Facebook Friends 101: for Businesses

They say that if you want to have friends, you have to BE a friend. We all know that means you attract friends by acting friendly. But what does “acting friendly” mean? If you’re a business trying to make and keep friends on Facebook, that’s more than just an idle question.

I’m going to assume you already maintain a Facebook account for your business; in fact, I know of some companies with Facebook accounts that never bothered building a separate website. I won’t go into the logic behind that. Right now, I’m just going to assume that your business is on Facebook, and you’re hoping to use the social network to help it grow. That means you need to learn how to make and keep friends on Facebook without annoying them.

If your company includes a physical presence where customers show up, you can start making Facebook friends simply by mentioning that you have a Facebook page. That goes double if they ask about mailing lists or other ways to stay informed of what you’re doing. Hey, it happens! Just yesterday I was decluttering my den and happened across the address and phone number for one of the local U-pick-it farms. I called them up and found out that it was the last day of their season. When I finished picking (there’s nothing like fresh-picked blueberries!), I asked how I could find out when their season starts next year. They referred me to their Facebook page, and I added them as a friend as soon as I got home.

Be sure to add information about your Facebook page to your website, and to any hard copy you hand out: brochures, business cards, stationary, etc. This way, customers will know right away where to turn when they want updates about your business. These can include special events, promotions, discounts, or whatever would be appropriate for you to post on Facebook.

Now we’re closing in on the heart of the matter. What, exactly, is appropriate for a business to post on Facebook? What can you post if you want to keep friends? To answer that, we need to look at two things: what users do when they’re reading Facebook, and what they do when they’re posting to Facebook.

I’ll start with myself, though I admit I may not be typical. I go to Facebook when I need a break from something else; if lots of users do this, it would explain why so many people get on Facebook while they’re at work. I skim Facebook for quick updates from my friends, cute cartoons, and interesting links. I rarely spend a lot of time reading any one thing. When I do choose to read a long item, I try to go through all the shorter items first, and then the longer ones. I usually do this by opening the interesting links in a bunch of new tabs in my browser, so I can hit them all at once, in succession. It’s the most efficient way to “goof off,” at least for me.

What does this say about how you should post to Facebook? We’ll start with the posts themselves. They should be short and sweet. They don’t all need to be short, but for the most part, if you want to share something long, you’re better off posting a teaser and including a link. Incidentally, used correctly, this could be a good way to drive traffic to your blog.

Your Facebook posts should also be interesting, or at least pique your readers’ curiosity. For which of these posts are you more likely to click through the link: “Back from my trip. Here’s my latest blog entry” or “Went to MakerFaire and had a blast! Read all about it in my blog”? I’m guessing you’d be more likely to click through to the blog entry described in the second post, and I’m not saying that just because I’ve been to several MakerFaires.

I’ve just told you HOW you should post to Facebook; let’s talk a little more about WHAT you should post. Obviously, you can use the social network to tell users about your blog posts. That’s not redundant; as I’ve hinted, visitors are typically in a different frame of mind when they’re skimming Facebook than when they’re reading a meaty blog post. But you can do a lot more.

Is your business seasonal? Use Facebook to remind customers about the important times. A U-pick-it farm could let customers know about when crops are ready (and any last minute changes). An accountant could remind his clients to make appointments early, to avoid the rush around April 15. An artist who does a number of regular shows could remind customers of where she’ll be, so they can buy from her booth.

Speaking of artists, if you get in new and unusual items, you can share that on Facebook – especially if the new items are particularly photogenic. If you make jewelry, show off your latest creations; if you’re a yarn shop, take a picture of that gorgeous Noro yarn that just came in. Just make sure that what you’re writing about is the kind of thing that really would excite your customers – not just something that YOU hope will excite them. That’s going to vary with the size of your business, believe it or not.

Has my local yarn shop hired a new person with mad skills who will be teaching classes? Yes, I want to know about that, as well as what classes she’ll be teaching. That’s worth a Facebook mention. Has my local JC Penney hired a new general manager? Um, yeah…not so much.

On the other hand, I care more about the political stance of larger businesses. So if my local yarn shop owner happens to vote for a candidate with whom I don’t agree, well, I’m probably not going to boycott her business, even if she mentions her support on Facebook. But if my local large retail store contributes to a cause with which I vehemently disagree, I’ll avoid darkening their door unless I must.

But the best part of being a business on Facebook is that you can do certain things more easily on the social network than you can do them on your own website. For instance, as I write this, the Orlando Mini Maker Faire is holding a tiny contest to encourage their friends to discuss which maker they’re most looking forward to seeing this weekend. The winner gets a prize worth $20: a kit for a pin that flashes your name in gorgeous LED lights, which you can put together at the event. The prize’s coolness factor alone – for this event’s target audience – is worth more than $20. You can customize this idea for your own business.

It’s also easier to ask questions and get feedback from your friends on Facebook than on your own website, unless you’ve built up a lot of traffic and a large community. You can even make a post asking your friends what they’d like to see you posting, and how often they’d like to see updates from you. After all, it’s only friendly to find out how often your friends would like you to stay in touch, right?

Which brings me back to the original point I wanted to make. If you want to make and keep friends for your business on Facebook, you need to keep your friends’ interests foremost in your mind when you post. Unless they’re also shareholders, they don’t care how well your company did this quarter – though they might be interested in your business expanding to new locations if you’re opening up near them. After all, that would make things more convenient for them…and that’s just one of the things that friends are for. Good luck!

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