Regular readers of this blog will know I have taken a very cautious approach to social media when it comes to smaller business.
I’ve taken considerable care to ensure that this blog doesn’t get carried away in the swell of the most-hyped online developments since Google.
Because, in the wrong hands, Facebook and other social networks can not only be a strain on misplaced advertising dollars but also a productivity killer.
Many business operators have pulled their hair out watching money better spent elsewhere achieving useless ‘Likes’ to their business pages, or seeing hours of their own or their staff time chewed up with posting, tweeting and chatting.
But after much experimentation, research, reading and conversations with smaller business operators, I’m of the opinion that, provided it’s well managed, Facebook can indeed provide significant ROI for SMEs.
Here, and with next week’s post, I will outline why.
First, I’m going to outline five benefits that don’t even require a business page. Simply by using your personal account there are an increasingly compelling range of reasons to spend your time on Facebook.
That’s right, your personal account/page.
Many smaller business operators, particularly those working alone or remotely, report feeling isolated from others, be they staff, suppliers, clients or other partners.
Even if you do have staff, being the boss is renowned as being the loneliest job in business. Facebook provides the opportunity to achieve the ‘water cooler conversation’ that the staff of larger businesses enjoy. And this can make work more enjoyable and productive – if it isn’t overdone.
2. Peer support
Typically the domain of professional network LinkedIn, Facebook users are now enjoying the company and opinions of their peers on Facebook. There is now an increasing number of Groups dealing with business topics and in them all manner of business topics are being discussed as you read this.
These Groups mean your fellow business operators have the opportunity to provide you with their opinion on pretty much any issue you are encountering in your business.
It’s one realm where the integrity of the community soon repels any misinformation or vested interest that a conversant may promote. Magically, members of the Group push good advice to the top of the pile by either Liking or endorsing comments with their own. Admittedly not all Groups are this reliable, but ones with well stated guidelines and rules tend to be.
3. Supplier recommendation call-outs
This blog has taken up many megabytes waxing lyrical over the increasing trend of business operators to turn to friends and Groups for advice on any product or service you care to mention.
As you read this, a consumer or business operator will be asking their personal and professional friends for recommendations about plumbers, printer cartridges, copyright lawyers, video producers – pretty much any ‘high involvement’ (purchase which is so important, complex or expensive to warrant much research and exploration) purchase.
In responding to these, not only do you put yourself in the running to gain the business, but you promote yourself to anyone reading the ‘thread’. Obviously you can’t be across every single callout for your product on Facebook, but the more you are, the better the chance of a sale or at least a free plug.
4. Market research
Facebook and other social networks also allow business operators to poll or ask questions of prospective customers. Say for example you have a new product which you are selecting a brand name for.
Facebook allows you to ask your personal or professional friends what they think of the various brand names or even suggest others. You can do this with the built-in Poll capability or simply ask your question in an ordinary post, with or without a supporting illustration or video.
5. Personal profile building
Most of us keep our business and personal lives separate, but the fact remains that your friends know what you do for a living and, if it can assist you, will refer business to you without (in most cases) seeking anything in return.
This situation is replicated and even magnified on Facebook where all of your personal and business friends can be made aware of your work – provided it’s done carefully and subtly.
One of my own clients paid for her website and corporate ID work by simply telling her Facebook friends that she was officially ‘open for business’. A friend of a friend picked up on this and soon hired her to assist him in his business, easily covering the cost of these important promotional tools.
Remember, all of these benefits are available to anyone with a simple Personal page and account.
Next week we will look at the benefits you can expect from Facebook with your business hat on.
Craig Reardon is a writer, educator and operator of independent web services firm for SMEs, The E Team.