|FORTUNE Small Business:|
Should your business be on Facebook?
Ask FSB's experts help small business owners cut through the social-networking thicket.
(FORTUNE Small Business) -- Dear FSB: Is it wise for a small business to have a corporate homepage on Facebook? One of our employees mentioned it. Some say it's good marketing; others say it's not. What are the pros and cons of doing it?
- Jaci, Grand Rapids
Dear Jaci: Great question. A lot of small business owners are asking themselves if diving into the social networking phenomenon will work for them and, if so, where to begin.
If Twitter sounds like an obscure bird species and you think Facebook and News Corp (NWS, Fortune 500).'s MySpace are pretty much interchangeable, first take some time to read up on the latest social networking platforms and what they involve.
But that doesn't address your central dilemma: Should your company jump in or run away?
"Lots of clients are asking about Facebook as a viable marketing tool, and I tell them all that it depends on the business and what it is trying to achieve," says Eric Weaver, vice president and managing director of the public relations firm Edelman Digital.
"Facebook has a large user base and lots of traffic, and is a great tool for building a social 'mesh': the digital web of connections between you and people you know," he says.
If you are a good networker, constantly reaching out to interested parties, then you have a better chance of being able to leverage Facebook as a marketing venue.If you simply put up a page and leave it untended, it will likely stagnate and be a waste of time.
Facebook is a place to make connections, not to buy products and services, Weaver notes.
"To show up pushing business goals is a little like an Amway salesman at a neighborhood block party: it's not the right context within which to sell," he says.
But that's not to say businesses large and small haven't used a Facebook presence to boost the bottom line - and Facebook itself welcomes businesses. (You will definitely want to familiarize yourself with its ad program.) The secret is creating compelling content that offers something to an online community.
Rob Key, CEO of Converseon, a New York City consulting firm that advises companies on "Web 2.0" strategies, likens it to the JFK saying about duty - only in this context it's, "Ask not what your social network can do for you, but what you can do for it."
"It's not a supermarket," Key said. "Coming in and putting up a billboard could be counterproductive."
If you think your business has a great narrative and you have valuable content, put online where it will be found and utilized, Weaver says. Think about what medium best showcases your efforts.
"Would prospects benefit from short video clips that demonstrate product usage or a helpful technique? Place them on Google's (GOOG, Fortune 500) YouTube," he suggests. "Are you looking to show off photos of various products? Use Yahoo's (YHOO, Fortune 500) Flickr and leverage the traffic that's already there. Does your audience benefit from regular informational updates? Create a blog or use Twitter to disseminate those updates. Would your audience find interesting a talk program in which thought leaders discussed your industry? Create a downloadable, subscribable podcast, so that listeners can tune in where and when they want."
Podcasting is what gave sustainable living expert Heather Gorringe what she calls her "eureka moment."
Her company, Wiggly Wigglers, is all about making a farmer out of anyone, even if your land holdings amount to little more than a window box. Gorringe used to spend more than $220,000 per year ontraditional advertising, but a simple podcast costing her only $200 per week to produce has been her most effective effort. Now nearly all of her advertising now falls under the umbrella of social media: thepodcast, a blog, a Facebook page, and of course, a Web homepage. What started with little more than passion in 1990 has flourished into a million-dollar business, growing 10% per year and employing 20 staffers.
Alex DeNoble, professor of management and entrepreneurship at San Diego State University, said other small business owners would be well-served to follow Gorringe's model and let enthusiasm for their products drive their Web 2.0 strategies.