I received an email today, asking me some questions about Facebook. How to use it effectively for a business tool, the worth of doing so, etcetera.
Now, I'll readily admit that I'm no expert on Facebook. I only joined in after a friend repeatedly nudged me to do so (and like everyone else on the planet, I now waste more time there than I should!). I am still in a learning curve there, and am finding a tremendous amount of helpful information from Mari Smith, considered 'the Pied Piper of Facebook'. That link is to her 'Page', and you can access it even if you are not a Facebook member. (Which is different from a Facebook 'Profile', which you must be a member and friend to view). But as much of a neophyte as I am, now that I am using this format, people are asking me about it. And so, I try to decipher and learn and then share...
Can Facebook be used to market your business and to help develop your brand image? Yes, definitely. Is it right for every business? Probably not. Is it right for every person? No. Is it anything more than any other social networking site? It CAN be if you use it that way.
I know people who are using Facebook simply to connect with long-lost friends, classmates, family, old neighbors, etc. - and that is all that they want to do with it. It works well for them in rebuilding relationships. And truthfully, networking is ALL about relationships - whether it's business or personal.
With things being what they are right now, I'd advise that you become very personable in your business dealings! I always define online presence this way: Websites are a commercial - you are advertising what you are, do, sell, etc. Blogs (and social networking) are a conversation - you are connecting with other people and getting feedback from them. You need BOTH.
I also know people who are using Facebook, and other online networks, to create a fanbase, following, and specific network of customers for their businesses. Through professional profiles and 'Pages' for their businesses, they are extending their brand awareness into the social arena. Their blogs syndicate and post to readers and their profile, and their web sites link to them. As this media develops, we'll see more integration of various platforms - making updated info, posts, and photos easier and simpler.
Opportunities for advertising exist, of course, as do those for promoting your 'Pages' to a general audience. The online world is a visual arena, so any business using it must realize that success is dependent upon their logo and brand image gaining visibility. The more opportunities you can find to get your business logo in front of viewers, the better.
Here's another question to ponder: Can you afford it?
Yeah, it's free, in the sense that it doesn't cost you a hosting fee, etc (unless you upgrade). But it WILL take time - time learning to utilize the features, time preparing photos, etc., time monitoring your requests and posts and updates. Even for a simple, business-oriented Page, you'll have to regularly invest some time. And by 'regularly', I mean at least every other day...like blog posts, this kind of viral marketing requires constant upkeep. And your time is worth money. SO, can you create half an hour every other day to Facebook? (Along with a half-hour every other day to blog? And an hour each day to stay current with your email? Are you beginning to see the investment?) I have five blogs that I write regularly for - actually, six, but my family blog is not just me writing! It takes time, effort, and determination to use it wisely in order for it to pay off in contacts, clients, sales, etc.
I personally think that Facebook is a viable option for marketing a business. I have concerns about how the 'Pages' directory system is labeled and categorized, but it's all new and obviously refinement will come.
Facebook was developed as a primarily social communication tool, and has grown to include business resources. Since I am also involved with the Gift & Home Channel, an online resource for retailers, I can see some definite differences between the two. For one, GHC is smaller and has a more defined audience: retail and wholesale industry members & service providers only. It was set up as a business resource, and has been morphing into a 'social networking' venue (can you see my furrowed brow from there?!). Is it for promoting a business? Not really. It serves to educate, inform, and connect retailers & wholesalers. I am one of very few service providers involved there. Though I do have to say, today I received an inquiry about a speaking engagement, and she found me through my videos on GHC!
Then there's Twitter, Stumble Upon, and a slew of other online resources that I can't even begin to discuss...
All that being said, my 'professional' opinion is this: Ruling out any opportunity for promoting your business before investigating it and trying it is probably a bad move right now. If it's free or low-cost, and you can carve out some time to do it right, it really can't hurt to try it.
NEW INFO!!!Check out my Facebook Page for more info about NEW applications and tricks to maximize your use of Facebook for business! Go here to read more!