The problem with Facebook and how to beat them at their own game

Social media expert, Richard Chapman, owner of Richard Chapman Studio, takes a look at the problems for SMEs using Facebook and how you can conquer them. 

A commonly-heard complaint about Facebook is that ‘it’s all ads these days’ and in truth I can see why. The rise of the ‘sponsored’ post and the need to make Facebook a profitable business for its shareholders has made this once-cosy form of communication into something resembling a marketplace. For a long time, posts by friends sharing photos seemed to dwindle; persistent messages from regular advertisers felt more like a constant bombardment. Little wonder: in a letter to businesses on the platform in March 2015, Facebook themselves recently said they have two million regular advertisers. Meanwhile anyone who’s read Facebook’s Terms even in a cursory way would have the nagging feeling that despite having nothing to hide, the more we share, the more data is created about us. Where we’ve been, who we’ve been with and what we have done is fair game for Facebook to sell as data.

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It is important to assess these perceived negatives around Facebook as a service to it’s daily users because as businesses who want to reach them, we are in many ways both their salvation and problem. To expand business we want to talk to a wide yet targeted audience; somehow reach out to this captive audience gently scrolling through their Facebook feed, usually on their phone.

A friend even said to me recently, “I don’t understand why businesses are even on Facebook: do they not understand the name? It’s for those of us with faces. Facebook is about people, not corporations.” –  you have to concede they have a point.

Today, the received wisdom is that Facebook have heard the gripes and are reducing the impact of sponsored posts and giving far more prominence to bona-fide content. They’ve never quite spelled this out, but it probably means Facebook are reducing the impact of unpaid commercial posts. This rectifies the problems created by being a victim of their own success, makes Facebook a nicer service to use. But it means we as business owners have to work altogether much harder.

With all this change ongoing in the world of social media (and really, the nuances and positive attributes of each of the ‘big boys’ – LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest and Facebook – change almost daily with different algorithms and design changes affecting true meaningful engagement) what is the small business who just wants to reach a new customer base supposed to do?

There are all manner of savvy answers, but here are two simple approaches that actually work.

The first is to use Facebook the way that they intend – personally. This is a pretty basic idea, but is loosely based on the current Google obsession with personal recommendation. As a company we keep a Facebook page which has content uploaded to it once or twice a week. This is usually in the form of blog posts or a photo of something we’re working on. As I’ve mentioned, just simply uploading this content and hoping for the best doesn’t get you too far these days, but it does keep things ticking over. At a base level it means that if anyone visits your page from your website, for instance, they can see you’re busy.

But if you were then to go on to share an occasional post from the company personally, in conversational language, it would be something your friendship base could get their teeth into. Specific good examples of this would be significant breakthroughs such as an notable new client, product, launch, or, the Holy Grail: a special offer. People will be pleased for you, people will talk, people will happily click ‘Like’. The best engagement we’ve had in the past six months was for a new website design for a London illustration agency. Now this is not something most of my Facebook friends would have a use for personally or professionally, but everyone loved the custom drawing we featured. The website looked great and many friends mentioned it. Each Like, Share or click on our work means another chance that we might win a new client. In an online world where everyone is watching and scrolling, to be top of someone’s mind in a conversation relevant to your business for a ready recommendation means social media has done its work.

The second tactic I wanted to talk about here involves spending a little using Facebook’s targeted ‘Boosted Posts’ – plus a bit of wit. Put simply, most business Facebook posts never see the light of day unless they’re really popular in terms of multiple Likes or Shares, which is a long-shot unless you’re offering a consumer service or product. But if you do what Facebook want you to – boost the post with money – they start to appear in the news feeds of your friends or your targeted audience. A win, right? Not necessarily. That’s no good if the post in question is, to put it bluntly, really boring. No eye-catching photo? No friendly banter? Unless it’s an absolutely winning deal you’re selling, it’s potentially money down the drain. These days you have to work harder to catch people’s attention. At the end of the day, we actually learn a lot from the guy who said ‘Facebook is about Faces’: social media is all about personality. Charm, a joke, a funny photo or graphic, something self-deprecating even, will mean people stop and pay attention.

All advertising is about repetition. The more you see an ad, the more you get to know a company, the more likely you are to buy their product or service. That’s a given. But Facebook is such a good forum for achieving this because you’re in the palm of your customers’ hand with nothing to distract them. A good example is extreme sports challenge Tough Mudder. There was one stage about eighteen months ago where I was constantly bombarded by ads for it. I couldn’t even work out what it was to begin with, to be honest I found it irritating. These photos of people having a great time covered in mud just kept on coming. Pretty soon the campaign went on to telling me that certain friends ‘liked it’ or had commented on it, and then, phase three, suddenly the people in the photos covered in mud were people I knew. Now, I don’t care about Tough Mudder, I don’t want to do it, but I know about it now and I didn’t before. If someone was thinking of doing a local extreme sports activity for charity, I’d be suggesting that. it was a great campaign that really worked. And social media did that.

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