“Face…what?”

Date Published: 16/02/2011

If that’s your first reaction when someone asks if you have a Facebook account, now might be the time to re-educate yourself.

LogoYou can’t not have heard of Facebook and you might be surprised to know that 1 in every 11 humans on the face of the planet has an account. That’s a figure to make anyone sit up and take notice, surely? Especially if they’ve got something to sell.

“But this is a blog about organics”, you may be thinking. Yes, it is, but anyone involved in commercial organic production has something to sell, whether it’s from the farm gate, into the shop or restaurant, an ingredient into the supply chain or packaged product from the shelves of one of the leading multiples. All have one thing in common, which is that their products need to be recognised and appreciated by someone.

A presence for your brand (and yes, you should even be thinking of your farm business as a brand) on Facebook gives lots of normal people (i.e. not just the techy types) the chance to see you and interact with you. The beauty of Facebook is that they can recommend you to people and highlight your posts with just a press of the mouse button or a tap on their touch screen. That gives you access to the power of the viral message and with more than 621 million people using the service, and 28 million of them are in the UK, don’t you think some of them could be your customers?

Why now?

Of course Facebook is not a new phenomenon, at least not in the fast-moving terms of the internet. But something has changed – and that’s why it’s worthy of highlighting to you now.

In the past it was possible for companies and organisations to have a ‘Page’ (that’s what they call the presence of an organisation, as opposed to an individual) on Facebook. Unfortunately the options for what the average small business could do with that Page were limited. The big boys could pay expensive developers to do whizzy things that made their brand stand out and increased interaction with users, but that certainly wasn’t an option for everyone.

Now though, just in the last few days, Facebook has changed the landscape in a fundamental way. Everyone on Facebook has to have a personal profile; this is meant to be you, as a real person, not an anonymous entity. But this personality dominated proceedings even when you were operating as a Page administrator. It was hard to truly interact with your followers and put your brand front-and-centre.

Crucially, what’s different is that, while you still need that personal account, you can now choose to administer your Page as that Page’s identity. So, in practice, Organic Farmers & Growers can now ‘like’ businesses and individuals in its own right and comment on their pages as ‘Organic Farmers & Growers’ not the name of whoever happens to be managing the page. Changing that persona can now be done at the click of a link and avoids any confusion.

This might not sound huge to you, but it opens up a massive world of opportunity. Now, for example, a comment on someone else’s page will highlight your brand, allowing other fans of that page to follow the link through to you and making it more likely that your name will be exposed in more places in this ecosystem. Finally there is a chance to really interact as the entity that is your business and thereby build up a following and a community that could have real value.

Why me?

Facebook is a great way to showcase who you are, what you do, as well as the fact that you are online savvy and willing to engage.

For a small farm shop, let’s say, promoting a Facebook presence gives a simple opportunity to build community around its products and services, offer timely promotions, chat to customers and earn some of the ever-so-important word of mouth marketing (letting happy customers do your selling for you!).

If you sell your own beef to restaurants in your area, wouldn’t it be good to ‘like’ their Facebook page and be able to cross-promote each other? People could come from the restaurant’s Facebook page to yours, where you have the chance to post pictures and more detail about how lovely your herd is and how you raise that wonderful beef. In turn, wouldn’t it be great to have your visitors praising the quality of your product in a public forum? You’d be gathering valuable testimonials without even trying.

So you see, it’s a strategy that can be applied to any business. You don’t have to pay for web hosting, or expensive design. It’s all done for you in a format your customers probably already understand and it’s jam-packed with people who aren’t your customers – yet.

And don’t underestimate the Facebook audience; the simplicity of interacting has led to a huge over-50s user base, along with the kids. That’s a rare achievement. Grandparents are using it to stay in touch with their families and teenagers are organising nights out – with everyone in between there as well.

Even better, you don’t have to be a technical whizz to get started. Go to Facebook.com and follow the links. The beauty of this platform is that you don’t have to agonise over how to present your pages or whether your website looks professional enough. It’s a pretty much level playing field that every user is familiar with.

We could go as far as to say that if you haven’t got a website yet, make Facebook your first venture into an online presence. It’s simple but its potential power should not be underestimated. Once your page has more than 25 fans, you are able to claim a short username for it which can then be used on your marketing material, business cards, or even spray painted on a cow (free idea for a marketing stunt there…). Ours, for example, is facebook.com/organicfarmers.

If you have got a website and/or a blog and/or a Twitter account, you can feed all of this into (and out of) Facebook to create a virtuous loop through multiple channels. I know that sounds like marketing speak, but hopefully you’ve already got the idea that it can sound fancy, but still be very simple to do. And you could always use the ‘multiple channels’ flannel on the bank manager to show you’ve got a handle on this stuff…

This piece is really only scratching the surface of the possibilities. We wanted to open the eyes of the sceptics or those who have been afraid to dabble – or have taken a look and not really ‘got’ it. There is a powerful tool here available for free and you only have yourself to blame if you don’t take the opportunity to examine how it could work for you.

If you’re still not convinced, here’s one last pitch. How many people do you know who don’t have a mobile phone? Probably not many. Well, Facebook exists as much on mobile phones as it does on a PC or Mac. Over the next two or three years, many phone users will be using a device that can view the internet, or load a dedicated Facebook application. Millions of people have them already. That’s your business in the palm of their hand, throughout every day. Can you afford not to be there?

If this post sounds evangelistic and unashamedly pro-Facebook, we make no apology. There is nothing else on the internet that comes within a million miles of Facebook’s user numbers. Maybe in years to come that will change, but for now, if you have a business and want to use every tool available to support it, you should use this. The recent improvements to Pages for businesses have truly opened up a whole new world for small operators. Don’t let it pass you by.

Here’s a link to the Facebook help centre, to get you started…

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