is built on the WordPress platform, there are a number of different ways you can encourage Facebook connections through your home page.  For example, install a plugin like Digg Digg, so that whenever you post content to your website, a link will appear, directing people to share the content on Facebook.

It’s also a good idea to encourage people to “Like” your fan page whenever you suggest that they subscribe to your email list or your RSS feed.  Remember – people want to connect with you, so give them as many opportunities as possible to do so.

Strategy #4 – Use the @ Tag to Boost Brand Awareness

According to Mari Smith of the Social Media Examiner:

“From time to time, you can let your friends know about something happening on your fan page by writing a personal status update that includes tagging your fan page with an @ tag.”

You can also use the @ tag as a signature when replying to the status updates of your friends and connections, as well as a way to autograph other related fan pages.  Just be sure to use this technique sparingly, so that you don’t come across as too self-promotional.

Strategy #5 – Stay Active with Your Fan Page

Think about the websites you read.  Are your favorite sites active places where new, interesting content is frequently posted?  Or are they nearly-dead blogs that haven’t seen an update in months?

Chances are you aren’t going to waste time on sites that aren’t active, and your Facebook fans feel the same way!  If you aren’t frequently updating your fan page, responding to messages sent through Facebook or interacting with the people who stop by, you’re missing out on the biggest opportunity afforded by social networking sites – the chance to demonstrate your dedication to your audience in real-time.

So don’t just set up a Facebook fan page – set aside time to regularly update your page and engage with your subscribers to get the most out of this innovative new form of marketing!

 

How to Brand Your Business on Facebook

Smart businesses are taking advantage of the power of Facebook and other social networking sites to interact directly with consumers and expand the presence of their brands.  Here’s how to get the most out of your investment in this innovative website:

Step 1 – Set up Your Business Fan Page.  If you run a company, having a fan page is a must!  These pages are separate from your personal profile and allow you to create a “home base” for your business on Facebook, where you can interact with your fans, share information and link back to your main business website.

So, therefore, the first step in building your brand on Facebook is to register for your fan page.  To do this, navigate to the following link from within your personal account: http://www.facebook.com/pages/create.php.  From here, you’ll have the option of selecting between six different types of fan pages (each of which will allow you to include different information about your business):

  • Local Business or Place
  • Company, Organization or Institution
  • Brand or Product
  • Artist, Band or Public Figure
  • Entertainment
  • Cause or Community

In most cases, your business will fall into one of the first three categories (the “Brand or Product” has a special category for websites if you choose to advertise your business this way).  Simply select the option that makes the most sense for your business and click on the icon to get started.

Step 2 – Optimize Your Fan Page.  Once your fan page has been created, you’ll be able to personalize it with information that’s relevant to your business.  A few of the key things you’ll want to add include:

  • Your business logo in the “Profile Picture” setting
  • A description about your company in the “Info” section of your profile
  • The URL for your business website in the “Info” section

As far as design goes, you have a number of different options for optimizing your fan page.  You might find that the standard design of the Facebook fan page is enough for your business (especially if your target audience isn’t particularly active on social networking sites).

However, as you look around Facebook, you’ll notice that some fan pages are extremely active and well designed, like the following examples:

Obviously, these pages belong to companies with big design budgets, but even smaller firms can benefit from enhanced design features.  If you find that marketing your company via Facebook provides a good return on investment (ROI), consider hiring a graphic designer to improve the look and feel of your fan page.

Step 3 – Capture Your Visitors.  One of the best things about Facebook is that it gives you the opportunity to interact directly with your target customers.  You’re able to answer their questions right away and demonstrate your authority in your niche through the information you share.  You can even boost sales by posting unique coupons for your Facebook followers!

The key to getting active with your audience is to get them to “Like” your fan page in the first place.  Once your visitors like your page, your updates will appear on their Facebook Walls, increasing your exposure when you post coupons and other messages.  But how can you encourage the people who wind up on your fan page to actually click the “Like” button?

As with your email marketing list, one way to increase the number of people who “opt-in” to your Facebook page by clicking the “Like” button is to set up an iFrame landing page that reveals premium information (like free ebooks, coupon codes or other bonuses) only after the visitor has clicked “Like.”

Setting up an iFrame landing page isn’t that difficult, and if you’re at all technically minded, you can follow the excellent tutorials published on the Social Mouths and Smart Passive Income blogs.  If these instructions seem overwhelming to you, you can always outsource this process, using a developer from Guru.com or Elance.com for a reasonable fee.

Step 4 – Get Active!  Once your Facebook fan page is set up, it’s time to get out there and start making connections!  To find followers for your fan page, consider inviting your personal connections to “Like” your fan page, adding a Facebook sharing widget to your business home page or placing a Facebook ad promoting your business.

By investing time in increasing your Facebook fan base, you’ll improve the reach of your brand and, consequently, the number of people you engage with your marketing messages.