Money-spinning marketing tool or costly, time-consuming burden? Facebook could turn out to be either, depending on your company's approach, say the experts. Whether you're yet to set up a page for your brand, or already up and running, their tips could help you convert fans into finance
With more than 900 million users worldwide, half of whom log in every single day, the potential business benefits of setting up a page for your brand on Facebook have long been obvious. But while research from digital marketers Econsultancy claims 65 per cent of UK businesses now use the social network as part of their marketing strategy, a study by US market research firm Compete suggests that, globally, companies are not making their pages engaging enough – with fewer than one in 20 users returning to a brand page within 30 days of having 'liked' it.
Scepticism over the tangible financial benefits of setting up and managing a Facebook brand page has also been deterring British SMEs from exploring the strategy further, according to a survey by e-learning specialists MindLeaders – with 54 per cent claiming they would consider using the network more widely if there was more evidence of the benefits. But, experts told Director, there are real financial gains to be made by using Facebook to create awareness, boost customer service, conduct market research and, ultimately, increase sales.
"People talk about return on investment," says Christer Holloman, author of The Social Media MBA. "But the other thing we should stop to consider is 'what is the cost of ignoring? Of people talking about our brand and us not correcting their misconceptions or posting a solution?' Conversations will go on about you on Facebook whether you are there or not."
But, says Charlotte Britton, managing director of Leeds-based social media agency Optimum Exposure, it's not as simple as setting up a page: "Just being on social media for the sake of it isn't enough anymore. It's about building community, establishing brand loyalty, doing customer research – and then, through that, seeing a return on the time you've invested."
So how do you build a profitable Facebook strategy? Our experts offer a 10-step plan…
1. A Facebook that fits
"People can spend a lot of time and resources on a Facebook page, so you've really got to start with the end in mind," says Steve Nicholls, author of Social Media in Business. "The first thing I'd say to anybody looking at this is, consider your business goals. First, ask: What is it we're trying to do and how could something like Facebook work as a subset of our business targets?"
Britton agrees: "Focus on your objectives – maybe you'd like to capture more email addresses to reach more individuals, or open a new communication avenue for the customer service team, or make more people loyal consumers of a particular product." But, says Holloman, the biggest consideration should be whether it's right for your business at all: "Does it fit with your brand? Is the demographic you're targeting on Facebook? Are your B2B propositions there?"
Businesses targeting older consumers might be encouraged by evidence that Facebook's user base is ageing – the average age rose from 33 to 38 between 2010 and 2011.
2. Create compelling content
Once you've decided to take the plunge and set up a fan page on Facebook, the quest for the much sought-after 'like' – the endorsement click that will bring your brand to the wider attention of a user's friends – begins: "The number one mistake companies make is that they expect people will just 'like' the page regardless," says Holloman. "But no, there has to be a reason for the advocacy – what's in it for them? Will you share exclusive news with likers,
or links to discounts on your products, or some kind of service?
"For example, Evans Cycles, a British bicycle retailer, ran a weekly live chat with a repair expert via its Facebook page where people could ask questions and have problems solved. All visitors had to do to access it was 'like' the page first. Personally, ?I'm a fan of the Range Rover page, which occasionally shares pictures of concept cars and upcoming models with Facebook fans – it feels like I've been let in on a secret. Compelling, useful content keeps you in the mind of the user."
3. Sweeten the deal
Eye-catching, useful content can carry you so far – but if you really want to keep people coming back, you've got to offer a little more. "If you're a mostly sales-orientated business, then offering product discounts for people who like your page by installing the Coupons application is definitely something to consider," says Nicholls. "You could also run competitions via interfaces like North Social's Sweepstakes app – but, crucially, if you are going to run a giveaway, make sure the prize is relevant to your business or product. If you say you're giving away an iPad, you'll get a lot of people who'd like an ?iPad but are not interested in what you've got to sell – having a million irrelevant fans is not that useful. A smaller group of well-engaged fans is going to have much more worth." Holloman agrees that concentrating on quality over quantity is key: "Remember: the average Facebook user has 150 friends, so you only need to engage one person well to reach 150 more – there's a powerful multiplier effect."
4. Promote your page
With a compelling fan page full of useful content and offers, driving traffic there through wider promotion is essential, says Nicholls. "Make sure you download the Facebook widget that you can install on your company website, to link directly to your fan page," he says. "And place it prominently. I often find them too hidden."
It's a tactic surprisingly underused, with new research from internet monitoring service Pingdom claiming that Facebook ?has a presence in only 24 per cent of the world's top 10,000 websites. Britton, meanwhile, advises taking your promotion beyond the web: "A great way, if you do have a physical bricks and mortar store, is to have promotions displayed in there driving people to your page. If you're a sandwich shop, get people to photograph themselves enjoying their favourite sandwich and post it to Facebook in return for a future discount. Or display a QR code that queuing shoppers can scan with their smartphones to link to your page," she says.
5. Don't fizzle out
"It's very common that businesses start out very enthusiastically, get lots of people signed up, post lots of fresh content, and then it fizzles out a little bit," says Holloman.
"You then see pages that haven't been updated for days, weeks or even months – which can obviously reflect badly on the brand. If you're going to do this effectively, and ultimately make it pay for you, it's imperative to have a more long-term commitment and to plough ahead.
A good tactic is to create an editorial calendar for your Facebook page – filled in for the next six to 12 months. Decide how often you'll publish something – some photos one day, a video the next, links the next day, an announcement on an important upcoming date. Staggering and varying the content will keep people engaged."
6. Resource adequately
The big concern for many businesses is, of course, how much staff time to invest in maintaining a Facebook page at this level – with 73 per cent of SMEs in the MindLeaders survey saying they were unsure if financial investment in the social network would bring sufficient benefits.
But, says Britton, it needn't be such a burden if the workload is shared around a team: "Often it will naturally fall to the marketing manager to lead this – but giving ownership for differing content elements to representatives of different departments can really help with the workload while bringing diversity to the content."
Holloman agrees: "Maybe someone from the sales team looks after it one day a week, someone from HR makes recruitment announcements once a month, and of ?course the CEO should also be involved… a mistake companies make is letting someone too junior manage social media. Direction should come from the top."
It's a strategy that is working for bakery chain Greggs, whose chief executive Ken McMeikan claims to check the company's page up to six times a day: "It is one of the most powerful tools, giving a greater sense of what's really happening in your business because you're not controlling what's coming through and it's in real time," he says of the Greggs fan page, which has generated more than 480,000 likes.
7. Get to know your fans
While Greggs stresses that it uses Facebook principally for customer insight rather than direct financial value, the benefits of the network's market research possibilities can quickly become solid financial return – and not just for bigger businesses.
"There's a small company in Scotland called Morphsuits, who make quirky full-body Lycra bodysuits," says Nicholls. "Extraordinarily, they have over one million likes on Facebook. The company ran a competition via their website asking fans to design their ideal bodysuit – and the winning design turned out to be their bestselling product. Effectively what you've got online is this massive focus group and if you can engage with them they could create for you. Add apps like SurveyMonkey or Polls and ask people what they'd like your business to do for them next."
8. Sell, but don't be too 'salesy'
The most clear financial return from Facebook is, of course, by selling directly from your page. "If you have a lot of products, install an e-commerce app to your page – Payvment is a useful one," says Nicholls. But, he cautions against being too pushy with your products outside of the app: "If you're too salesy, people will see through that and they won't like it. Never lose sight of the fact that the reason the vast majority of people are signed in is to link with their friends. It's a social space and your interactions should respect that."
On the flip side, responses to any negative feedback should be dealt with swiftly: "The number one thing is to respond as soon as you notice it," says Holloman. "Never delete negative comments, there's always someone who might have taken a screenshot of it. But take heart from the fact that most users are savvy, and will be able to tell if someone is being unreasonable in their comments."
9. Integrate – and be consistent
"If your business has other social media accounts, like Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Flickr, a blog, an RSS feed and so on then download the related Facebook apps for those elements so that they're embedded on your Facebook page," says Nicholls.
"Then when you make an update to those accounts it will be reflected on your Facebook page as well. It's a good way of keeping content fresh without even having to log in to your Facebook account." But, says Britton, it's important to keep the look and feel of your content consistent across the different media: "It may seem obvious, but I've seen brands that have had different logos and straplines between their Facebook page, website and shops – or websites that are very chatty, and then a Facebook page that is dry by comparison. From a customer journey point of view they need to get the same brand values and style across each channel."
10. Set legal standards
Having a new social media channel comes, of course, with potential legal pitfalls. A recent study by the Chartered Institute of Marketing reported that 30 per cent of businesses admit to having no data protection training for staff working on social media. "If you have a lot of people in your company you should have a social media policy encompassing Facebook, outlining what people can and can't say," says Nicholls. "Bear in mind that younger staff can have a very different attitude to what's OK to be shared than older people."
But, says Britton, the potential gains from a well-targeted Facebook page still far outweigh the dangers: "I'm a big believer in Digital Darwinism," she says. "The brands that invest in channels like Facebook will have a different experience and relationship with customers than those without it and, ultimately, enjoy tangible returns from it."
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Big brands making waves on Facebook
With 13 million likes, the company says it now views itself as a media business as well as a fashion brand, streaming shows live in HD on its page.
The watch giant is the UK's most engaged with brand, despite not having an official page. An unofficial page by fans is proving hugely popular, according to data from performance marketing agency iProspect.
Krishan Agarwal, president of the US luxury watch retailer, claims Facebook generated a 25 per cent rise in sales in two years, despite the company spending under $1,500 (£965) on ads.
The bakery chain added seating to 10 per cent of its shops after Facebook feedback, and acknowledges the network's role in a £4m upturn in profits.
The rum brand clocked up more than one million likes after creating a fun timeline of buccaneering history and offering a 'rumpedia' of cocktail recipes.