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As a small business owner you're in a great position to start exploiting social media for all its worth, adding much sought after personalisation and relevance at an integral stage of your development.

Although social media can be a fairly time consuming practice depending on how many platforms you choose to use, it's also the key way for a small business to develop awareness, raise its profile, gauge its market and interact with existing and future customers. 

As the UK is celebrating its first Small Business Saturday on December 7 2013, here is the second in a series of posts that takes a look at each individual social media platform in turn (last week we looked at Pinterest for small businesses) and highlights how you can achieve the best from each one. 

This week: Facebook.

As of November 2013, Facebook has more than 1.19bn global users. It’s a social media giant, but then you don’t need telling that. It’s the single most ubiquitous social media brand on the planet; its language and terminology has seeped so deeply into our cultural knowledge that it’s hard to imagine life without it.

But then, maybe we felt that way about Myspace less than a decade ago.

Here’s some more bafflingly lofty stats from Facebook’s own research:

  • 4.5bn 'likes' are generated daily.
  • 728m people log into Facebook daily.
  • In Europe, over 223m people are on Facebook.
  • 4.75bn pieces of content are shared daily.

And most importantly for our purposes:

  • 16m local business pages have been created as of May 2013, this is a 100% increase from June 2012.

If anything this proves that your small business should definitely have a presence on Facebook. However, the questions of how much time you devote to it and how you use it effectively are very different matters.

Engagement

It’s hard to get past the ‘broadcast’ qualities of Facebook. From the time any business, brand or organisation could set up its own page, and be liked by potential followers, it’s been difficult to cultivate any real interaction.

I run my own music website, this website has it’s own Facebook page, and every article I write for the site I then share on Facebook. I achieve very little interaction on Facebook. I have roughly 90 followers, of those 90 followers, maybe two of them will like a post, maybe one will leave a comment. This happens approximately one out of every four posts.

This is vaguely depressing, especially coupled with the fact that the majority of these people are my own friends and family. So what am I doing wrong?

Well I don’t have enough followers, this fact is abundantly clear. Coca-Cola has 76m likes. Red Bull has 41m. These figures are staggering, but what about smaller UK businesses? 

To use the same examples I used in last week’s Pinterest for small business post, London based jewellery company Tatty Devine has 19,583 likes. Organic farming company Riverford has 23,800 likes and Scottish craft beer company BrewDog has 48,700 likes.

Comparing Tatty Devine’s 19,583 likes with Tiffany & Co.’s 5m may seem ridiculous, but of the last few Tiffany & Co. posts, each one achieved between 30,000 to 40,000 likes with 200 to 500 comments. Tatty Devine’s last few posts achieved 35 to 100 likes and between two to five comments. 

This means that the percentage of engagement (number of followers compared to number of likes per post) for both brands is approximately the same. 1%.

No matter how many likes or followers your brand has, you can generally expect 1% of them to engage. I will point out that this is very rough maths that I’m using here and the research I’ve done is only on with a handful of comparisons, but it’s worth bearing in mind. 

It should also be noted that even though the results don’t sound great, these are still results nonetheless. For the above small businesses that have a few thousand followers, those are still a few thousand followers that are aware of your brand and will theoretically be exposed to your products and activities. In a way, amassing these 'likes' is a simple way of adding social proof to your brand.

There are still things you can do to improve matters, increase interactivity and pop you over the 1%.

The Basics

Make sure your profile picture is your recognised brand logo. You can go slightly more ‘off-road’ with your cover picture, but even then it should have something to do with your company or business.

In your ‘About’ section, do not forget to add a direct link to your actual website. Also don’t forget links to your other social media channels.

Contact links, such as phone number, business address and email address should be right there at the top of the page too.

Don’t forget to invite everyone in your own friends list to like your page. Everyone needs a brand ambassador, especially in the early days. It might as well be someone you know.

Know what to post

This should be valuable, quality content: this could mean many things. Something entertaining, funny, interesting, helpful... any of these types of content can mean quality to a follower.

Find relevant content to share with your community: engaging and replying to followers is a must, but also proactively sharing useful content with them is important too. 

Get the balance right: using Facebook as a marketing/broadcast platform and as an engagement platform isn’t that difficult. Basically don’t broadcast your own content too much, just engage with your community in an open manner, then the occasional piece of marketing written in your identifiable tone of voice will achieve a much better and positive response.

Mix it up: go off topic. Share content that isn’t even your own. Entertain your community and you’ll retain their interest and loyalty.

Ask questions: this may seem like a transparent way to drive conversation, but drive conversation it does. Perhaps getting away from the more manipulative hard-sell of asking ‘what do you like most about our product?’, and instead ask slightly more lateral questions that are in the realm of your business. Just remember that a question will achieve higher comments, but fewer 'likes' and shares.

Be visual: according to Kissmetrics, photos get 53% more 'likes', 104% more comments and 84% more click-throughs on links than text-based posts. Perhaps consider using Instagram to share your photographs to Facebook, thereby utilising two channels and extending your online reach.

Be concise with your text: 250 characters seems to be the maximum length for Facebook posts, and be visual as much as you can. 

Facebook exclusives: if you’re serious about cultivating a strong Facebook presence that has a maximum response rate, consider spreading you content across multiple platforms rather than repeating it. This encourages users to follow you across all channels, and not to drop/block/unfollow your company if all you’re doing is dual or triple broadcasting.

Competitions, promotions and sneak-previews of forthcoming products: these exclusives are a great way to build up a following. Using your other social media channels to promote exclusives elsewhere will help bolster your channels and encourage followers on each one.

Know when to post

According to bitly blog, links posted from 1pm-4pm achieve the highest click-through rate. The peak time of the week is 3pm on a Wednesday.

Facebook traffic ramps up after 9am and recedes after 4pm. On Thursdays and Fridays, engagement is 18% higher than the rest of the week.

So, if you want to market a product, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday lunchtimes are best. If you want to start a conversation, wait till Thursday or the first half of Friday.

Most people will advise you not to post over the weekend as the traffic is low, but that also means there’s less competition for follower’s attention. The big brands don’t bother posting at the weekend, so maybe that’s why you should.

Know who you’re posting to

Yes your followers may ostensibly be ‘fans of yours’, but you still don’t necessarily know exactly what they’ll respond to in terms of your content. This will take some time, trial and error, and the results are different for every brand.  

Monitor which posts get the maximum engagement and tailor accordingly. That’s not to say that you should produce content specifically for Facebook, but the way you market content should definitely change from channel to channel.

Facebook Insights is a tool provided by Facebook itself, and is great free way to understand your audience by showing what users respond to the most. Here’s a recent post looking in greater detail at Insights and permission based Facebook data and what this means for marketers.

As time-consuming as it may be, do engage with the followers that comment on your posts, even if you’re disappointed with the number of them. One happy follower who feels like they’ve had a conversation with a brand is of much more valuable than 20 followers ignored. Even if it’s just a “Thanks” to a compliment, with the user’s name tagged in the response. 

Responding to negative comments also makes your company seem like the ‘bigger party’. It’s very easy to just ignore negativity, but if you respond politely and eloquently, your company will appear all the better for it, promoting your own integrity.

In conclusion...

As I stated earlier, Facebook shouldn't be ignored.

Yes there are trendier channels out there each with its own positives. With Twitter it's much easier to keep engagement consistent and on a one-to-one basis. Twitter encourages conversation; broadcasting mouthpieces tend to be ignored.

Pinterest is a visual platform that encourages creativity and imaginative spark. Pinterest is also brilliant at driving consumers towards your ecommerce site.

It's Facebook's sheer weight of numbers and cultural unbiquity that means that it's vital for your business to have a presence there.

Being succesful on Facebook means being as interactive as you are on Twitter, being as attractive as you are on Pinterest and Instagram, but also finding a way for your Facebook channel to be its own, diverse plaform in its own right.

Further reading for beginners

During my first year at Econsultancy I’ve been making a point of writing beginner’s guides to any new terms or phrases I find particularly baffling, or that I might suspect other people may find baffling too. 

The following related articles should help clear up a few things… 

Christopher Ratcliff

Published 2 December, 2013 by Christopher Ratcliff

Christopher Ratcliff is the editor of Methods Unsound. He was the Deputy Editor of Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or connect via Google+ and LinkedIn

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Comments (4)

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Rob Kischuk

"Know when to post" "Facebook traffic ramps up after 9am and recedes after 4pm."

You're absolutely right - posting at the right time is one of the easiest opportunities to get your content in front of the right audience.

It turns out that each page's audience is quite different, however. Some pages peak at 5 pm, some at 9 am, or late night at 9 pm. Check the "Posts" tab under your page's insights to see the data. Average it over multiple weeks for better data, or use a tool that will do this for you.

almost 3 years ago

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Berghaus Antelao Jacket

As a small business owner, I would I have to agree Social is the best way of generating free and relevant traffic to my blog and website.

I do spend a lot of time thinking about the social strategy and trying to get it right, to much and would upset my followers and lose them, not enough and I would drive no traffic.

All posts cant be about my website otherwise people would get bored, and end up unfollowing so have to get relevant stories from around the web

almost 3 years ago

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Hannah

Thanks for the post - there is some useful info there. However, you attribute the low number of likes as the reason your example page is not performing particularly well in engagement but you don't really give any advice about how to increase likes beyond inviting friends.

I run several Facebook accounts and some grow organically but one in particular is proving to be very challenging. I only have 50 likes, with very little engagement on my posts meaning there are no stories (e.g. "Jack liked this post") to attract new followers. Plus I believe that Facebook filter the content they display in news feeds prioritising the users and pages that individuals interact with. Does this mean if my followers haven't liked or commented on a post they will stop even seeing my posts - certainly some of my posts are seen by very free people? It feels like a vicious circle!

almost 3 years ago

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Burchfield

Pretty great post. I simply stumbled upon your blog and
wanted to say that I have truly loved surfing around your weblog posts.

After all I will be subscribing to your feed and I am hoping you write
once more very soon!

almost 3 years ago

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