Marketing on Facebook 101

December 11, 2011
| By Pete Daly |
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Every business, no matter its size, that wants repeat customers should build a “fan” page on Facebook, if they haven’t already, according to Kevin Colleran.

But don’t forget the maintenance.

Colleran, who spoke at The Economic Club of Grand Rapids last week, recently ended a six-and-a-half-year stint as a sales executive at Facebook.

Facebook is by far the world’s biggest social networking website, with 800 million users, and is now one of the world’s most powerful marketing tools — if used correctly.

Described as “Facebook’s pioneering sales executive and among its first 10 employees,” Colleran, 30, has nothing but good things to say about Facebook and its founder, Mark Zuckerberg. Colleran left the company in July on good terms after deciding he wanted to switch gears in his career and take a few months off.

Colleran said there are ways to effectively use Facebook as a marketing tool.

“There are absolutely businesses out there for which Facebook is a free marketing tool,” he told the Business Journal, but it can backfire if not approached carefully.

Colleran said the first big mistake a business typically makes is to launch a Facebook page without first having a conversation within the company to determine “what you are actually going to say to customers with the page. I think many companies just kind of put up a page and then, after the fact, figure out what they’re going to do with it. Or they give the keys to the page” to an advertising or public relations agency rather than handling it internally.

When handed off to outsiders, maintenance of a Facebook page often tends to become the responsibility of a junior member of the agency’s staff, often someone who only knows a limited amount about the company and “doesn’t know all the conversations” the business could be having with consumers via its Facebook page, he said.

Colleran made a joke about major corporations that launched Facebook pages and then contacted Facebook to report problems maintaining it — often because “the intern” had gone back to college.

But big corporations are much smarter now regarding the marketing potential on social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Colleran said Starbucks may now have more than 30 million “likes,” and Coke has about 40 million.

While an individual with a Facebook page creates “friends,” businesses and organizations may not create friends. Instead, Facebook offers companies the opportunity to let consumers “like” the organization, enabling two-way communication between the company and the individual.

To get consumers to visit a fan page, a business needs to offer something of value, such as special offers, Colleran said.

He said the second biggest mistake companies make, after not having an internal conversation before launching their Facebook page, is launching one and then abandoning it or infrequently checking it.

“Consumers believe that if you put up a (Facebook) page, you will maintain that page and be there to answer questions and deal with issues,” said Colleran.

Too often, he said, a “brand” will put up a page that is particularly focused on a specific event or initiative. Then time passes and the page is “no longer a priority to them, and they forget to come back.” Meanwhile, the consumer continues to ask questions.

“No one responds,” said Colleran. “That’s the same as telling everyone an 800 number and then not answering that phone. Or listing your company address for comments or questions, and not reading the mail.”

He said he suspects some business people think Facebook is a marketing tool they can turn off. “In reality, there’s no turning it off. The only way to turn it off is to take the entire page down — which doesn’t make much sense at all,” said Colleran.

So a large company, which will presumably get a lot of traffic on its Facebook page, will need to devote a lot more human resources to maintaining it than a small company.

“There’s a very big difference between what a small mom-and-pop needs to do and what a big company needs to do,” said Colleran.

Starbucks, for example, has more than 10 full-time employees maintaining its Facebook page at all times, making sure questions are answered, and negative or obscene commentary is not posted for the world to see, he said.

The only major geographic market Facebook has not yet entered is China, according to Colleran. The Chinese government requires that “you have your servers that host the site inside their walls.” It insists upon having “essentially what is a master key to go into the (Facebook) data when they want to, for whatever reason. And Facebook refuses to allow a government to be able to access people’s personal Facebook data without having some sort of court order,” he said.

“All Internet traffic in China goes through the government computers, so they can — on their own — decide which sites to turn on and which sites to turn off, and since the beginning, Facebook has always been turned off,” he said.

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