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September 23, 2009
Using Facebook Fan Pages Effectively

Several people have told me recently they don’t think their Facebook pages have as many fans as their brand seems to call for. They asked me what they were doing “wrong” and how to improve their pages. One executive compared the “coolness” of his brand to a larger, boring brand that drew many more fans to its Facebook page, and said, “I don’t get it.”

I think one of the issues here is the inflation of language so pervasive in social networking. There’s a big difference between a real fan (short for fanatic) of your company, and someone who decides to “Become a Fan,” which takes the single click of a mouse and may never again involve engagement between the “fan” and the company.

Still, big business is creating fan pages and a study released in January 2009, commissioned by Princeton, N.J.-based interactive marketer Rosetta, found that 59% of the 100 leading retailers, including Best Buy, Kohl’s and Wal-Mart, are using Facebook. In fact, when I made informal inquiries into what companies had the best Facebook pages, large retail brands were most often cited. Victoria’s Secret's Pink and Whole Foods were both mentioned.

Among much smaller businesses, Boom Boom Cards of Santa Cruz, CA, does a nice job with its Facebook page. The page is frequently updated and makes good use of video and images. On the home page of its regular web site is a link titled Community Hub, which leads to the company’s blog as well as providing links to its Facebook, Twitter and YouTube accounts. I noticed Boom Boom Cards’s Facebook link opened to the Wall section of their Facebook page which is probably the right place to send people. Victoria’s Secret’s Pink on the other hand opens to a tab called The Scoop. There’s obviously some degree of choice and customization available. (For information on the mechanics of setting up a Facebook Fan Page, check out Facebook’s help area on this topic.)

The first step in Facebook Fan Page success is to have a strategy. You have a Web site, maybe a blog, perhaps a Twitter account and a few other social media vehicles. Why do you have a Facebook Fan Page? The answer is not “to engage with fans of our company,” though that may be an outcome. You should have a business strategy, like “grow revenue by 20% in 25-34 year olds.” That strategy will in turn “suggest” communications strategies and vehicles. If you think Facebook offers the right platform and demographic to achieve this goal, the time spent building and maintaining the page might be worthwhile.

While Facebook pages naturally reside within Facebook, they should be thought of as simply Web sites when it comes to attracting and retaining visitors. Many of the same principles apply:

1. Determine the purpose and audience for the page
2. Use it as a standalone communications channel, with a unique charter and frequently refreshed new content not available elsewhere. It’s OK to have some content from your other channels, but don’t just recycle content and run it through your Facebook page.
3. Provide something of relevance and value, such as how-tos, schedules of industry events, and informative or humorous videos. People are not going to return to the page simply because they love your company. They need a reason to come back.
4. Use your Facebook Fan Page to launch time-sensitive promotions. This creates a sense of urgency and drives people to the page.
5. Staff your Facebook page with a one or more company representatives who can keep it up-to-date, and can respond to comments and questions left on the page
6. Take advantage of the features Facebook makes available, like the ability to upload images, integration with YouTube and Twitter, status updates (which will appear in fans’ news feeds), creation of discussion boards, etc.
7. Watch out for overposting. If you have too much automation through FriendFeed, etc., you might find your blog posts displaying multiple times on the same network, which really bothers most people.
8. Coordinate your Facebook pages. If you have several that serve different purposes, name them and describe them in a way that helps people understand what each one is for, or consider deleting extraneous ones
9. Support independent (non-company owned) fan pages as long as they are largely positive.

Link from your regular web site and your blog to your company authorized Facebook pages (and all other company-maintained social media destination for that matter) to drive traffic and help people know which ones are sanctioned by the company. Ignore most (see #9 above) independent Facebook pages that use your logo and company name unless they are making gross misrepresentations or seriously harming the company’s reputation. Even then, consider the backlash of pursuing an independent page with legal action. It might not be worth it.

For some top, global brands, participation will mirror the enthusiasm surrounding the brand’s actual popularity, but for most, a fan page should not be seen as a direct measure of a brand’s appeal. The top three Toyota pages have about 90,000 fans combined (and nearly half of those are Prius fans.) The top three BMW pages have over 500,000 fans. Apple and Starbucks, predictably, have huge numbers. Apple has1.3 million fans on its main page, and Starbucks has 3,837,365, with another 1,362,237 fans on its Frappuccino page.

So what does this do to consumer behavior? I think many of Starbucks’ 5 million Facebook fans have not modified their habits since stepping up and clicking the “Become a Fan” link. They were already fans of the company and they aren’t drinking more coffee since they joined the Starbucks page. Many of the people I spoke with as I prepared this article said they didn’t pay much attention to the fan pages they had joined on Facebook. Often it’s a gesture, a way of saying, “sure, I like Starbucks.” Sometimes it’s aspirational. Ferrari typically produces 3000 to 4000 cars, so nearly all of the 650,000-plus members of its official Facebook Fan Page are just that, fans, of some sort, and not customers.

A Facebook Fan Page can be a useful part of the social media marketing mix, but expectations should be realistic. A fan page is particularly well-suited to promotions and unfolding stories, like a road trip, or a campaign tied to a sports team, a television program or a movie about to be released. The key is to keep content unique, relevant and engaging, give people a reason to come back, and most importantly, have objectives for your Facebook page and design and manage it accordingly.

If you enjoyed this article, please feel free to add me on Facebook and Twitter. Thanks!

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Joel Postman is the principal of Socialized, a consultancy that helps companies make effective use of social media in corporate communications, marketing and public relations. He's the author of SocialCorp: Social Media Goes Corporate, a handbook designed to help corporate communicators and executives understand how to successfully adopt social business strategies in large companies. Prior to founding Socialized, he was EVP of Emerging Media at Eastwick Communications a Silicon Valley public relations firm, and before that, he has a decade of Fortune 500 corporate communications experience, including leadership roles in executive and internal communications at Hewlett-Packard and Sun Microsystems.

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