Last week, the owner of a social media consultancy contacted me via LinkedIn to ask for tips on “articulating her Facebook pitch” to prospective clients. She has many clients, she said, who aren’t convinced that they need to have a presence on what is still the most popular social network. This woman clearly knows her stuff, so her inquiry made me realize that even though Facebook has such a dominant presence, many businesses still do not see its full potential.
My company makes applications for Facebook, so I have very strong opinions about why (most) businesses should be on Facebook. And I have equally strong opinions about how to go about establishing a presence so that a business can grow by using Facebook. So here goes:
Focus On Engagement
The bottom line is that creating “good” status updates is key for increasing engagement with people who are already fans of your brand. Increased engagement with them can, in turn, increase brand awareness to potential fans which can, in turn, lead to a boost in sales. So what makes a good status update? Asking questions and listening to users is essential. (There was a comprehensive post recently on AllFacebook that includes all sorts of helpful tips and best practices, and if you scroll about halfway down the story, you’ll get right to the meat of the tips.) Once you have a decent following — a couple of hundred likes — it’s time to install some apps.
Consider A Contest
When most people hear “Facebook apps,” they think of contests or promotions, because these are proven ways to build a following pretty quickly. If you’re thinking about hosting a contest, make sure to keep a few best practices in mind, including:
• Set goals. Do you want to increase brand awareness or highlight a new product? Or do you want to increase the number of likes on your page? Do you want to boost user engagement, gather user feedback, or develop advocates for your brand? Decide what you will measure before you put up the contest so later you can decide whether or not it worked. And be reasonable! Don’t make your goal something like gain 100,000 new fans (there are some contests that reach huge numbers like this, but it’s not the norm), or you might be disappointed.
• Make it easy. There are four basic types of Facebook contests: sweepstakes, essay, photo, and video. Video, photo, and essay contests provide lots of content for your page, but they also require more effort to enter. Sweepstakes are easiest.
• Choose the right third-party app provider. Facebook explicitly requires businesses to run contests on third-party apps, and it’s nearly impossible to meet all of its other promotions guidelines without one. Make sure the provider you choose offers flexibility, a fair price, and embeddable apps (so you can install your apps on your website and people can use them on mobile devices).
• Offer a relevant prize. A contest should showcase your own products and services. After all, people are coming to your page because they are interested in learning more about what you offer. If want to set yourself apart and grow your business with the right kinds of fans, don’t feel like you have to give away an iPad or an iPhone or anything extravagant.
Create Other Functional Apps
The amazing thing about apps is that with a little creativity, you can create apps that will do just about anything. We use apps in a variety of ways because they help us connect with and learn a little more about our users than we do when we just host contests. A few that are universally helpful:
• Newsletter app. Using a newletter app is an easy way to increase your business’ visibility. As a bonus, you can ask people to like your page in order to reveal the newsletter signup form. Sending a newsletter gives you an additional way to communicate with your users. You can use status updates to tease newsletter content and then direct your fans to the app where they can sign up to receive the newsletter.
• RSS feed app. If you’re a blogger, you definitely want an RSS feed app on your Facebook page because it allows you to bring your blog right to your fans. It’s always smart to reach out to your fans/customers where they are, and installing an RSS feed is an easy way to do this. You can do status updates with a, “link here to see what’s new,” pitch that links to the RSS feed app. You can also keep the RSS app pinned to the top of your page so it shows off your latest content. If you’re running ads, point them to the RSS feed app where your latest post is featured.
• Reservation/appointment app. Any small business owner who wears many hats should definitely use an app that allows his or her clients/customers to request or even book appointments or reservations via Facebook. You can ask for name, telephone number, and times that a customer wants to come, and then call them to book or confirm an appointment. (You can also iFrame in a more sophisticated reservation system that will actually make the reservation for your customers, something like OpenTable.)
• Request for more information app. What better way to avoid overwhelming your staff with requests for more information about your company’s products that by letting prospective customers ask for specific information that you can then email them or link them to? Maybe they want to see menus or lists of services that you provide, or get cost estimates — all of this can be done via a request app.
• Contact us/customer support app. The easier you make it for people to get in touch with you, the better. Using a contact us app allows your fans/customers to send an email to specific departments within your company. For example, you can send them straight to whomever handles sales, customer support, press inquiries, etc., streamlining the contact process. You also link to this type of app whenever someone comments on a post or or asks for more information, keeping them inside your Facebook “property.”
• Testimonials app. At ShortStack, we have an app we call, “Make us better,” where customers can leave us feedback about our service. It’s a great way for us to learn what we’re doing right and what our users would like us to do differently.
• Voting/survey app. People like to participate in surveys. As a business, using a survey or voting app is a great way to learn the kinds of services your customers wish you would provide, or even what color T-shirt they’d be most likely to buy. Using a voting or survey app can ultimately reduce the risk of investing in new products or services only to have them bomb.
Make Apps Part Of Your Overall Mix
I’ve had people ask me if Facebook and apps will replace websites. I don’t know the answer to that question, but I know that apps are an increasingly important part of the social media mix. It’s almost like asking, “With the invention of TV, who still needs a radio?” Obviously, there is an audience for both, but the audience becomes more and more fragmented. Savvy businesses will have websites, Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, Pinterest boards, and maybe even a Vine account, like we do. The point is that wherever your clients are, you want to be there, too. If your clients are on Facebook, apps will help you engage with them better than you could via the wall. If you are just replicating websites within the apps, you’re leaving some potential on the table.
Don’t Get Too Distracted By SEO
If you’re wondering about the role of search engine optimization and graph search in your Facebook growth strategy, set aside the questions, at least for now. It’s too early to say how graph search will affect apps and what the proper SEO techniques are. I don’t really put too much emphasis on SEO at all, especially for social media. Social media is all about conversation and recommendation, so focus on the product first. If it’s a cool product, people will talk about it and share it, and your SEO is taken care of organically. If you’re concerned about SEO, social is not the place to focus your attention. I’d approach “Facebook SEO” the way I use Pinterest: If you pin something cool, funny, or useful, people share it. There isn’t any formula or anything, it’s all about what is interesting to the user. It may take more effort and creativity, but it’s worth it in the long run.
Jim Belosic is CEO of ShortStack, a self-service custom app design tool used to create apps for Facebook pages, websites, and mobile Web browsing. ShortStack provides the tools for small businesses, graphic designers, agencies, and corporations to create apps with contests and forms, fan gates, product lines, and more.