Particularly over the last couple of years, Facebook has become much more than a great way to share pictures of the grandkids or hilarious cat videos. It’s become one of the most powerful marketing tools available, and an essential part of every forward-looking business’s arsenal.
In fact, some business consultants state flatly that a presence on Facebook – and, perhaps, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, Pinterest, and Instagram – is no longer an option if you want to gain credibility as a progressive company, especially with the younger generation of consumers out there. The advantages to building an engaging online social media presence are so overwhelming that if you haven’t turned your attention to it yet, it could actually be costing you, not just in missed opportunities but potential sales.
“It’s really a necessity these days, especially if you want to reach out to millenials and Gen Y-ers – the 20 to 35 demographic,” says Bob Greenwood, AAM (Accredited Automotive Manager) and president and C.E.O. of Automotive Aftermarket E-Learning Centre Ltd. (AAEC). “They should be able to see you are savvy about technology. Interestingly, because a lot of jobbers are in the older generation, they don’t think about that, but it’s essential today.”
One of the most basic advantages of Facebook is that it’s not only free to create a page, but you have complete control over the message you present. You can design your page the way you want, choose what to post and how often, what kind of followers you want to target, and how it should project your company image. And as an instant communications vehicle and a way of keeping in touch with your followers, it’s peerless.
As Bestbuy Distributors’ marketing manager, Karen Barkin, explains, “It keeps our members in the loop, gives them marketing insights, and keeps them up on what’s happening with vendors in Canada and the U.S. We try to post different things of interest, such as news about our members’ events. And the beauty of it is it’s moment-by-moment – you don’t have to wait for a newsletter, for example.
“But the reach goes way beyond a marketing strategy,” Barkin continues. “The loyalty aspect is huge. And it’s great for us to see another generation of sons and daughters becoming involved.”
However, simply signing up and launching a Facebook page is not enough, Greenwood advises. Before you take this step, take the time to decide exactly what you want to accomplish. Think carefully about what content you will post on it, and make a commitment to maintain it. “You have to take it seriously,” he says. “Start out with a real purpose and plan before you launch. Treat it like a formal part of your overall marketing program, which is accountable like any other aspect.”
Your initial discussion on how to approach your Facebook presence should centre on who you are as a company – what distinguishes you, and your particular marketplace. “For many jobbers, the hardest thing to decide, often, is ‘What defines me? What value do I bring?’ This is a very difficult question, and I don’t think there’s one answer for everyone. One company might be very involved in their community, another might be very involved in motorsport, or it may be more hidden than that. But if you set yourself up to have that conversation, then you can decide how you want to approach your social media marketing.”
What do you want your Facebook “face” to present to the world? Do you see it primarily as a way to build brand awareness? Provide marketing and promotion updates, such as information on sales or discounts? Publicize the company’s involvement with the community, such as volunteer or fundraising initiatives? Or do you want to provide a more human face for your company and build a sense of community, with news about members, updates on company barbecues or social events, and items of interest such as informative articles about the industry? Any, or all, of these ideas make engaging posts that will encourage your audience to follow you and interact with the page.
For Bestbuy’s Facebook presence, says Barkin, the goal was to increase the buying group’s exposure with its members and to enhance brand awareness, with consumers as well as members. “Bestbuy has very close relations with our partners, and the interaction is priceless,” she says. “We try to post different things of interest, such as news about our members, and we do things like Throwback Thursday, which is a lot of fun! We post old articles, photos, etc. As well as, of course, more serious news about our vendors, such as training clinics and so on. We try to keep the focus on Bestbuy business, but it has a personal aspect as well that builds traffic and a sense of community.
“One of the best examples of something that’s perfect to post on Facebook was when we had our warehouse opening in February. The mayor of Mississauga, Bonnie Crombie, and our longtime former mayor Hazel McCallion, both attended, and just the mention of their name brought us new followers, among the public as well as members.”
However you choose to present your social media image, it’s vitally important that you maintain it regularly and treat it as an integral part of your marketing. (“I’ve seen Facebook pages from jobbers where the last post was in 2012,” says Greenwood, with a touch of disbelief in his voice.) If you are a technological tenderfoot, hire a millennial who has the authority to manage the page for you and keep it fresh and relevant; a site that has gobbledygook or is not updated frequently can be worse than none at all.
Once the page is up, the goal is to build followers and even better, interaction, for another of social media’s virtues is the fact that direct interaction with your audience happens in real time, and is completely transparent. “Make sure your sales reps are talking about it and encouraging customers to visit the site,” he says. Your reps can draw customers’ attention to recent posts, such as a coupon or a recent update from a vendor. Promote an upcoming training seminar through conventional means (such as email or your website), then direct customers to visit your Facebook page for more detailed information. Cross-promote it by posting a link on your website, a banner on your invoices saying “Visit us on Facebook!”, or adding a Facebook symbol or banner to your advertising materials.
“We have a Twitter account as well, where we do a lot of reposts,” says Barkin. “We usually try to mirror what we do on Facebook, so it drives traffic to the Facebook site.”
After your Facebook page has been up and running for a while, you’ll soon get an idea of what followers are responding to, on the page itself as well as, by extension, your business. You should aim for a minimum of at least one new post a week, though like many aspects of Facebook marketing, this is variable depending on the audience you want to attract and your goals. And Greenwood adds that about once a month, you should review your page and see what can be modified; another of the advantages of this type of marketing is that it’s simple to make changes in direction if a particular approach isn’t working.
“Another one of the great things about social media is you can track it very easily, with likes and hits and comments,” observes Greenwood. And the more current and relevant you make it – not just with business information and company updates, but with a few “soft” posts, such as social events or even the occasional humourous or human-interest item – the more traffic and followers, and therefore brand awareness that leads to new customers, the page can potentially deliver.
“A lot of people, especially the older generation, are scared of Facebook, because what goes on there is forever, and also because they are reluctant to take on the responsibility of maintaining it. But it’s not really an option any more, especially if you want to capture a younger audience. So don’t hide from it. Take it seriously and treat it like any other marketing initiative.”