Why Local Businesses Should Use Facebook

Facebook may not replace your website or other ways of getting the word out about your business, but it supplements them well. For some purposes, it works even better than e-mail. Why? It’s a matter of attitude – not yours so much, but the attitude of your customers.

I was reminded of this recently when getting together with my closest friends and family for Christmas this year. We don’t all celebrate the same holiday, so we’ve made a few compromises in our customs – latkes for brunch on the day before Christmas, watching a movie on the DVD player, and a (non-Chinese) dinner out. That last item presented a bit of a hurdle. We wanted a nice dinner, but what’s open for dinner on Christmas Eve?

Facebook came to the rescue. One of my nearest and dearest friends had friended a well-loved local restaurant. I hadn’t; while I enjoy the food, it’s too expensive for me to eat there every week – or even every month. As it turned out, though, it was open Christmas Eve for breakfast, lunch, and dinner; the owner sent out a message about it via Facebook, posting the status update either the previous day or that very morning. A special Christmas dinner at a favorite restaurant? Even if it’s a bit more than I would normally spend on a dinner out, count me in! I ended up eating some perfectly prepared venison just before going out with my dear ones to look at all the holiday lights.

What was good for me was also good for the local restaurant; they got some customers on a day we might not otherwise have gone. Had we not received the message, we might have assumed they were closed. While it is a favorite place for us to dine, as I noted, it’s a touch expensive (though definitely worth it), and enough off the beaten path that it might not have been the first place that occurred to us for Christmas Eve dinner. The posting on Facebook put it freshly into our minds, right when we were getting ready to make a decision.

Would sending a mass e-mail have worked as well? I don’t think so. Perhaps those who grew up with e-mail will think differently, but when I think of e-mail I equate it in my head to postal mail. This means I expect to receive either private messages intended only for me, or bills, or junk mail. Even if it’s something I’ve signed up to receive, I tend to approach an e-mail that I know has been sent out in bulk with the mindset of “oh no, it’s another piece of junk” and look at it with my finger hovering near the delete key. I’m sure I’m not alone. An e-mail from a local restaurant mentioning that they’ll be open for business Christmas Eve might  easily get deleted after being mentally filed – and probably forgotten at the critical decision-making moment.

Facebook, on the other hand, does not work like private e-mail or postal mail (except for its internal messaging capability). That’s not its purpose. Each user’s wall features status updates of all of their friends. It works – and feels — much more like a public bulletin board. When users check their wall, they know that the messages they see are public; that’s what they expect, in fact. So a mass message from a business does not look out of place at all, especially when it’s from one they friended. As a result, when a user looks at updates on their wall, it’s with a sense of curiosity. They’re more open to business-related messages (within reason; it’s still spam if you send too many messages!).

My point is, users approach e-mail and social media with very different attitudes, and something that can be annoying in one context may be quite welcome in another. You’ll need to experiment to see what works best for you and your business, of course, but understanding and catering to that difference in mindsets can certainly improve your bottom line. Good luck! 

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