Last week I was invited to talk about Facebook for small businesses at Creative Dish in Dunedin.
It’s a monthly business event run by Petridish, a cool shared working space in the city. My husband works from here and I’ve been a huge advocate of what Kate and Jason are doing for the local startup community, since I was a freelancer myself earlier this year.
I’m also a member of their Women in Business Dunedin group and it was here, from some informal lunches imparting advice to other women, that apparently my name was put forward to deliver the last talk of 2017 🙂
I was asked to share my tips for Facebook Marketing. Facebook as a channel is pretty big in New Zealand, so it’s valuable for businesses to use it. Not least because all of their competitors are likely on it!
But also because, when it comes to spending money on advertising, few mediums can beat Mark Zuckerberg’s data powerhouse when it comes to effectively targeting ads.
I don’t have a Facebook Page myself anymore, because back in the UK and Ireland, Twitter and LinkedIn were a much better return for me in terms of business development. But if I was still freelancing here, then I’d be using Facebook for sure!
However, as Marketers we all know the algorithm issues (which I’ll explain briefly) but there are ways around it, to get the most return out of what little time a small business or entrepreneur might have to invest in their Facebook Page.
So first, let’s take about the mathematics of Facebook.
The Facebook Algorithm
When it comes to the algorithm, this is basically a mathematical system which robots operate that means they decide what we see on our Facebook news feeds. Because they can’t show us everything, there’s simply too much content.
That’s why we often miss important announcements from our friends. That’s why we sometimes see posts from people we don’t follow, because one of our friends commented on it.
The reason for this is simple; on Facebook YOU are the product. Facebook is selling your eyeball time and your data, to advertisers. That means they need to know what you like (and have invested a lot of money in tech that can learn to predict what you will like) and it also means that they need to keep your eyeballs on Facebook for longer.
They need you to scroll. That requires never allowing you to get bored by showing you irrelevant or useless stuff.
So, Facebook invented Edgerank to run our newsfeeds. The more you engage with it - liking, commenting, clicking links - the more it learns about you.
Bear in mind that Facebook, like Google, have never completely explained how their algorithms work (otherwise we could easily game it!) so our knowledge is based on case studies, marketers sharing information and simple trial and error to find what works!
Now the reason this is a problem for businesses is because unlike our personal profiles, business pages are held back in their reach for each post.
Partly because Facebook knows that ordinary people log on to be entertained and socialise, not to be sold to. And partly, because Facebook can easily make money by simply asking businesses to pay to get views on their posts (i.e. the BOOST post button!)
This means businesses are working harder than ever to get people to see them in the first place. Then once people like their pages, they still have to work (or pay) to get people to see/like their content.
And then they need to work to retain those fans, by anticipating what they like, when they will like it and what might be too much and make them “unlike.”
All without the big robot resources Facebook has for learning what audiences want.
Sounds hard, right? That’s why I’m here.
Last week I shared my top 20 tips when managing branded Facebook Pages to “game”, “hack” or simply “get around” the Facebook algorithm, to get the most return from our efforts:
The main thing to know about the algorithm is that it works sort of like a points system. The more points you score, the more people will see your content, even more points are scored, more people see it… this is how things “go viral.”
If you think of how you manage your page in this way, it can help you remember what to do each day to get more points! Because you can actually help the points.
You can do this by remembering to engage fully with anything that scores points on your posts. Like each reply and then comment as well, even if it’s simply to say “thanks.” Try to tag the person in the reply (by putting an @ symbol before their name) ensuring they get a notification that they have been mentioned. This means they are more likely to engage further.
And you need as many points as you can get as quickly after you post as you can get them. Otherwise within about 20 minutes, Facebook will assume your content is rubbish because no one likes it, and it will hide it from anyone else who logs on.
So encourage people to take action where you can by doing more than simply broadcasting sales messages in your posts. This is why companies ask questions, ask you to tag who you would share something with, ask you to vote or express emotion using the “emoticon” emoji symbols instead of just the Like button (emoticons mean more points than a thumbs up!)
(But just know that asking people to share your posts on their timelines is against Facebook’s rules, and we’ll talk more about that later).
Facebook has made no secret of the fact that they want their platform to overtake YouTube - the King of video content - because video consistently proves the most popular medium for people to enjoy online.
In order to achieve that, Zuckerberg and his friends needed more people to upload videos to Facebook. And so they invented Live Stream - like we did tonight at the event - and then they made it so that video posts had the opposite effect of text ones when it came to the algorithm and the points.
Videos, rather than being held back in business page reach, are actively shared to your page audience and beyond, because Facebook knows that it’s the type of content people like. So an easy way to quickly re-engage existing fans or find new ones, is to replace a text post with a 10 second clip of something in video format.
Some things to remember here:
- Modern media consumers are used to seeing unprofessional video footage, even on professional news sites, where events are recorded on smartphones. You do not need fancy equipment.
- In fact, expensive videos may go against you and make people assume you have too much money to “waste” on Marketing.
- Make sure you ask permission before filming anyone else, especially if there are young people around (their parents must give permission).
- Everyone hates seeing themselves on camera. But people come to do business with you, not your logo. Just get over it and get on with it (in the politest possible way!)
Linking Websites in Facebook Posts
Remember what I told you about Facebook’s goal in order to achieve its business aims - i.e. advertisers pay it to keep you there and entertained?
So if you are constantly posting links that take people to other websites, does that help Facebook in this aim? No.
So will they penalise you in points for taking people away? Yes.
Of course there will always be times when you legitimately need to direct people to a website page in your post. So what do you do?
You take the website link you want to post and you put it in the first comment of your post once it’s published. You tell people in the post text that the link is down there. Not only does that add to your points (yes, even if you are commenting on yourself) but it avoids any penalty and means people have to click on the comments, which means more points.
Don’t worry about it disappearing, the comments will go in chronological order, so long as you’re the first comment, they will find it.
Designing Facebook Posts
The next tip is understanding the importance of graphic design on Facebook. Look at your own personal feed. Scroll it quickly, as we so often do, with your thumb. What is it that stands out and makes you stop? Images.
Facebook knows this, and so Facebook is more likely to share a post that includes a picture.
People are also more inclined to look at it and read it, if it has a visual element. So it’s in your interests to do this. Those of us of who are less design-minded need not panic.
A few things to note here will help you:
- Canva is your best friend. It’s a free tool that offers you templates ready-made to size for different social channels, including Facebook posts, cover images, event headers, etc.
- You can choose from free designs or use some of the many free clip art type icons and text variations to design your own. You can upload your own logo or product photos and add that. It doesn’t have to look like a stock image (even if you use a stock image).
- And if you use photography - which is great, people love to look at photos of real people! - then remember to choose good photos! Consider lighting and composition. Remember that Facebook will crop it to a landscape-style square shape (if it’s a profile format photo). And don’t put up a line of people in business suits! Try to pick something with a bit of life! Maybe even something enigmatic, and use the text to explain to people what it is.
- You can use stock imagery but use it sparingly. My favourite site for free photography is Pexels. However, the public have started to recognise these images as advertising, so they may have the opposite effect you’re looking for on your posts.
Facebook Page versus Facebook Group
A few other ways to game the Facebook algorithm involve finding ways around using a business page at all.
Facebook has lots of capabilities that may be appropriate depending on what your business or organisation is/does.
So for example I know people who run consultancy services or sports teams. for them, a private Facebook Group is more beneficial. Groups don’t have an algorithm. Members receive notifications about every post. Comments are private and can be more honest.
It’s a great way to build a group of people who may be interested in you eventually and build a relationship with them, giving them lots of tips and advice along the way, until they’re in a position to commit.
Similarly, you should set up a Facebook Event for any events you run. When people say they are “going” or “interested” Facebook communicates this out to their friends.
Again, this is all about Facebook wanting to become the hub where we do everything - including organise our diaries - because that means… we spend more time on Facebook!
Plus, unlike on a Facebook Page, if you communicate a last minute change on a Facebook Event, attendees will get a notifications. Whereas they may miss it completely on your page, thanks to that pesky algorithm.
Now, let’s talk about content on Facebook.
What to Post on Facebook?
Once newcomers get their heads around the technicalities of running a Facebook Page, the next issue is usually what in the hell to put on it.
While it’s very easy for me, both as a marketer used to be cheesy/creative, and as an outsider to any business I work with, to find interesting things to tell the public about. But I understand it can be hard for a business owner.
Especially in New Zealand, where it is unbecoming to boast about your successes (absolute nightmare when you’re trying to market your business, trust me!)
So the best place to start is, rather than attempting to be funny or show off, simply be useful. This is the best approach to all online content.
Give and you will receive.
In order to do that, you need to do some research to understand what advice people want from you. What often shocks me when I first meet businesses is the way they have copy-written their website or social media posts. It often shows that they’re assuming people even know what it is that they do.
People don’t. But explain it to them, then sell how it will benefit their lives, and they may buy it!
Another great free tool for this is Answer The Public. It pulls together all the data from Google searches about any topic to tell you the most common search questions for each. You just make some of these questions into a Facebook post, a live video Q&A or blog post title and you’re halfway to success when it comes to content.
The Best Way To Share Content To Facebook
The “share” button on Facebook posts or online articles seems an easy workaround to this. Just find interesting stuff other people have done and post that. Easy, right?
Wrong. Why? The algorithm.
Facebook knows when people in your network have already seen/liked a piece of content. If you share it, it will work out if you share the same audiences.
As a business in Dunedin, sharing an article from the Otago Daily Times for example, the the likelihood is that your audiences are very similar.
So to ensure users don’t get bored and go play outside instead of scrolling on their phones, Facebook will reduce further the number of people who see your share of the original post.
Now, that doesn’t mean it’s not a good idea to share content.
In fact, it’s a great way to get quality information to your fans, supporters or customers. It also helps you build good relationships with partner organisations with a sort of online shoutout or high five.
But again, there’s a few tips in doing it that will help you to avoid any point penalties:
- Firstly, don’t use the share button! Instead, go to the website and copy the hyperlink. Then go back to your page and start a new post.
- I know I said you should put web links in the first comment but you can include them in a post so long as you reduce (in Facebook’s eyes) the likelihood that a person will be lured away by it. This means clicking the tiny “x” in the top right-hand corner of the thumbnail preview image that is automatically generated. The link text will still be clickable by folk.
- You then have the bonus of being able to upload your own picture. This means it will look better in the post and be more likely to attract attention. If you wanted to use the website’s pic, that’s fine. Just go back to it, right-click to save it to your desktop, then upload it to your post as an image.
- Don’t forget that the organisation now may not know you have shared their content (but you want them to know!) So you tag them in the post (by using the @ symbol before writing their name again). This will only work if you have Liked their page already though.
I get that this is a lot of extra work. But here’s the thing.
You’re doing the work to put the content up.
Not getting around the algorithm might mean less work now. But it also means less impact for your post. Maybe 2 people see it instead of 20, or 40.
So if you’re going to bother posting at all, put that little bit extra in and do it right!
How Businesses Can Show Personality on Facebook
Another thing businesses struggle with is the ability to be relevant. And topical.
This is really important because Facebook is not a stiff-upper-lip place to be. People over-share, they laugh, they cry, they get angry. You need to appear like them if you want to begin chatting with them.
Of course, depending on your business there are different ways to go about this. But even the most serious of businesses can show a lighter side by researching days or themes that are relevant to them.
Days of the Year is my favourite website for this. Because it’s so well organised and contains everything, from everywhere! I’ve seen fashion retailers use “Lazy Day” to sell pyjamas and construction firms use “Sandcastle Day” to promote their engineering efforts.
The trick with it is to take some time and plan it out.
Again, I know this is boring, but this is the difference between what you’re achieving ad-hoc alone and what someone with a Marketing resource is achieving in terms of success online.
Just pick out which ones each month/quarter/year that might apply to your business and before you know it you’ll never have to scratch your head thinking of something fluffy to post in between your quiet work periods ever again.
And if you struggle with any of the other elements of a strong online persona; be it telling your back story, being motivational or showing behind-the-scenes content, then taking part in one of the many “30 Day Social Media” challenges is a great way to get the creative juices flowing (simply Google Image search to find them all).
This is an especially good exercise when you first set up a Facebook Page, as it forces you to do at least think about it everyday and provides great inspiration for the types of posts that work well on business pages.
Just don’t forget that you can - and should - recycle this content as your page grows.
Just because you did a post telling your story last year doesn’t mean it’s been seen. It hasn’t been seen by every follower you gained since then. So perhaps re-use that content on your business anniversary, or your birthday, etc.
(Just don’t re-share the same post. Remember to create a whole new post. Algorithms people, algorithms!)
Now let’s look at the most common question I get asked:
When to Post on Facebook?
If I had a dollar for every time…
I get why people ask. They assume there is some magic time that if they hit it with the publish post button, they will get an influx of eyeballs on their content.
I’m sorry but it doesn’t work that way. And here’s why.
There are generic times when people, as a rule, are more likely to be scrolling Facebook (such as Sunday evenings) or times when certain demographic groups are more likely to be online (like Mums waiting in their car for the school bell to ring at 3pm!)
But the problem is that if you post at these times, you will probably be up against a lot of other business page competition. So your content had better be good in the eyes of the Facebook robots otherwise it will disappear into the ether.
For this reason, some businesses have had great success posting at less prime times, such as 6am or 11pm, when some customers might be randomly scrolling and there is little content for them to see on their newsfeed. So Facebook has to fill it with whatever it can find.
With this question of timing, the answer lies in your trial and error, monitoring your page analytics, to find out what works for you (sorry!)
Now I realise I’ve gone through a tonne of ideas already, and it will all be getting a bit muddled in your brain if you’re not used to it!
So that’s where content calendars come in.
Marketers use these to ensure we deliver a good mix of content across the course of the week.
It helps you plan in advance and make sure you don’t cluster too many posts together or go long periods without any content (long periods without any engagement will signify to the Facebook robots that your page isn’t that helpful to people as you aren’t regularly online).
So for example, if I had a business Facebook Page, I would know that I’d be live streaming this training event. And I would have been posting a reminder to come the previous night. But the previous night was my one year anniversary in New Zealand - and that’s a great post idea! But I don’t want to waste two good posts on the same day…
Content needs to be scheduled into avoid peaks and troughs.
And while you’re busy making your content great, don’t forget to maximise your Facebook Page itself.
How to Grow Your Facebook Audience in 2018
Page owners often focus on the fact that their content (posts, videos, etc.) needs to be good and people need to like it. That is definitely important - we’ve just spent 11 slides talking about it!
But equally important is remembering that when people first stumble across your page or a post you’ve written pops up on their timeline because their friend commented on it, they usually click on the page title and go into the page “for a nosey” to see what you’re all about.
That means that there’s all these elements in there you probably haven’t looked at since you first set the page up that could be converting “nosey visitors” into “page Likers” for you.
The way to show a page is worth liking include:
- A good cover photo, preferably one that looks designed for the purpose (using Canva) and one that changes every time you have a new offer, or it’s a new season, like Christmas. This is yet more content for you to post, too.
- Use the apps available to integrate into your page, such as Reviews, your Instagram feed or Twitter (if you have them), Events tabs if you regularly organise events. Whatever it is that you do, include it in a well-populated page.
After this, you want to populate all the information sections that a page now has, so that your products or services are right there, front and centre as soon as I visit. My son’s mobile barber does this perfectly! I can see the prices straight away.
Also, over in the right-hand corner, I want to see your contact details, your location on a map that I can easily click for my satnav when I’m driving.
I want your open hours and you can even choose (in your message settings) to let me know how quickly you usually respond to messages. Because if it’s 24 hours or less I’m more likely to send you a business enquiry.
And the “pin to the top” function is so rarely used by business pages, yet it could avoid so much unnecessary frustration.
You, as the owner, are rightly populating that page regularly to give your fans great content. But what that means is that if I find you by accident, or more likely, by searching for a local service, I have to scroll through all your funny posts and your quotes and your photos… until I find what I’m looking for.
This is especially annoying for your existing fans who may go to your page searching for something they saw back when they didn’t have time, and go to look for it at a later date.
So if you have a big event coming up, or you have an offer with a link, or especially if you have a leaflet or a menu - PIN IT TO THE TOP using the little “ … ” option at the top right-hand corner of the chosen post.
When you’re done, simply go back in and “unpin” it.
As well as attracting people with posts, there are other ways to grow your audience by marketing your Facebook Page itself.
Getting More Likes on Your Facebook Page
There is one positive off-shot of the Facebook algorithm (I know, it’s taken us 15 slides to find one, but bear with me!)
And that is, that Facebook can often show your content to people who don’t already follow you. You’ll notice this yourself when things appear in your personal timeline that you didn’t expect.
Facebook is testing to see if it interests you.
When some people see this from you, they are indeed interested. They may even like the post. But they don’t think to go in and like your page.
To ensure they don’t walk by your shop front never to be seen again, you can click on the list of names of people who have liked your posts (because it is in blue text and is actually a hyperlink).
This opens a pop-up box that will show clearly an “invite” box beside anyone who liked the post but doesn’t already like your page.
Clicking the invite button sends them a notification asking if they would like to follow your page. We can safely assume that many of them will want to. They liked your content after all. And in fact, many do appreciate the invite and thus like your page.
Marketing agencies will often increase your following dramatically simply by going back over all your old posts and completing this exercise.
Granted, some people won’t want to like your page. Don’t worry about that, you can’t spam people repeatedly. You can only invite them once. If they ignore it, the box simply says “invited.”
And while some business folk will say to me “what if someone is offended/angered at my request?” to them I say: that person needs to get some perspective on their first world problems. It’s a one-off Facebook notification, you haven’t graffitied their house.
Marketing Your Facebook Page OFFLINE
On the subject of marketing your Facebook Page, this doesn’t have to happen solely online.
Most businesses will do a lot of offline marketing anyway. If you intend to make a real go of your Facebook Page then direct people to it, from your leaflets, from your website, from your business cards.
Every customer is different and everyone wants to keep in touch with you in different ways. Give them options.
One of the best hooks I’ve seen for this is my old hairdresser back in Ireland. They used to encourage people to “check-in” while they were there. Giving them a free wifi code on a pop-up stand at the reception desk. They knew very well that customers would sit waiting and scrolling on their phones.
They also picked someone every month who had checked in and gave them a random discount off their hair style.
This is especially useful because check-ins give your page more points (if you’re a physical business that has an address people can check-in to) and they’re a type of post that Facebook shares quite widely, especially among groups of people who live in the same city.
Another great place for marketing your Facebook page - or indeed any online promotional content - is your email signature.
It’s so often overlooked and yet it’s seen by pretty much every current and prospective client you have. It’s easy to update and it costs nothing!
You can even put a link to a specific post or article in there, showing people that you keep your online work up-to-date and encouraging them to check out what else you’ve been saying online.
Now what about the whole issue of Facebook Ads and paying for posts?
Paying for Posts on Facebook
I’m glad you asked.
Now I’m no Facebook advertising guru. I have dabbled, as most marketers have, but I am not a PPC expert who manages campaigns with thousand-dollar budgets.
However, a few things I do know that are relevant to impart here:
- Don’t boost your posts too often. I know it’s tempting to just hit that button, pay a few bob and get a load of eyeballs on your content. Likes are nice aren’t they? But likes don’t pay the bills.
- Firstly, boosting regularly tells Facebook that you’re willing to pay for exposure. Why would it give you exposure for free if you’ve got a bottomless wallet?
- Secondly, you should be asking yourself: if you’re putting more than the basic $30 into Facebook every month, then should you be channelling your resources in a better way?
Because boosting posts doesn’t target ads at all.
It simply amplifies them out to all your existing fans and their family and friends. That’s it. Not necessarily all those folk are potential customers, are they?
But you might have a great many potential customers using your money on a highly targeted ad. This does require some knowledge/practice on Ad Manager which is a bit more complicated than the boost post pop-up, but like I said; if you’re investing the money regularly, do it wisely!
If you do have a go yourself, please remember that bigger is rarely better. In terms of audience, I mean.
People tend to not target too much, because each tick box reduces the audience size. So they think less people will see their sponsored post.
Consider this; you’re a real estate agent. You want to target people selling homes in the Dunedin and wider areas.
Your paid post options are:
- Boost a post to catch the family and friends of your existing few hundred followers and hope some of them might have a house to sell. They’re likely in the area, so that’s good. But the odds they are selling a house soon are low.
- You set up a sponsored post from scratch. You design the headline and upload a video of you speaking to the people, instead of a boring photo of a house. You target the post not only to Dunedin people, but to those of a certain age, those who are married, those who own a home, those with growing kids (between 5-10 years old who may need their own bedrooms), people who are interested in DIY, those who shop in Mitre 10 and those who follow pages like “The Block” TV show.
Granted the first options costs $30.
The second might cost you $200.
But which one do you think is more likely to get that real estate agent attention from the right kind of local folk?
And FINALLY, beware the old-fashioned tricks for gaming the Facebook algorithm!
Playing by the Facebook Rules
Once upon a time, Marketers lived in a golden land where the Facebook algorithm hadn’t been invented.
They could skip through fields of thumbs up symbols and all it took to go viral online was to offer a competition prize and ask people to share it on their timelines to enter…
WAKE UP CALL
In 2017, the world is a very different place. And Facebook cottoned on to the very easy way people could avoid paying them money for exposure. So they changed the rules.
Nowadays, Facebook can ban your page (meaning you lose everything you’ve worked to build) if they catch you doing any of the following against their T&Cs:
- Asking people to share your content to their personal timelines
- Asking them to tag themselves in a post so their friends see it
- Asking them to tag others in the comments as entry
- Using emoticon symbols to vote for something in a post
Now there are ways around this.
As all good Marketers know, it’s all in the way you word it.
So you can for example, put up something very funny, or sad that may elicit more emoticons than simple thumbs up likes (emoticons get more points than simple thumbs up).
You could also ask people to tag someone who inspires them, someone they would share a prize with, or tag their Mum under a soppy quote, because she’s just fab…
The thing is, all these activities will game the algorithm. They will give you more points and thus Facebook will share your post out to a wider and wider audience.
However there are plenty of social media marketing agencies, some operating in my very town, who will lay claim to big returns for you by running competitions on your page.
They run a gauntlet.
And while Facebook has much bigger problems than your little page and it’s little competition, it takes only one jealous rival business to report it to their attention. And your page is gone forever.
So play by the rules folks. Just bend them a little where you can 😉
And that’s it. If you made it this far!
5,400+ words later, that’s the best of what I’ve got to help you get the most return for your efforts on your Facebook Page.
I don’t envy you running a Facebook Page for a small business, you have my sympathy, it is not an easy task.
It’s why I do not now, nor ever will, offer social management services as consultancy work. It is the most time-consuming and hardest part of Marketing to get traction from. But done well, it can prove very fruitful.
And anything worth doing is usually never easy.
So go forth, and Facebook-prosper!