Facebook is in the process of rolling out three new features that you should know about. Why should you care? Because, early last year, Facebook became the top website in the United States, surpassing Google, and it's remained the most visited site since then, according to Experian Hitwise.
Facebook is where your customers are -- as well as your competitors. Putting up a page is no longer enough.
Here's what's new:
- New design for profiles
- Rolling out Facebook Messages
- Offering deals
Let's take a look at what you need to do right now.
1. Brighten up your profile.
All business pages will automatically upgrade to include this new feature on March 11, although Facebook has let businesses manually upgrade ahead of that. With the new profile, the most recent photos that you post to your wall or photos that you tag your page in will be displayed in a row along the top of the page. Unlike with personal Facebook profiles, this area will not include any photos posted by your fans.
This feature gives your page visual interest -- but if you don't take the time to post photos, Facebook will automatically grab elements from your page and leave the rest of the squares blank. Your page will look drab and deserted.
Be imaginative and play with this. You can post photos of yourself and your staff, your location, products, book covers, personnel in action, even the office cat.
2. Don't get lost in the shuffle.
People can now opt for an e-mail address @Facebook.com. Messages, chats and texts all show up in the same place.
Facebook began offering Messages to all users on February 11. And you should definitely pay attention, according to Simms Jenkins, CEO of Brightwave Marketing, a digital marketing agency. The change reflects the way young people communicate, with a preference for texting and Facebook, according to Jenkins.
"They want these messages to read as a thread, rather than in a clunky inbox," he says.
While you now reach most or all of your e-mail subscribers through traditional providers, you should monitor your list for prospects who are using the @Facebook.com domain, he says. You will need to mail to them differently.
"If you get a message that isn't from one of your friends or a brand you're a fan of, it will end up in the Other folder," he explains. "That might as well be a spam folder."
In fact, the Other folder might be worse. Most e-mail applications at least show a Junk folder, but Facebook's Other folder will be automatically hidden from view.
He advises you to segment your @Facebook.com users and encourage them to move your messages from the Other folder; once they do so, future e-mails will arrive in their message threads. You can also ramp up your efforts to get them to "like" your page.
3. Bring prospects to your door.
Last August, Facebook launched Places, a service that lets people broadcast their locations via an iPhone app or smartphone Web browser. The idea is to let your friends know you're around by "checking in" to a café, restaurant or other venue. The social network followed this up in November with Facebook Deals. The service lets you reach prospects when they're nearby.
"For a small business with a loyal following, for example a café, people checking in there provides free advertising and spreading the word in a way that doesn't cost anything. Others see that so and so is there, and think, 'That's a place I should check out,'" says Victoria Ransom, CEO of Wildfire Interactive, a company that provides simple tools for launching social media marketing campaigns.
If you don't have that loyal following, Facebook Deals may be the answer.
First, you need to claim your Facebook Place, and then sign up for the Deals service. Then, when a Facebook user checks in to a location near you, you can offer digital coupons to lure him or her to your business. Customers do not need to have previously liked your page to take advantage of your deal.
"It's fantastic if you can get people to spontaneously check in to your business, but it's a lot easier if you have a deal associated with it," says Ransom. "Deals opens a connection between the online world and your small business offline."
Image credit: hanspoldoja