Businesses on Facebook urged to develop risk plan, focus on engagement instead of fan numbers

Small businesses using Facebook have been warned to develop a detailed risk plan before they even start social media activities, in order to avoid any catastrophe or controversy that could threaten their reputation.

The recommendation comes as part of a detailed report into the Facebook activities of Australian companies, developed by social media consultancy Online Circle, which also warns that businesses with larger Facebook audiences have a harder time engaging them.

“What we’ve really learned is that the higher your fan base is, the more difficult it is to reach a higher percentage of users,” says Alan Long, the company’s general manager of social media analysis.

“We’re still seeing really strong fan growth among businesses, and it’s still early days. To engage your audience you really need some strong growth there.”

The Australian Facebook Performance Report details which industries are best at engaging their audiences, compared to the level of “fans” in each category. But Long says one of the key recommendations of the report is that businesses develop a risk plan in case anything goes wrong – as it has for some larger businesses.

Several Facebook controversies have seen shoppers protest on digital walls, filling them with disparaging comments and insults against the company and other users.

Long says this is a risk for any business on Facebook, so SMEs should develop a plan of attack.

“The risk plan is essentially what happens if something goes wrong,” he says. “Before you launch any type of social media program, you need to present a risk plan, decide where the threats are, and then act according to the plan.”

The report imagines a number of scenarios, including when a user mentions a competitor’s service, if a user offers an opinion other than your own, and the process for dealing with complaints that go beyond the scope of the person operating the Facebook page.

Long points out any negative experience is an opportunity to win a customer, so any business on Facebook needs to be careful about how they go about dealing with complaints.

“There is one company we know of which was attacked on Facebook, and their solution was just to tear the whole page down. That’s not a solution, and it’s going to cause them more trouble when they reactivate.”

“The easiest thing to make something go away is not necessarily the correct choice. A risk plan helps you deal with those types of problems.”

The report claims the snackfood sector is on top of the pack, with fan growth of 11.9%, and an engagement rate of 3.4%, although the grocery and alcohol sectors rivalled this with a 4.4% engagement rate.

Long says it’s hard to compare different industries as engagement rates will differ when the number of “fans” start increasing.

But he also says this is something businesses need to be aware of. While many may think the goal is to have as many fans as possible, this creates new problems.

“Are you trying to get engagement or build the biggest fan base possible?”

“It’s important to remember this is not a popularity contest; so he or she with the most fans does not win. Strategy is totally different to whether you have plenty of fans.”

“If you consider something like David Jones or Myer, they use their brand as awareness. Others may not. And that’s going to affect their engagement rate as well.”

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