By Stephanie Chandler
It seems the most popular question lately is, “Are you on Facebook?” Launched as a way for founder Mark Zuckerberg to connect with friends at Harvard, Facebook has exploded into the mainstream. With nearly 200 million users, and a million new members joining each week in the U.S. alone, people are paying attention.
One of the biggest benefits that social networking platforms like Facebook provide the business community is the ability to get repeat exposure with the people in your network. Clients, peers, and prospects can make up your network, and you can promote events, sales, special offers and more through your Facebook profile.
Not only is Facebook a tool for your business, but it can be fun to connect with old friends, family and coworkers. There is something about sharing an old grade school photo that can create an instant bond with those from your past. Even personal connections have the potential to become new business opportunities.
Ready to get started? Here are some ways to maximize Facebook for your business:
Create a Powerful Profile
There is no cost to create a profile on Facebook and based on site policies, it must be tied to a human name, not a business name. Use the “About Me” section to describe your business and what you do. In the “Information” box on your main profile page, you can feature links to your website, blog and other business resources. Be sure to include your photo so that others can recognize you online.
Build Your Contact List
Facebook is based on the concept of connecting with friends. You can send and receive friend requests and once accepted, your friend can view your profile and you can view theirs. To begin connecting with people that you know, you can either import your contact database or you can search Facebook for individual people.
You can also view the friends list for each person you are connected to. As an example, once you have accepted a friend request from your peer, Mary, you can view her list of friends. If you know any of Mary’s friends (or you would like to know them), send a connection request.
Communicate with Wall Posts
Each Facebook member has a “wall” where friends can post messages. This is a great place to post a quick note to those in your friends list. In the business networking world, this is the online equivalent of picking up the phone to say hello.
For example, if you are connected to a CEO who you saw at an event recently, you could post a note on her wall that says, “Loved your presentation at the XYZ event – thanks for the great ideas!”
Update Your Status
At the top of your Facebook home page is a status box. When you post a status update, everyone in your friends list can see your update on their home page. Those using Facebook for social purposes might update their status to say, “Jenny is putting the kids to bed.” For business purposes, this is a place to share tips, promote events and even boost sales.
Effective business updates could include: “Jenny found a great article on social networking: www….” or “Joe at ABC furniture is hosting a special event! Check out www….”
Participate in Groups
Online groups allow you to network virtually with potential clients and peers. To access groups, start from your Facebook home page, view the list of applications and click on “Groups.” You can browse through thousands of themed groups with topics ranging from business to politics and everything in between.
You can also search groups to find topics related to your industry. For example, if you own an office supply store inSacramento, you might search for general business groups based in Sacramento. If you are an auto parts dealer, you might join the Honda Civic owners group along with other auto-related groups.
If you really want to maximize the potential with groups, consider starting one of your own. Once again, there is no cost to do this and the visibility can be great. For example, if you are a business broker in Dallas, you could start a group for Dallas business owners. You do not need to promote your business at every turn. Instead, make it known that you’re a broker, but provide value for members by sharing interesting tips and engaging with them in the online forum.
Build Your Friends List
For business purposes, the one with the most friends on Facebook wins. Okay, not exactly, but the point is to connect with as many potential clients as possible. One way to do this is to join a group and send connection requests to fellow members with a note: “Hey, we’re both members of XYZ group. Let’s connect here on FB!”
Just as you would with an in-person business introduction, take a moment to learn about new people you meet on Facebook. Networking always works best when there is a two-way exchange. If you can help a new Facebook friend, they will likely want to return the favor.
Create Fan Pages
Because Facebook requires that a profile be designated to a human, not a business, they have instead provided the ability to create fan pages. You can create a fan page for a business, product, book, author, speaker, celebrity or just about anything you want.
To create a fan page, scroll all the way down to the bottom of Facebook and click on “Advertising” (don’t worry, it doesn’t cost anything to set-up). Next, click on “Pages” at the top of the screen. You will find some helpful explanations about how pages work, along with a link that will allow you to create your page.
Pages function a lot like profiles so you can add links, events, discussion boards and other features that make them interactive. Facebook will also post updates from your fan pages back on to your profile so others know about them. And instead of sending friend requests out, you can invite others to become a “fan” of your page. You will also have the ability to send messages to all of your fans, allowing you to cultivate a community online.
Manage Your Time
The biggest complaint most have about social networking is that it takes a lot time to manage. I recommend designating time in your day for Facebook activities. You can login once or twice a day to view messages and manage your connections. Just be careful not to let time get away from you (it’s easy to do!). Also, remember that the more time you spend on Facebook, the more ways you will find to use it to your advantage. Be creative, show your personality and have some fun. That will all be reflected in your success.
About the Author
Stephanie Chandler is an author of several business and marketing books including “The Author’s Guide to Building an Online Platform” and “From Entrepreneur to Infopreneur.” She is also founder and CEO of http://AuthorityPublishing.com, which provides custom book publishing and author marketing services for business, self-help and other non-fiction books, andhttp://BusinessInfoGuide.com, a directory of resources for entrepreneurs.