More and more people are getting sucked into the time-robbing vortex that is Facebook. Pictures of last weekend’s adventure in Moab, a distant friend’s new baby, today’s yoga workout routine — it is amazing how an hour can disappear when you’re wrapped up online. This addictive swirl of posts is why Facebook has more than 845 million active users. And it’s also why businesses are increasingly hesitant to use social media. Business owners fear the opportunity costs of the time spent by employees on social media that is not spent on, say, filling orders, calling prospective customers — doing their jobs.
It seems that many businesses jumped on the social media bandwagon because it appeared to be “free.” Now the costs to do social media effectively are known: time, energy, and the development of enough web-savvy to navigate privacy, security, and propriety issues in a manner that enhances rather than detracts from your relationship with your customers. Most people in the Grand Valley can name at least one person who is irritating them with a relentless sales pitch on Facebook. Businesses don’t want to dip their toes into this new world of internet relationships with customers unless they can do it right. Questions arise: What is the return on my investment in social media? Can “fans” and “friends” translate into sales?
I’ve grappled with Facebook’s role for business for several years. I jumped in about five years ago, created a page, and began to post what I thought were interesting business articles. Every morning I spent 30 minutes or so reviewing recent headlines to find the stories I thought were relevant to our local entrepreneurs. I took this fairly intellectual approach to our page for about a year, and the results: crickets…nada…zilch.
I gave up, threw in the towel for a while. In the meantime I watched businesses like Ava Sweet Cakes grow and thrive, solely based on their ever-expanding Facebook fan base. Pictures of cupcakes, discussions on new flavor option and life in a baker’s world seem to create a buzz. So, does this mean that people really care about cupcake flavors more than insights into the current business environment?
The answer is yes — at least on Facebook. An epiphany arrived one day while waiting in line at Main Street Bagels, clicking links on Facebook from my iPhone. I realized how incredibly hard it is to read a full Wall Street Journal article on that little screen. Not just that: It is also nearly impossible to absorb the content in a busy environment with plenty of other distractions. Facebook, on the other hand, is perfectly designed for that environment; it is ideal for easy, simple distraction. An effective post on Facebook can be absorbed and understood in just a second or two. It is easy to step away from the screen and, more importantly, even easier to jump back in right where you left off. This ease of use and continuously compelling pull make Facebook a brilliant communication tool.
Yet, if Facebook is so brilliant, while also light and frivolous, how does a business jump into the conversation? You need to start with an understanding of the way today’s consumers engage with brands. The consumer begins with an evaluation of the brand online to create credibility, validates that impression through feedback from his or her network connections, continues developing the relationship at the point of sale, and builds brand loyalty through a bond developed by customer service and ongoing communications.*
Communication options have skyrocketed from the days when you ran an ad and waited for customers to pour in. With so much back-and-forth, businesses need a multifaceted marketing plan. And it makes perfect sense for Facebook to play a part in the conversation. Facebook can provide fast credibility with “likes” from friends. Facebook provides a tremendous validation tool: Last week I saw a person decide to buy a mini-van from Simpson Auto because her friends on Facebook commented on her post on the topic. And once a loyal customer is obtained, Facebook can be ideal for maintaining that relationship and keeping it fresh and the dialogue open. There are numerous small and important points of contact in the evolution of this business relationship that can all be assisted with help from Facebook.
To market effectively on Facebook, you must be able to spark a conversation with your customers through their Smartphone while they wait in lines in a crowded coffee shop. No simple task. Your content must be easy to digest and still be meaningful. It has to be regular, repeated, but not inundating. It needs to be light and simple, but powerful. It is not easy to do well. However, it is a critical skill in order to be successful — not just today, but in tomorrow’s business environment.
* “Branding in the Digital Age: You’re Spending Your Money in All the Wrong Places” by David C. Edelman, Harvard Business Review, December 2010