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How effective is Facebook for small businesses?

How effective is Facebook for small businesses?

August 08, 2011 by Sarah Orchard

Or to put it another way, can you mix business with pleasure?

Since it started in 2004 — as a closed community for college students — Facebook has grown into a global phenomenon with nearly 700 million active users, making it the most used social media site in the world. It’s no wonder businesses have introduced it into their marketing strategy.

But does Facebook really work for small businesses? We all know just how successful it is in keeping friends and family in touch, but is it also a platform for selling and promoting your products and services? Well a recent survey by Webtrends suggests that it may not be the best strategy for certain businesses.

The Financial Times reported: “68 out of the Fortune 100 companies experienced a 23 per cent year-on-year fall in web traffic last November. Although social networks may be beneficial to FMCG brands like Coca-Cola, other sectors, such as online retailers and travel companies, find that transactional websites are more effective.” (31 March 2011)

I’m not at all surprised by that particular statistic or the overall findings of the survey. Any research I have conducted on behalf of clients interested in using Facebook as a means of promoting their small business has shown that it is a social space and users are not as receptive to business-oriented messages. More often, dedicated business networks such as LinkedIn are more productive, as is Twitter and blogging.

The important question to ask yourself is: “Is my business one that can tap into the social and emotional side of people’s lives?” If you are dealing directly with end consumers then Facebook may be a very effective option for you.

I visited a small Wiltshire village pub recently and I was delighted to see the owners taking full advantage of Facebook. I asked them about how effective Facebook was for them and they said it generated a lot of footfall and interest. Given how small they are and in a very rural location, it's a great way to increase their marketing reach and punch above their weight big time!

They regularly post up the latest news, pictures of their wonderful food, forthcoming menus, special promotions, reviews and create anticipation by dropping in little morsels of what’s happening soon. And of course people post comments about how much they enjoyed their meal (like I did of course!) or are looking forward to visiting soon.

So those comments appear in news feeds on their friends’ walls and, hey presto, through the magic of Facebook their brand awareness rises, interest grows and more people head for that particular remote but totally fantastic pub.

It’s a perfect scenario because of what that small business is all about – lifestyle and leisure time. Food evokes an emotional response, but selling your services as an accountant, for instance, is unlikely to create a buzz on Facebook.

As the Webtrends survey suggests, even certain global brands are unable to make Facebook work for them at present and it’s no different for small businesses. So learn from the mistakes and experiments of the big corporates – unless you’re selling something that has a feel-good factor about it, you’re probably better off concentrating your efforts on promoting your product or service within business networks and using other marketing tactics such as email and telemarketing.

Sarah Orchard is an expert contributor to Marketing Donut and a consultant at Orchard Marketing Associates.

You can read guides to social media for small businesses in our dedicated section on social media.

Comments

good post - we would add a simple message that small businesses shouldn't be shy about experimenting with a Facebook page; if they run it themselves the amount of time required is minimal, and it can be zero expense (obviously facebook ads aren't free, though!). If it doesn't work out for them, then just move on with other platforms until they discover what does work.

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