For someone who writes often about social media, and who occasionally advises companies about how to roll social media into their content marketing efforts, I have a confession that may surprise you: I don’t have much of a business presence on Facebook.
In fact, until recently, I was against it. After all, there’s a perfectly good business version of Facebook called LinkedIn, and even if you manage to get privacy settings tweaked to separate your personal from business identities, there’s no guarantee Facebook won’t screw it up with some update or another.
However, despite my rather vocal skepticism, Sandstorm Media’s web guru, Lindsay Armstrong, kept badgering me to put up a Sandstorm Media fan page. I finally relented, but I’ve done little to promote it, and I’m still not 100% convinced Facebook is the right medium for business.
Why? Well, the main reason is that the line between our work and personal lives is already so blurred that I think it’s probably a good idea to preserve spaces that are personal, social and business free. I use Facebook to keep in touch with old friends and former classmates. I use it to see what crazy antique car husk my father “saved” from the scrap heap and plans to restore. I use it to see if my college roommate is out of that Turkish prison yet.
And when I post, I post about my personal life. I doubt many of my relatives or friends are terribly interested in Infrastructure as a Service or the pitfalls of cloud security. Conversely, I doubt that many of my business colleagues are terribly interested in my rabid affection for the Pittsburgh Penguins, or the fact that my 14-pound dog, Blackie Lawless, tried to pick yet another fight with a neighbor’s pit bull.
Yet, I’m clearly in the minority, with marketing expert after expert touting the virtues of Facebook for business. Right now, you’re probably thinking that I’m confusing Facebook profiles with Fan Pages. I’m not.
The key to making any Facebook fan page a success is to put a face to it. Where will that face come from? Your personal profile. I suppose I could tweak privacy settings, but I’m certain that there will be unintended cross-pollination that will devalue either the personal or professional space.
I could set up a separate “business” profile page, I suppose, but that seems like a rather inelegant solution.
So, I’m not 100% convinced that Facebook is right for Sandstorm Media, but I have started thinking about the pitfalls of using this medium for business, how to avoid them, and how best to gain business benefits from a decidedly non-business platform.
Pitfall # 1: Mixing business with pleasure.
So you want to go on a rant about how the Occupy Wall Street Movement is just a bunch of unwashed hippies? Well, you better hope your business doesn’t sell to that coveted 18-25 demographic. You want to post a bunch of jokes about Michelle Bachmann’s “crazy eyes”? You’d better hope you don’t have too many Tea Party supporters in your customer base.
Am I saying that you shouldn’t have strong opinions? No, but rants just don’t seem, well, professional, especially for B2B. It’s all about context, and when we’re in business settings, we are conditioned to expect more decorum.
How to avoid it: First, make sure you don’t set up your business as a profile. It violates Facebook’s terms and could get deleted at any time. If you’ve made this mistake, don’t worry. Facebook recently made it easy to turn your profile into a business page.
Next, since business associates will find your profile and send friend requests, be sure to have your privacy settings optimized for business use. Or, you could do what I do and ignore those requests but send your own requests on LinkedIn. Maybe I’ve hurt some feelings, but I’ve yet to hear any complaints.
To set up your Facebook privacy settings for professional use, check out this handy guide on Accounting Web. It’s kludgy and I’m not in love with this method, but it’s better than nothing. To make sure you have everything set correctly and to double check settings after any updates, use Facebook Privacy Scanner, a cool Firefox add-on that allows you to view your profile from different user levels.
Pitfall #2: Broadcasting instead of engaging. Too many PR and marketing pros rely on the shotgun approach when pitching and when using social media. I get pitches all the time that fall way, way outside of my coverage area. The pitches are obviously broadcasts, with the logic being similar to that of spammers: even a miniscule response is worth it, so long as I cast a wide enough net.
Similarly, I see Tweets all the time that are blatantly promotional and which link to press releases. Yuck.
One-way push messaging is the absolutely wrong approach for social media.
Now for some good news and bad news. The good news: social media makes it easier than ever to directly engage with your target audience. The bad news: engagement takes a heck of a lot more work than broadcasting.
How to avoid it: There’s no magic formula here. You have to engage. I attended IBM’s “Becoming a Social Business” event in Hollywood yesterday. They advocate an engagement formula that starts with social trust (i.e., removing the sales pitches and instead delivering high-quality content that your community actually values) and then moves on to “engaging through experiences.”
That’s a good starting point. In practice, you can do this by, say, putting a face to a product. Have the main developer discuss the product, ask for feedback, and honestly hash out roadblocks and pain points along the way. Solicit stories from end users. If you’re in a space with controversy, discuss those controversies. Argue about why, say, Android is a better platform to develop for than iPhone, or vice versa.
Engagement can also be reactive. Any time someone puts a post on your business wall, be sure someone responds in a timely manner. Any time someone bad mouths your organization via Twitter or Facebook, respond. But when you respond, you’d better show up with a solution, not an excuse.
And give back to the community. Give fans good content, user guides, short cuts, how-to advice or anything else that “fans” will value and not consider a blatant sales pitch.
Pitfall #3: Not posting content frequently enough. This goes for any type of marketing tool meant to engage. This pitfall can bring down newsletters, Twitter campaigns, LinkedIn efforts, etc. If you go silent too often and for too long, your business profile will fall out of people’s Facebook newsfeeds; on Twitter people will stop following you, and with email newsletters, people will stop opening them or even opt out.
Fresh, valuable, consistent content is what keeps fans coming back.
How to avoid it: Accountability. Too many content and social media projects are done by committee. No one has ownership and everyone is just vaguely expected to pitch in. That never works. It might for a month or two, but it will eventually, inevitably die. Social media must be an organizational priority and someone (or a few people) must be responsible for generating regular content or updates.
Pitfall #4: Not keeping up with your competition. With your nose buried in your own Facebook page, it’s easy to forget about the competition. What are they doing better than you? How are they differentiating themselves from the pack? What mistakes have they made that you can learn from?
How to avoid it: The easy way to keep track, obviously, is to “like” your competitors and pay attention to what they do. Better, get an analytics tool, such as the one from AllFacebook, which offers a range of metrics, including how you stack up against the competition.
Okay, I’m no expert, but . . .
Admittedly, I’m still skeptical about Facebook for B2B uses. For consumers, sure, I can definitely see why zombie-crazed millennials would like “Walking Dead.” I can see why Japanese schoolgirls would rabidly flock to the Hello Kitty page, and I “liked” the LA Kings last year to get into the priority queue for playoff tickets. For B2B, on the other hand, I still don’t think many businesses have landed on the right formula to make Facebook work.
As Facebook becomes more and more central to how people communicate, however, I’m sure this will change. Eventually, even doubters like me will need to get on board or be left behind.
What I’m experimenting with now are tools, such as HootSuite, that will help me generate Facebook content by grabbing content from elsewhere, such as pulling in my Tweets or LinkedIn updates.
I’m sure many of you have even more experience managing Facebook fan pages than I do. What has your experience been? What traps have you fallen into? What techniques have worked best? What tools help you manage your ballooning social media responsibilities? Let me know in the comment section, or shoot me an email.