Marketing Turnaround - 2017

Facebook - Where the World goes to Mingle

By Gail Z. Martin

Dozens of social media sites exist, but it always comes down to three: Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Love them or hate them, they are the three main sites (along with YouTube, which we'll talk about later) and they have a large and diverse following. When my clients complain that they are overwhelmed with their social media choices, I tell them to start with these three, because they're where the action is.

Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn may be three of the most popular social media sites, but they are very different from each other. Think of Facebook as a party where everyone goes to see and be seen, meet new people and have fun. The atmosphere is casual and laid-back, and people may get caught up in conversations from time to time with people they don't know.

Twitter is more of a cocktail party, where the emphasis is on short, witty conversations and working the room, connecting briefly with many people but keeping it personal.

LinkedIn is like a business networking event. Everyone's professional, a little more buttoned-down, and on their best behavior. You'll meet new people, but it's easier and more comfortable with a personal introduction. Conversation remains mostly business-oriented.

Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn are different, but don't let that scare you because each is a tool to accomplish a similar goal through varying styles of conversation and engagement. Just as you learn to adapt to the different group norms of the offline organizations in which you're a member, navigating these sites and their cultures will soon become second nature.

Facebook is loud and noisy and wonderful. It's where the world goes to mingle. It's the crossroads gathering place for Planet Earth. Facebook is meant to be a conversation, not a broadcast, so you want to look for ways to attract and engage your current clients and best prospects in a way that leverages your credibility and reinforces your brand.

Don't worry; it's easier than you think. Several years ago, when I wrote “30 Days to Social Media Success," the most common question I got when I spoke to groups was, “I'm on Facebook: now what?" Many business people truly did not know what to say when they had to sit down at the keyboard. Fortunately, I think we've gotten past that point, so that now business owners are looking for ways to maximize their brand and enhance their reach while underscoring their expert platform. We've come a long way in a short time!

Having a casual conversation on Facebook is easy. Striking up a two-way discussion that engages your tribe and either gets them talking about their wants and needs or imparts helpful information in a non-stuffy way takes a bit more thought. One way to provide valuable information and broaden your connections at the same time is to share posts from other people's pages that you find useful or think would be of interest to your tribe. You can also share links to articles in online magazines and news sites, as well as to your own blog posts. Build good will and make new friends by liking and commenting on interesting posts on the other people's newsfeeds. Always be polite and avoid confrontation or controversy.

Get creative and mix things up by sharing photos, video and text. Visual memes of inspiring quotations are very popular, and easy to make. When you make a photo meme, use a picture you either have taken yourself or for which you've purchased the rights. Attribute the quote, and make sure you have your own Twitter symbol at the bottom so people who like the meme can find you. Respect copyright by sharing the link to a photo or article; never save someone else's material to your computer and upload it. If you put out an email newsletter, realize that many newsletter software programs enable users to automatically send links to their Facebook and other social media sites whenever a new edition is sent out. This is a great way to broaden the readership of your newsletter, give non-subscribers a free peek, and encourage new sign-ups.

Not surprisingly, Facebook has evolved quite a bit since it made its debut. Not only does it have close to two billion users, but it has shifted many aspects of the user experience with corporate advertisers in mind. In the early days of Facebook, no one thought of the site as being of interest to business users. It began as a platform just for college students, and gradually expanded to be open to everyone. Small business owners and entrepreneurs were among the first to see Facebook's marketing and networking potential, and in an effort to segregate personal and business conversations, Facebook introduced its “fan pages" as an alternative to the more personal profiles.

For a while, that worked. Business users invested time and effort (and eventually money) in building their following on their Facebook page. Facebook created the ability to pay for targeted advertisements, and then to “boost" posts on business pages. Business users got used to sharing content, confident that a majority of their followers would see what they posted. But over the years, users have noticed that the organic reach (the people who see a post without a boost or an ad) has steadily declined to be only a small percentage of the number of people who have “liked" the page.

Facebook is cagy about its strategy, but those in the know suspect that the decline in organic reach comes from an algorithm designed to encourage more paid ads and boosts. Likewise, users who pay for boosted posts have reported a decrease in the reach of posts over time for the same level of ad spending, creating diminishing returns. I've seen this happen on my own boosted posts, where the number of people estimated to be reached for a $20 boost to the identical target audience has decreased by thousands from one year to the next. It's a profitable advertising revenue strategy for Facebook, but something business users need to recognize and learn to work around.

Video is experiencing a similar transition in the way Facebook treats various online video sources. Facebook is highly territorial in its stance toward other social media sites it considers to be competitors, like YouTube. It appears that the Facebook algorithm favors “native" video (uploaded via Facebook Live or from a user's hard drive) and suppresses the reach of videos uploaded from Google Hangouts, YouTube, and similar sites. That's something to keep in mind when you're trying to reach as large an audience as possible with your content on a shoestring budget.

Facebook can be aggravating, and its frequent changes to its algorithms and rules are vexing, but it's still the biggest game in town, and you are absent at your own peril. Many prospective clients will check out your website first and then both your Facebook business page and your personal page if it's publicly accessible to get a sense of who you are and whether or not they want to work with you. Make sure you always put your best foot forward!

Excerpted from The Essential Social Media Marketing Handbook