With so many ways to engage consumers these days, many brands are unsure how to proceed. Most companies are used to a one-way flow of information, and the thought of engaging daily in conversations with customers is a daunting task. Who should manage social media strategy? PR? The ad agency? Corporate marketing? The individual product teams? How much of the marketing budget should be invested in social media? How should success be measured? With so many questions, it's easy to see why many brands are just dipping their toes in or starting very small.
The Engagementdb Report published in July sends a clear message about the power of social media. The report, created by Wetpaint and Altimeter, looks at how top brands leverage social media. What they found is that "the most valuable brands in the world are experiencing a direct correlation between top financial performance and deep social media engagement... Socially engaged companies are in fact more financially successful." With all the talk about whether there's ROI in social media, it's great to see a correlation between engagement and financial success.
The report, however, doesn't advise brands to go full-throttle into social media until they've thought through their strategy. Brands need to find the level of social media engagement that makes sense for them today and stick to their plans. The report warns that once you begin to have conversations with your customers, there's no easy way to step out.
With more than 250 million users and great tools for brands, Facebook is an obvious place for brands to start engaging with their audiences. Facebook Pages were created specifically for the needs of businesses interested in reaching their audiences on Facebook. Creating a fan page is free and easy, but there are some common sense practices, as well as tricks, to ensuring your fan page is successful.
1. Don't lose new visitors
The fan page admin can determine where new visitors to fan pages land, so make sure they land on a welcoming, fun page that provides enough information with a clear call-to-action for them to become a fan. Think of your fan page as a cocktail party. If a neighbor shows up and walks into a room full of people talking a different language and no one greets him, he won't feel welcome or understand what is going on. But if you greet him at the door and explain that the party is for your French club, he will understand and will perhaps dig deep to find his high school French skills.
Rather than dropping new visitors into the "wall," which is the default, Toms Shoes brings them to a less cluttered page that reminds them to become a fan and tells them the quick story of Toms Shoes, complete with a short video of a shoe drop. It's clean, simple, and easy to understand -- a welcoming portal.
2. Provide fresh content
Many people don't realize that they can keep their Facebook fan pages up-to-date by including RSS feeds and other forms of dynamic content. On our company page, we added a series of widgets that include our blog, Twitter feed, and press releases. Depending on your business, you can also include a video widget with your YouTube channel, a photo widget using your Flickr feed, etc. All this content is updated live, as new content is added to the feeds, without us having to touch the page. It's great to know that the page will always be up-to-date for our fans, and it's great to not have to update every page where we display our content.
3. Give your audience a reason to become a fan
I think it's fair to say that loyal fans like to be treated differently than regular customers. They want to be treated like insiders. They want to know about sales in advance and get access to exclusive information and special discounts. A Facebook fan page is the perfect place to reward fans because they have specifically chosen to associate themselves with your brand in front of all their friends. In the offline world, this is equivalent to putting a bumper sticker on their car.
A great example of a company that uses its Facebook Page to reward fans is surf apparel maker Hurley. Last week the company webcast a surfing event live on Facebook only for fans. Providing exclusive content makes your fans feel special and informed, which is crucial to retention.
4. Update away -- but put yourself in the fan's shoes
Before you send any update to your fans, you should ask yourself, "Does this update provide value?" If you treat your fans like low-hanging fruit, they will quickly leave you. But if you treat them like an inner-circle of trusted friends, you will keep them happy. Any message to them as a group should express gratitude, friendship, and value. Messages through fan pages appear as updates in the "request section" of the homepage, making them easy to ignore if fans stop looking for them.
Here's a great example of a value-rich message from Hurley.
In addition to expressing gratitude, the company is "giving back" to its fans with exclusive content and special discounts.
5. Be smart with your images
This tip is slightly tricky, but it works. Your profile image and thumbnail image can, and should be, strategic. Look what happens when I do a search for the California Academy of Sciences' fan page.
Because the image is long, it takes up more of the results page and is much easier to find. While the blank space isn't usable, your eye is definitely drawn to it. Your thumbnail image should be your logo, since it travels with every update or post that is sent. When your fans get used to it, they will look for it to differentiate official posts on the fan page from fan posts.
6. Encourage interaction in your posts
Fans want to contribute to discussions, but they sometimes need a little prodding. It's always hard to think of something to say when they're given a blank slate. Get them started by ending your posts with a question back to the community, or include a poll. Often, fans want to contribute but are intimidated and think they need an earth-shattering comment in order to post.
As an example, the Toyota Prius fan page admin continually posts little polls for people to answer. Since it's so easy to respond, many people participate and leave their mark on the page.
7. Nothing spreads the word like photos
Another great tip for virality is to encourage your fans to post photos to the fan page and tag them. When the photos are tagged, they appear in the news stream of the tagged person's friends, along with the link to the fan page. This works especially well for businesses that have events, retail outlets, or products that can be photographed. For example, a clothing company can have a photo page that encourages people to post and tag pictures of them wearing your brand. Or if you are a tech company that gives away T-shirts at a tradeshow, ask people to tag the photos for their page.
In this example, you can see how Joey's picture, posted to the California Academy of Sciences, appears in the news streams of his friends.
8. Monitor and engage
I am continually shocked by the number of companies that have Facebook fan pages but aren't monitoring them closely. If your company has a page and you haven't tasked someone with making sure the comments are responded to regularly, you are missing a huge opportunity and likely doing more damage than good. Social media is about conversations, not the one-way broadcast of ideas. There's no reason to have a fan page if you're not going to engage with fans. Why would anyone want to associate with a brand that doesn't take the time to listen to fans?
As an example of someone doing it correctly, the author of "Cooking with All Things Trader Joe's" engages with fans in a friendly, natural way.
9. Determine your strategy in advance
Before you post your Facebook fan page, your company should have an employee policy around social media. Employees should know what is acceptable to post, and what is cause for dismissal. I recently went to the Starbucks fan page and, on the discussions tab, there was a topic about rude customers, started by an employee. If your company employees are young or part-time workers that might not understand the ramifications of bad PR, it's best to have a policy that is clear and leaves no room for misunderstanding.
10. Treat your fan page like an online ad and optimize
Fan page administrators have access to reporting tools and can use the tools to optimize the performance of the page. All posts are given a quality rating based on how many people comment, like, and write posts in response. You can use this quality rating to get a better understanding about what fans want to see from you.
The Facebook Pages platform provides the most effective way for businesses to engage fans on Facebook. But to be successful, you must remember that pages are a two-way conversation, and you need to be present and active. The rewards are great. Embracing this form of interaction will build deeper connections with your most loyal advocates.
I hope these tips and examples have provided value. If anyone has other tips or ideas, I would love to hear them. Social media welcomes two-way conversations better than any other medium out there.
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