By Carol Arthur, Northern Lights Pr

Which business people are using Facebook?

Whenever we run a workshop or talk to clients about social media we usually get the same response about Facebook — “It’s something my kids use — definitely not for me”.

While it is true that Facebook remains a significant communication tool for most young people under 25, the fastest growing users are the over 50s. Your son or daughter might be embarrassed that you are in their digital space — the online equivalent of ‘sad dad dancing’ — but the silver surfers are on Facebook in their hundreds of thousands with the oldest user 103!

It is hard to believe that Facebook started just over six years ago at Harvard University. Its use in the UK was initially limited to students at the elite Russell Group of Universities. Photographs of drunken students behaving badly are probably the main reason why Facebook is still seen by many professionals as inappropriate for business use. And the reason why many young people positively discourage their parents from signing up.

Communicating with your target audience online is the same as it is for offline — who are they, where will you find them, what do they read, where do they go, what are their interests? If you are working with or targeting young professionals, then you should certainly be considering Facebook as part of your marketing and communications mix. And many companies now recognise that Facebook is a good platform for engaging with the over 50s too.

If your audience is global then you may also want to consider using Facebook, which now has 500 million users worldwide and is the top social network site in many countries. These include India, where it took the number one spot in July 2010 with 20.9 million visitors — a 179 per cent increase from the previous year. However, you can forget reaching customers in China — Facebook is banned there.

The golden rule about business use of Facebook is to engage with and relate to your audience, not push information at them. Encourage two way communication and feedback, even if you don’t always like what people are saying. If you simply talk at people, or use your Facebook page only to promote your services or products, you will not build those rich relationships that could benefit your business — and worse, you could destroy relationships.

One of the biggest criticisms about Facebook is the lack of privacy. Employers are known to check out the social networking site for indiscreet photographs of job applicants. So well known is this practice that sensible PR lecturers at Leeds Metropolitan University advise their students to cleanse their Facebook profiles of anything that could harm their future employment.

In a blog on TNW, Alex Wilhem says: “In a shocking report from Hitwise, Facebook was the most visited site on the internet in the US for 2010, beating Google out of its crown. In 2010, Facebook accumulated some 8.93% of site visits online, while Google secured just 7.19%.

People increasingly follow the links posted by their friends, a reason why clips on YouTube can attract thousands of viewers. And another good reason to have a blog!

Why would a business use Facebook?

To build brand awareness

Corporates such as Coca Cola recognise that Facebook is a great place to engage directly with their customers. Rather than advertising at customers, savvy brands use Facebook to create innovative campaigns and interact in a way that is not possible offline. In fact the Coca Cola page was started unofficially by two fans before the brand had a presence on Facebook. Rather than close down the page, Coca Cola invited the two users to visit the drinks factory and take photographs. The two fans are still heavily involved in the Facebook page which is ‘liked’ by a staggering 22,136,659 people.

Direct communication

Some charities have been quick to recognise the opportunities that Facebook brings for them to communicate directly with their supporters and to help them to influence and fundraise. Not for profit organisations, usually restricted by tight budgets, can afford to be creative in a way that would not be possible offline. Oxfam has a particularly effective presence using video and animation to drive donations and calls to action for particular causes.

To network and build relationships

Facebook might be more social than LinkedIn but you can have valuable relationships which could lead to business. To use an offline analogy, LinkedIn is the CBI, the IoD or The Rotary Club whereas Facebook is more like the local tennis club, the pub or even your hairdresser. All places where you can meet someone you might in future do business with. We know of several senior people who chose not to be on LinkedIn - sometimes because their jobs are too sensitive - but who are on Facebook in a personal, not professional capacity. We have secured conference speakers from our own Facebook networks of friends.

To recruit talent

As part of their recruitment strategy, Ernst & Young created their first Facebook group page in 2006 to connect with students interested in learning more about careers with the global company. Now, 58,967 people ‘like’ the Ernst & Young’s Facebook page. In order to create a pool of the brightest talent, Ernst & Young starts an online relationship with university students months — and even years — before they graduate.

To move up Google rankings

Having a Facebook page for your business will increase your online visibility. A Facebook page is public so any links you put into it back to your website or blog are known as ‘do follow’ and will be picked up by search engines. By updating your page regularly with links back to your site you should move up the rankings. This won’t happen if you have a ‘group’ rather than a ‘page’ — the differences are explained below.

To promote an event and engage with delegates

Facebook allows you to invite people to an event, post reminders and carry on discussions with delegates. You can see who is going to attend your event and those who are maybes. With so many young professionals using the social network, Facebook can be an excellent way of promoting an event to would-be delegates. The Yorkshire & Lincolnshire group of Chartered Institute of PR (CIPR) has its own Facebook group (see definition of terms below) which it uses to promote forthcoming events. Attendance at events has improved since the CIPR started to use Facebook as a marketing tool.

To manage your reputation

A Facebook campaign against a brand or business is far from unusual. Disgruntled customers or former employees can criticise a company through their own personal profile, through a brand’s Facebook page or even set up a specific page or group to criticise or campaign against an organisation or product. Instead of ignoring the complaints, or trying to take down negative comments, you can use Facebook to put your side of the argument, to address customer concerns and to ask customers and people who do rate you to share their positive comments on your Facebook page. If you have made a mistake then admit it, but stay cool and don’t get involved in a Facebook catfight.

This article was taken from the ebook: Why you can't ignore social media in business

Watch the video below featuring Jemima Gibbons of AAB Engage discussing ow social media can positively impact your business.


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