Doing Facebook Right

So I’m going to actually post about the industry in which I work. I’m a digital strategist, and despite my best efforts, a fairly significant portion of my work involves social-media strategy, usually around Facebook.

International Speaker (her capitalisation, not mine) Debbie Mayo-Smith has published a column in the Small Business section of the NZ Herald asking the question, “Are Facebook business pages worth the effort?”

And she answers, “No.”

Well, not for her, anyway. She’s “done everything right” on her Facebook page for two years and has a measly 1056 fans to show for it. Here is what she’s done:

  • A monthly newsletter to 18,000 people including a request to like her page on Facebook
  • A live Facebook stream on her website
  • A “like” button on her website
  • A link to the Facebook page at the bottom of her Herald column
  • A “welcome” landing tab with a call-to-action at the top to click “like”
  • Posted links to her blog articles regularly on the page wall
  • Published a column in the Herald letting her 1056 fans know just how disappointed she is with them

And she diagnoses her problems, the reasons why Facebook hasn’t worked for her:

  • As a “business speaker and author”, her target demographic is primarily “middle-aged decision makers” who are too busy with responsibilities and families and the like for Facebook.
  • Even if they are using Facebook, they will probably miss her page’s activity because other wall activity will be more recent by the time they get around to checking their feed.

It’s not that there’s no value in Facebook, for Debbie. It’s just that the return on the investment of time, money and effort is too low to make it a priority when there are other avenues into which she can be putting that energy. And that’s fair enough. If something else is working more efficiently, do that first and foremost, obviously.

Now, Keren Phillips off of The Common Room has responded, pointing out that there are more ways to use Facebook than “having chatty ‘community building’ conversation and information sharing ‘engagement’ with them, and that engagement naturally converting to real-world sales”. And she’s correct.

But frankly, I don’t think that Debbie has actually “done everything right” in terms of this traditional model of Facebook use, and I’d hope that not too many SMEs take her advice on the matter seriously. They could be turning their back on a channel that would work just fine for their business.

So if I was to sit down and look at Debbie’s use of Facebook in order to give her professional recommendations, here’s what I would say.

1. Don’t mistake quantity for quality

1056 fans are nothing to be sneezed at. Those are over a thousand people who have gone out of their way to hear what you have to say, and haven’t (yet) taken the very simple step of clicking “unlike”. While it may seem like a low number when you’re comparing it to your DM channel of 18,000 people on your mailing list, there is potential there for every one of your Facebook fans to be worth ten mailing-list contacts. It’s not necessarily a numbers game. 50 highly engaged fans are more valuable to you than 10,000 who don’t engage at all.

2. Get rid of that appalling landing tab

The first thing a visitor to the Debbie Mayo-Smith brand page sees is a roughly five-page-long wordy advertisement. There’s a request to click “like” at the top. Then there’s… this…

And also this…

No area of business improvement Debbie can help you with is any larger than another, you see.

All of which makes me think of this…

You can read the entire landing tab for yourself. If you do, you’ll probably be one of the first. Now, I’m not saying to get rid of the landing tab altogether. It’s a good idea, just poorly executed. Your welcome page shouldn’t take ten minutes to read. The call to action at the top, inviting visitors to like the page, is also a good idea – just poorly executed.

So here’s what you do. Pay a designer and a copywriter to make you two images. The first will be visible to people who have not clicked “like” and the second will be visible to people who have clicked “like”. The first tells the visitor that the tab has exclusive members-only content which will be unlocked for them when they click “like”. The second is a static image at the top, very briefly detailing who you are and what you do, and underneath it is a link to buying one of your books with a 10% discount. Or some other product or service you offer. And rotate that so that there’s a different discount offer each week.

And the visitor should not have to scroll down to see all of the content on that landing tab.

And you set up that tab so that some content is visible to fans and some content is visible to non-fans. Google it if you don’t know how.

Yeah, I'm still thinking about graphs.

3. Don’t treat your Facebook wall as a direct-marketing channel

There are far too many posts on your wall that are simply links to your blog articles with a line asking people to share them with friends. That’s boring. Imagine Facebook like you’re hosting a party. You want people to attend, you want them to enjoy themselves, to talk to you and to each other, and to recommend your parties to other people. When you’re hosting a party, you wouldn’t walk up to people, hand them an article and say, “Tell your friends if you like this.”

So your job is first of all to be encouraging a community. In the past month, you’ve posted a few things that are roughly along the right lines. You had a nice discussion on the 6th of June about Air NZ’s gaffe on Facebook. You want to be posting more conversation starters, asking your fans what they think about things. When you’re giving your own opinion on something, make it short and sweet and invite your fans to contribute their thoughts. Mix things up a bit with the odd YouTube video (NOT videos of you) of things related to your field – maybe a TED talk or two, for example.

If you get some good engagement going on your posts – some conversation, especially – you won’t have to worry about the problem you mentioned: that your target demographic will miss your posts because they don’t check Facebook often enough. Many people are not following a “most recent” feed of activity. They’re following “top news”, which favours those items that Facebook guesses you’d find most interesting. And Facebook guesses that people will be interested in posts that generate a lot of discussion.

In other words, give your fans a reason for being there. Give them value – and that doesn’t mean just links to your articles. Give them value they can’t get by just subscribing to an RSS feed of your articles.

As you noted in your column, it’s not easy to do this. It will take time and effort.

4. Sell things occasionally, and give them away too

Yes, I just said not to treat it like a DM channel. But no one’s going to click on that “books” tab you’ve got. I’d bet money that you haven’t sold any of your books through clicks from Facebook. (And you should have analytics set up on your site so that you can measure precisely where sales are coming from, by the way.) So very occasionally link to purchase of one of your books, preferably with some kind of limited-time discount offer. And very occasionally link to more information about booking you for a speaking event.

Also, consider using your books as prizes in promotions. Now, you can’t use native Facebook functionality for your promotions (e.g., you can’t make something like posting a photo or a comment or sharing something a condition of entry), but you can link to a promotion that’s running on your site.

You’ve got more than books to give away. How about a free consultation? How about a free motivational talk or workshop with the winning entrant’s employees? Now, take that promotion and consider combining it with a bit of a spend in Facebook ads. Talk to Facebook about what they can offer you in the way of demographic targeting.

That’s far from all you could do, but that’s the lowest-hanging fruit. That’s bread-and-butter standard-fare first steps. If you combine all of the above, what do you have? A page that incentivises visitors clicking “like”, gives them more value when they do, encourages the kind of engagement that gives your wall posts a higher chance of being read, which keeps bringing them back, and actually has a chance of driving traffic through to purchase on your site.

So what I’m saying is: I’m sorry, you haven’t been doing it right. There’s no shame in that. Most don’t. But it’s a concern that your column might put off people who think you’re an authority on this particular matter. You could be doing some small-business owners a disservice by discouraging them from using a channel that could really benefit their company.

8 Comments Doing Facebook Right

  1. Robyn

    This makes me feel quite good about the Facebook page I look after. Due to some short-sighted page naming in the past, I effectively had to start from scratch, but have done quite well, now with more Likes than the other group, and interaction that indicates people genuinely like what’s going on.

  2. Debbie Mayo-Smith

    I love all your comments and the time you took to go through the site and also that you didn’t just blast the heck out of me like so many people do in blogging.

    Many points you make are wonderfully correct. Thank you. One small rebuttal which is I have given things away for free and I have spent lots of time asking questions, asking for help, chatting, interacting etc until just recently when I, shall we say, threw in the towel. I’ve migrated to working LinkedIn a bit more – proactively plus I’ve been out of the country recently on many speaking engagements thus not so free to connect in with social media.

    I still stand by my guns from all the experience I’ve had with small businesses – from insurance brokers to tradespeople from small retail businesses to funeral directors. From marinas to australian clubs – they all have very few fans and always very quickly give up because headway is so hard to make. When you don’t have the client base of ASB or AirNZ or the funds like Telecom to turn your social media into customer service extensions, Facebook isn’t a rational priority to let’s say database marketing.

    Finally – I know lots of people on it. My kids never get off. However again I look at the bottom line. Facebook is always changing – that’s why I wouldn’t agree to write a published book with Penguin on it – it would be out of date before it hit the stands. While most decision makers, and older generation types like me do use social media – we currently I feel retrun emails and telephone calls first. If any time is left over – then it is allocated to social media not the other way around.

    Therefore if one’s target market isn’t using it proactively or avidly. As Facebook might not even be THE thing in three years time, why would small businesses with small client bases waste their time when they can get more bang for their (free) buck elsewhere?

    1. Ryan Sproull

      Hi Debbie,

      Yes, I didn’t look further back than a month of your activity, and I understand your frustration and throwing in the towel. It can be very discouraging.

      If LinkedIn is giving you immediate results for much less investment, then absolutely, go where the business is.

      I return telephone calls and emails first too. But they are primarily one-one communication, lacking some of the opportunities that a community forum can offer.

      As I often say, social media is a tool – it is one of many; you are at a disadvantage if you do not know how and when to use it, but it is not the right tool for every job. At first glance, Facebook is almost certainly not the right tool for a funeral director.

      However, I think Facebook can work for a significant number of your column’s readers, which was my main concern. Also, I think Facebook can work for you specifically. You’ve felt like you’re pushing shit uphill for two years; fair enough. Try something different. Talk to people who might have other ideas. I’m sure you’ve done this at least a bit, but I really think that what you’re selling – books and speaking engagements – and the brand through which you’re selling them – Expert Advice Lady – have potential in that space.

      Finally, you talk about “bang for their (free) buck”. I’m very wary of that attitude. As I’m sure you can attest, success on Facebook doesn’t come free. It may not take money, but it takes time and effort and no small amount of optimism.

      Thanks for your response. I’m glad LinkedIn is working for you, and I do think you should invest in what gives you the best return. And I really do sympathise with that Facebook discouragement. Good luck.

  3. Vaughn

    Interestingly, I understand Debbie has been contracted by Penguin NZ to write a book on social media. No true!


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