Does Facebook need an introduction? It's the world's biggest social network. There's a film about it. And no matter how the company fares in future, it has already had a significant impact on our society
As you probably know, Facebook is a free social network that helps friends keep in touch. You can post short status updates that are seen by your 'friends' - who can be anyone you've chosen to connect with on Facebook.
As Facebook has evolved, it's become enormous. More than a third of UK adults log on every day. The company also has a popular instant chat service (called Facebook Messenger) and is constantly experimenting with new services.
This social network's emphasis is on personal rather than business use, so it is best suited to businesses that target consumers rather than businesses.
Facebook began as a service to help college students in the US stay in touch. But today, it can help your business in all manner of ways. For instance:
The hub of your Facebook presence will be a page for your business. Through this, it is possible to build a presence quickly.
You can also spend money to advertise and promote your business on Facebook. The benefit to doing this is that you can get in front of more people - over the years, Facebook has made changes that make it harder for businesses to get in front of customers without spending money.
However, it's still possible to establish an effective Facebook presence without spending a penny. And as this social network exerts such a huge influence, it's wise to have some business information there.
It only takes a few minutes to create a Facebook page for your business. However, you may need to invest more time to reach a significant number of current and prospective customers.
Here's how to get started. You can change and fine tune everything later (or even delete it all and start again), so don't worry about getting everything right first time.
1. Get your own Facebook account
You need to have a personal Facebook account in order to create a business page. You can sign up for a personal account online in just a couple of minutes.
You don't have to enter an enormous amount of information about yourself now, but you might want to add details of your interests in order to identify yourself as an expert in your area of business.
(It might feel like you are blurring the boundaries between your personal and professional lives. However, this is how Facebook works, so you may have to adjust to this informal way of building relationships around your business.)
You can also join a 'network' (this might be your school, university or location, depending on which you identify with most) and can connect with people you know. Doing this will make it easier to attract people to your business page - but it's not compulsory.
You should also review your Facebook privacy settings to make sure you're happy with who can see what you post.
2. Start creating your page
Next, you can create a page for your business. If you're using Facebook on your main computer, select the arrow icon (top right), then choose Create page.
Facebook will walk you through the steps to create your business page. Initially, you'll be asked to choose what you're creating a page for. Most small businesses will select one of these options:
You'll them be prompted to enter information about your business. Facebook offers plenty of advice to help you decide what to enter. Be concise, but be sure to include essential information.
Having said that, don't agonise over what you enter. Once you've seen how the information appears on the page, you'll probably want to make changes anyway.
Facebook will also ask if you want to pay to promote your page. If you've not used Facebook for business before, skip this step. You can decide whether to start spending money once you've learnt more about how Facebook works.
3. View and tweak your page
Once you've entered the key details, your page will be generated. Facebook usually shows some tips to get you started – it's wise to read these.
You can edit most parts of the page by selecting them. For instance:
You'll also want to post your first status message. This can be anything at all about your business – perhaps a welcome message, an image of your products or details of an introductory special offer.
4. Invite people to your page
Facebook will encourage you to invite people to view and like your page.
To begin with, like your own page (just select the Like button). You can also invite your friends to the page, which is a good way to start making people aware of your Facebook presence.
You can also experiment with Facebook's audience targeting functions. To do this, select Settings > Preferred Page Audience. (There are also lots of other options to explore in this area.)
Once you've created a page for your business, try and sign in at least once a day. The more you post to your page, the more likely other people are to discover and engage with it.
When people do leave messages, it's important to respond, so other potential customers can see that your Facebook page is more than a token presence.
Know what you're trying to achieve
Before you start spending masses of time on Facebook, think about what you want from it and how much time you can give to it:
Being focused on a particular marketing goal (or a set of goals) will help you build a community of relevant Facebook members who are happy to publicly declare themselves fans of your business.
('Fans' is another way to describe people who choose to 'Like' your page on Facebook.)
Make the most of your page
It's impossible for us to cover all the possibilities of using Facebook here – particularly as they add new features regularly.
The best way to proceed is to get the basics right, then try different approaches to determine what works well for you.
Reward the people who like your page
Some Facebook business pages simply facilitate regular discussion. Others go for bursts of activity by running competitions or making special offers as a reward for fan loyalty.
Facebook enables you to define and promote offers to your fans, so you can reward the people who have indicated they like your business.
Consider promoting your page
Your Facebook page gives you an extra opportunity to get listed on search engines such as Google. Think what someone would type into a search engine if they were looking for your product or service and use these key words and phrases in your headings and content.
You can also engage with Facebook users on the fan pages of related businesses and organisations. Join other communities and comment on their pages. If you can establish your credibility, people will trace you back to your own fan page.
Facebook also allows you to invest money to promote your page and reach a wider audience. You don't need to invest a lot of money to get started, but it does take time to fine-tune your ad targeting to actually see a return on the money you spend.
Set up a detailed and accurate business page which features relevant keywords, then reap the rewards of being discovered by search engines.