How Small Businesses Can Stay Ahead of the Facebook Changes

ChrisSyme
Chris Syme Owner/Partner, CKSyme Media Group

Posted on September 27th 2011

The biggest loser in the recent Facebook changes is small business. Many of you were relying on Facebook as a free platform where you could develop a loyal community of fans that might “like” and “share” and “comment” in the hopes that others would see and do the same, and ultimately be converted into a regular customer. Facebook has just made that harder for you, especially if you are new to the platform, have under 500 or so fans, and are not an advertising partner.  There’s a lot of great information out there explaining the new changes including this basic piece from Mashable. It’s going to be important to get past the inconvenience of change and look at what opportunities and obstacles it presents.

First Glance

So why is small business the Biggest Loser? If you look closely at the changes, you will notice that they are designed to benefit two important groups (to Facebook): developers and enterprise level advertisers. What the “open graph” does, in the form of the new timeline, is encourage everyday users to post more information about themselves and connect to friends’ information on a level that we haven’t seen before.

But, remember all that information is available to advertisers and developers through Facebook’s open graph. Facebook is encouraging large advertising partners to pinpoint key influencers and their communities and begin to develop specialized “experiences” for those communities. Developers can put together applications (which is another big emphasis) that encourage users to share even more information around a common experience and spend more internet time connected to Facebook. Users will be able to watch movies, TV, listen to music, get the news, book a trip, buy a product, and play games without ever having to leave Facebook.

By separating out important news into the newsfeed and mundane news into your ticker, Facebook has changed the way you receive information to benefit those two important groups. It’s not clear yet what algorithms are used to determine these separations and rank stories, but my guess is that the old Edge Rank will still be a good guide until we all figure out the new system.  So what are some of the obstacles and opportunities the changes present to small business owners and organizations?

Obstacles

  1. The learning curve: The biggest obstacle might be stubbornness. All these changes are going to require small business to quickly learn the new system. Get past the inconvenience and dig in. Read everything you can and educate yourself. Change is a constant in social media, and you’ll have to scratch out some time for learning.
  2. 2.       Learn to love the numbers. If you haven’t already, learn to use your Facebook Insights now. This data is your biggest guide to what works and what doesn’t. Data is always your friend. Learn what days of the week you get the most interaction, what types of posts people like and comment on, what the demographics of your fans are—and start keeping track, either by hand or on an Excel spreadsheet.  Here is a basic explanation about Insights from Facebook . Search the bigger social media “how-to” sites like Social Media Examiner, YouTube, Hub Spot, Mari Smith (follow her on Facebook), and All Facebook for good tutorials. The more you know your way around your own data, the more successful you will be. Believe me, in the long run it will save you time.
  3. Organic growth is a dream of the past. You can no longer afford to nurture your fans along like seedlings, feeding them engaging bits of user polls, asking for their comments, posting links to pieces you think might interest them in hopes they will pass them along. Small businesses that rely solely on organic growth (your fan numbers growing naturally) may fail in the new system. Identify key influencers in your fan base and begin to learn how to use them (and reward them) for amplifying your messages. If you don’t want to put the time in to learn how to grow your numbers purposefully using the changes, you may want to downgrade Facebook’s importance in your online marketing plan.
  4. Bad content will be the death of you. Because small businesses are getting squeezed out in the changes, you will need to be more savvy than ever. Become familiar with the concept of content marketing. Read all you can, and start with Content Rules by Handley and Chapman. You can take the concepts you learn there to other venues to kick start your online presence.

Opportunities

  1. The good news: Facebook is not the only kid on block.  If you’re not already, think about developing an online presence in other venues. Start monitoring other channels  and look at what businesses like yours are doing. Search for blogs (Technorati), set up a Twitter account and use it to search what’s going on there--you don’t need to tweet to be there.  Look at YouTube for ideas on how you can use video.  Is it time to start thinking more mobile? Talk to other business owners and see what is working for them. Does your town have a social media network or discussion board? My hometown has two good discussion sites on Facebook: Bozeman Social Media Marketing (group) and MT Social Media Network (page). Both are good resources for our local small businesses that need help.
  2. Find strength in numbers. You may want to consider partnering with like businesses. For instance, local restaurants could set up a Facebook page (or a Twitter feed) that operates like a co-op of menu links, specials and events.  Set up non-competitive posting guidelines so fans aren’t overwhelmed, and share monitoring duties. Businesses can set up geographic pages or blogs: Southside, Downtown, whatever. Building social alliances can help your reputation as well. People are drawn to friendliness and cooperation.
  3. Think event instead of constant presence. Social media is great for events, especially with location-based applications. If you haven’t already, start taking advantage of the event piece of Facebook.  Claim your physical venue on Foursquare and learn how to use it. Become familiar with Twitter hashtags for events and experiment using them.
  4. Get familiar with the three-legged stool of social media optimization. Jay Baer calls this the holy trinity of search, content and social. Become familiar with SEO—the piece most small businesses neglect. Buy a Dummies book if you have to or use Google search.
  5. Start amping up your home base. Social media should always be just an outpost. Become familiar with the concepts of inbound marketing. If you don’t have a website or blog, start one. Find someone who is good at WordPress and get one set up. Take a class, attend a workshop. Make it your number one priority. If you have a website, make sure that it is social—interactive—updated and dynamic. Make it a center of value-added information for everyone that goes there. Make it about your customers, not about you. If you need help, find an expert that knows what they’re doing. Look around on the web for businesses like yours that catch your eye. Chances are, they are catching the eyes of others. What can you copy from them? Don’t reinvent the wheel.
  6. Experiment. In his recent book, Hierarchy of Contagiousness, social media scientist Dan Zarrella says experimentation is the beginning of success. Try different things and keep track of what works and what doesn’t. Even though social media is a science, it isn’t an exact science. Don’t be afraid to try something different, and don’t be afraid to dump it if it fails.

This is just a short list of opportunities the new changes present to small businesses. Have you thought of any that you could share in the comments?

ChrisSyme

Chris Syme

Owner/Partner, CKSyme Media Group

Chris Syme's latest book, Practice Safe Social, is a leading resource on how to use social media responsibly. Her agency, CKSyme Media Group specializes in crisis and reputation communications, training, and social media services. See her website at www.cksyme.com. Follow her on Twitter @cksyme

 

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Comments

Posted on September 27th 2011 at 8:53AM

Nice article.  Small Business has been ignored by the Obama Administration, Congress, Senate and other idiots who have been pandering to Unions

Small business need not be on Facebook or Twitter to get the word out. There are other avenues that make more sense and helps to build strong relationships.  You earn it.  Hire a few Rock Star Sales, Busienss Development People who are out of work, adverrtise on billboards and radio, volunteer for Make a Wish, Ronald McDonald House etc  and get your name out there.  Content on the Internet is mostly lies and agenda based content.


If you want to build a business, do it the right way.  and vote for a GOP President next time, we love small business which creates innovation and jobs.

JanSimpson - see you twitter

 

Posted on September 29th 2011 at 3:23PM

Wow ...

"Content on the internet is mostly lies and agenda based content."

Umm, I think Jan might have stumbled off the trail...

 

Great article Chris. I agree and disagree with some of the points but the bottom line is that Facebook owns Facebook - we don't. People can sit on their hands and grumble and whinge about changes to the platform all they want but in the end it will be Facebook that decides how Facebook is going to look, act, work and so on.

Informative and helpful articles like this will only help small businesses, and those that work with small businesses like us, get the most out of it.

Nick

Posted on September 29th 2011 at 8:09PM

Jan - I'm going to go out on a limb and say you didn't misunderstand the nature of the article but rather you were looking for an opportunity to get your political opinion in - it's not appreciated. But, if you have a comment related to what was written, I'd love to hear it.

Patrick Cummings
Posted on September 27th 2011 at 9:15AM

I'm not sure I agree. Matter of fact, I think small businesses will be the winner with the new changes made to Facebook. A few facts below.

The Facebook social plugins are being updated making it easier for small businesses to integrate with Facebook. The updated social plugins leverage Open Graph and are simple to use. 

The new real time sharing options provide even more opportunities for small businesses to be heard. Interactions are ramping up and visibility to business pages are riding along.

Facebook is working with the National Federation of Independent Business and U.S. Chamber of Commerce on a program where they are making an investment to educate small businesses and teaching them how to reach the 800 million subscribers and convert to customers.

Facebook is also launching another program called "Facebook Small Business Boost", where they will award $10 million worth of free advertising to some 200,000 local businesses through $50 worth of ad credits each.

You should check out the new Facebook for Small Business site launched by Facebook recently: https://www.facebook.com/business It is actually a group of how-to articles to educate small businesses on how to best use Facebook and attract new customers.

Posted on September 27th 2011 at 7:03PM

Facebook's new partnership w/ Chamber of Commerce is designed to teach people how to use sponsored stories and place effective ads. Most small business people I know use Facebook because it's free and they have little budget for advertising. I read several of the news pieces on the program this morning. The $10million FB is giving out will go to "qualified" businesses, but there's not talk about what the qualifications are. It won't help my small business clients because they have no money to spend, so they will have to get more creative in other places. It's Facebook's way of easing people into spending money with them. Sure, it will help some small businesses compete, but  only if you have money to spend. $50 on Facebook ads doesn't go very far.

Posted on September 27th 2011 at 11:24AM

It's funny you mention this, because I have actually been considering looking in to a class on SEO. I have the basics down pretty well, but can only see the benefits of expanding knowledge in this arena. Any good recommendations?

Posted on September 27th 2011 at 6:41PM

Well, I bought the Dummies book originally, but that was a few years ago. Now, there is tons of good info on the web. When I want to start learning about something, I always start with Google search and add either "basics" or "beginning" to the search. You will get pages of choices to start your quest. Good luck.

Posted on September 29th 2011 at 8:13PM

Emma - When you say SEO do you mean on page or off page SEO? 

Posted on September 27th 2011 at 4:22PM

Hello Chris,

         I like the article but there is one thing i disagree with.  Your fourth obstacle, 'Organic Growth is a Dream of the Past', is not quite accurate.  We here at Frog Social Media Solutions (http://www.facebook.com/FrogSocialMediaSolutions) have used polls, user dircted questions, and genarally useful info to interatct with our fans on a daily basis.  People have come to trust us as a Social Media influence and frequently come to our page to find out industry insights. Using the same general plan for our twitter we've produced nearly 2000 followers, 394 mentions and 136 retweets.  All done organically as shown by the fact we have 200 + more followers than people we follow. I guess you could say we keep the "dream" alive :)

Posted on September 27th 2011 at 6:50PM

Oh, I agree with you totally, Dylan. But, I think that growth by organic-only is going to be a "dream." Facebook is turning a new corner in customized apps, encouraging developers to build apps that allow users to build influence communities aroung a brand experience. Small biz will have a hard time keeping up. Edge Rank is still in play--more comments, shares, likes, etc. will get you in that top story column.   I think we are going to see the growth of concepts such as amplification groups that we are going to have to pinpoint and grow purposefully. I'm not sure about the platform yet, but something like GaggleAmp (http://kfgo.com/sports-news.php?ID=13829) done purposefully to get planned interaction mixed in with organic sharing as well. 

Posted on September 29th 2011 at 10:43AM

Great article and very helpful, especially the Facebook Insights. I had no idea it was there! Lots of fascinating facts and all free! And downloadable to excel. There's an awful lot more to Facebook than I realised; I've got lots of research ahead of me.

Thanks. 

Posted on September 29th 2011 at 8:11PM

Paul, be careful about relying to heavily on Faceboon Insights - they are seldom accurate. There are many other better options out there for Facebook analytics.

Posted on September 29th 2011 at 8:07PM

To be frank, and blunt, I don't agree with this article at all. I have seen so many benefits to my small business clients already and am excited for what is to come. Organic growth is alive and well - there are even more opportunities for friends of friends, etc. to see what their friends are doing - what pages they are liking, what posts hey are liking, and so forth. Business Pages can now share content directly to their Page from other Pages - giving them even more exposure - both to the manager of the Page from where the original link was posted and the audience of said Page. Since I started doing this with my business Page my numbers have soared. I find no need to buy Facebook ads at this time - that's not to say I don't think they are exceptionally helpful in some cases - but with the new ticker it's easier than ever for actions taken on Business Pages to catch someone's eye, despite what they are doing on Facebook at the time of the posting. To say that small business are the biggest loser here is pure drama and I hope that you only chose that title as an attention grabber, however, be that the case, I would hate for small business owners to read this and get discouraged. There are still many opportunities and I think we will see them increase over the next few weeks. I'll qualify my opening statement and say that I do agree with one part - their is a steep learning curve with the amount of new updates, which is confounded even more by bloggers freaking people out instead of helping people understand how everything really works.

Posted on September 29th 2011 at 9:27PM

Our business is just getting more into Social Media and the links here (and in the comments) are going to really help us drive our inbound marketing strategy to the next level.

Thanks for the great content!

-Alec Blacklaw (Marsdens Perth)