I remember when I first joined Facebook. I was connecting to friends I hadn’t seen in over twenty years. It was amazing! Reconnecting with old friends, conversing with current friends, and staying on top of who is celebrating a birthday today have made Facebook one of my pleasures. (I don’t call it a “guilty” pleasure because it is part of my life and also part of my business to understand how FB works for retailers—at least that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.)
I remember when we launched the Toy House page. The excitement from new likes was amazing. It was so new and shiny and free. I watched the numbers like a hawk to see what would move the needle the most.
The experts began predicting Facebook and Twitter and Pinterest to be the new darlings of advertising and that more typical media like Television and Radio would suffer. Heck, people wouldn’t even need a website if they had a Facebook page. That was the common thinking back then. It’s still the common thinking right now. And it is still wrong, and about to get worse*.
Oh, I’m not saying Facebook and other social media outlets aren’t effective as advertising platforms. They just aren’t as effective as they are made out to be. Let’s take a quick look at Facebook.
The upside to Facebook is two-fold:
- You can connect to your current customer base and talk to them as often as you want for free.
- You can pay to boost your posts or pay to advertise to reach more people relatively cheaply.
The downsides, however, will make you rethink your strategy.
- Your free, organic reach is seriously throttled by the algorithms of Facebook because they would rather that you pay to get seen.
- Even when you do pay, there is no way for you to guarantee the people you paid to reach actually saw your post.
- Just like newsprint, Facebook posts are a passive form of media.
Think about all the businesses your friends convinced you to like. How often do they show up in your feed? Not very often. Yet you are constantly bombarded with “suggested posts.” Those are the boosted posts that make Mark Zuckerberg a gabillionaire.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a Facebook page or use other social media outlets. They serve a far greater purpose than simply an advertising platform. That was the first thing most businesses got wrong when they got onto Facebook (myself included). We used it the way we used all other forms of advertising—to talk at you.
They are called social media for a reason. They aren’t meant for talking at people. They are meant for engaging with people and having conversations. They are tools for getting feedback and insights from your fan base.
Your first goal with your Facebook page should be to get feedback, to hear from your customer base. Ask them questions. Engage with them. Listen to their insights.
When we were getting ready to launch our Birthday Club I asked the Toy House fans how long the club should last. Some stores stopped at 10 years old, others at 12. One of my customers suggested 40. That suggestion was all I needed to say “no limit”. In the summer of 2016 we had a woman celebrate her 94th birthday by ringing the bell and buying a couple decks of playing cards with her Birthday Gift Certificate.
Another of my favorite engagement posts was taking a picture of two competing items and asking the question, “Which do you prefer?” I did that with Barbie and Groovy Girl dolls, figuring Barbie would win hands down. Much to my surprise the first nine people said Groovy Girls. The tenth person said, “I was gonna say Barbie, but now I guess I better check out those Groovy Girls.”
Keys to Organic Reach
The best way to get past the algorithm that holds your posts back is engagement. If you have 1000 fans, your initial post will only go out to a tiny fraction of them, maybe 10-20 people. If they engage, Facebook will release your post to a few more fans. If they engage, you’ll reach even more, and so on. If none of the first 10-20 engage, your post is sunk. In the rock, paper, scissors hierarchy of Facebook, Shares beat Comments, Comments beat Likes, Likes beat yawns.
If you want to reach people on Facebook without paying for it, you need to post Shareworthy stuff. (credit Tim Miles for coining the word “shareworthy”) You need to post things people want to pass along. The Share is the gold currency because not only does it get your post released to more of your fans, it reaches people who aren’t your fans (yet) by reaching the friends of your fans who share.
People love to share:
- Links to articles that are important to your fan base
- Funny pictures & videos
- Touching, heartfelt stories
If you want to reach people on Facebook without paying, you also need to get comments. People respond to:
If you want to reach people on Facebook without paying, you have to avoid certain triggers that throttle you back even more, like:
- Dates and times
- Exclamation Points!!!
- Words like Sale, Deal, Discount, % Off, or Event
- WORDS IN ALL CAPS
Yes, it is a game trying to figure out how to get more free, organic reach. In fact, one fun thing you can do is make it a game with your staff. Turn all of your team into Admins for your page, then hold a weekly contest. Allow everyone the opportunity to post twice per day whatever they think is appropriate for the business. At the end of the week give $20 to the person who got the most shares and $10 for the person who got the most comments. Do this for five weeks. It will cost you $150, but the research you’ll have will be priceless! It will also increase the number of fans you have dramatically.
Keys to Paid Reach
Whether you choose to boost a post or pay for an ad (here is a good link for the differences between those two options), the key to success is the same as any passive media like newsprint or magazines. You have to have a picture and headline interesting enough to grab people’s attention and compelling enough to make them want to click. Anything less and you’ve wasted your money.
Facebook and other social media platforms can be effective ways to reach customers if you make engagement your goal. The more people Share, Comment, and Like what you are posting, you’ll keep reaching more people. Otherwise, they are simply a digital form of the newspaper ad everyone seemed to ignore.
PS Twitter is even more about engagement and conversation than Facebook. Treat it that way. Pinterest is more about idea sharing. If you sell something used in a crafty way or for decorating, Pinterest can be a phenomenal way to share how to use your products. Find a clever way to include your logo and web address in each picture in an unobtrusive-yet-impossible-to-crop-out way.
PPS *Facebook is looking to remove organic business page posts from your newsfeed altogether, and put them into a separate tab buried deep in the lefthand column of your feed. They’ve already done that in some countries to “test” it. You only see your friends’ posts and paid posts. As a Facebook user, I don’t like that. I “liked” business pages so that I could hear from them. But FB doesn’t keep the stockholders happy that way. One way as a business to get around that problem is to make sure everyone on your team shares every post you make, even if they have to go find your page to do so. (Heck, you should be having them do that anyway.)