facebookimageAs part of our continuing Social Media 101 for Small Business series, we’ll be discussing how small business owners can use Facebook as a way to market their products and services.

If you have a small business, you have probably heard that Facebook is a great tool for marketing and promotion. You want to learn how to drive customers to your Facebook page, but you also don’t want to turn the task into a major time drain.

This is a common dilemma facing small business owners. However, there are a growing number of lawyers, dentists, accountants, restaurateurs and others who are leveraging Facebook to communicate with their existing customer base while also attracting new customers.

Whether you’re just starting to market your business on Facebook or need to refine your strategy to maximize your social-media marketing results, the following guidelines can help you achieve your goal.

Slow and Steady Wins the Race
Too often, small business owners launch their Facebook pages with “guns a’ blazing”, enthusiastically spending many initial hours posting content and befriending customers. Then, when they don’t see significant ROI after a few days or even a couple of weeks, they drop it altogether and return to other forms of advertising.

Unlike placing an ad in the newspaper or the Yellow Pages, Facebook requires consistent effort over an extended period of time to build a fan base, encourage dialogue and be successful. No, this doesn’t mean that you have to spend hours on Facebook every day. An hour or so per week to manage your promotional activities and communicate with your fans is often enough to begin seeing measurable results.

Find Quality Fans
With Facebook fans literally available for sale on eBay, it’s easy to rack up a huge following for your business. However, these are not quality fans that will become your brand advocates. The goal is not to accumulate as many fans as possible. Rather, you should focus on attracting quality fans with whom you can build a long-lasting relationship.

Start by encouraging your existing customers to follow you on Facebook. You can do this by adding a link to your Facebook page to your website, online ads and email signature. Then let existing customers know you’re on Facebook in a promotional email or newsletter article.

Welcome new followers with a personal message and begin building the relationship. Once there is a connection, they will likely tell their friends about your business, and this is where you can truly begin to gain new customers using Facebook. Because each new fan is a lead for your business, you’ll want to encourage dialogue, answer questions and nurture these connections that can lead to long-term business relationships.

Start With a Small Facebook Advertising Budget
While there are plenty of small businesses that never use Facebook’s advertising system, many have used it to launch successful marketing campaigns. Once you have accumulated a few fans, you may want to experiment with Facebook advertising.  You can create a customized ad using Facebook’s ad generator and target specific groups of users based on location, demographics and interests. You’ll also be able to establish a budget and track the ads you place.

One good way to determine effectiveness of a Facebook campaign is to spend a comparable amount on it as you do on Yellow Pages or newspaper advertising. Then you can determine which marketing method is most effective.

Offer Promotions and Discounts
Research has shown that one of the main reasons a consumer will become a fan of a business on Facebook is because they are seeking discounts, special offers and promotions. Very few are actually interested in just being part of a community. With that in mind, consider ways to offer incentives to your fans and encourage them to keep following.

Post Interesting and Valuable Content
You won’t encourage fans to continue following you if all you’re doing is promoting your business. Share links to interesting and relevant articles, post thought-provoking or meaningful updates, share a joke or ask a question – just keep it lively, interesting and consistent! Not sure what to post? Check your Facebook Insights to understand your demographic audience. From there you can tailor your content.

Leverage Facebook’s Mobile Marketing Tools
A growing number of Facebook users are viewing pages on their mobile devices. This gives business owners a multitude of new ways to market their products and services. For example, Facebook Places gives your fans the ability to “check in” at your business and have this published on their Facebook pages. And Facebook Deals provides location-based marketing tools to offer discounts and promotions that are delivered right to the phones of current and potential customers.

Provide Excellent Customer Service
Facebook can be a powerful referral engine, where happy customers can make recommendations and offer “social proof” that you offer great service. The flipside of this is that customers can also complain on Facebook if they are dissatisfied. So it’s more important than ever to deliver excellence when your business has a public forum for your customers to communicate. Remember – happy customers can help your business grow very quickly!

While there are countless strategies for marketing your business on Facebook, these guidelines can help get your business off to a good start. From there, you will inevitably learn through experimentation and develop your strategy over time to effectively drive new business.

Don’t forget to follow RingCentral on Facebook, where you can stay current on product information and company news, as well as participate in promotions – including our current “Give Love, Get Love” Contest. Make sure to enter by March 25th to get your chance to win a 5-user RingCentral Office system for the life of your business!