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9/14/2011
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5 Facebook Facts SMBs Need To Know

Consumer-oriented businesses that ignore Facebook may do so at their own peril, finds new research.

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If you're ignoring Facebook, you're ignoring customers.

So says new behavioral data from market researcher Chadwick Bailey Martin, which analyzed the Facebook habits of nearly 1,500 consumers ages 18 and up. Online marketing firm Constant Contact, which focuses exclusively on smaller businesses and commissioned the research, listed its top 10 data points on the company's Social Media Quickstarter site, a free crash course for small and midsize business (SMB) marketers.

But, hey: SMB pros are busy folks. So I culled my top five--in my mind these stand atop the pile as the clear-cut calls to action if you've shunned Facebook and other social sites in the past.

1. They really like you: 78% that "like" businesses on Facebook like fewer than 10. You know that cliche: If it was easy, everyone would do it. Facebook is Exhibit A. There's a wealth of reasons the Facebook population has grown to more than half a billion people worldwide, but the fact that it's easy is fundamental. Which presents a problem for businesses: If it's so easy to friend someone or like something, what's the point? Plenty, apparently: Most consumers aren't clicking that like button willy-nilly--they often do so purposefully.

"A lot of people have been saying that a like on Facebook is cheap, that it's so easy to do," said Mark Schmulen, Constant Contact's GM of social media, in an interview. "That's just simply not the case. People are selective about which brands, businesses, and organizations that they want to put their support behind and share with their friends."

2. Facebook is not a road to brand ruin: 76% have never un-liked a business. There's some justifiable fear around social business: Plenty of companies have made embarrassing mistakes online. And even those that don't take missteps have to contend with a 24-7 channel for customer feedback, good and bad. That can make resource-constrained SMBs wary. While it helps to have a plan for social, the nonstop nature of Facebook and other social sites is something to embrace--not run screaming from.

"That demystifies the myth that a lot of small businesses feel, that if they embrace social media, all they are doing is opening up the gates for people to provide negative sentiment," Schmulen said.

3. Fans beget more fans: 56% are more likely to recommend a business that they're a Facebook fan of. Here's where the research really gets good from a marketer's perspective: Your fans can indeed have bottom-line value. Upwards of half of them are apt to recommend you to another potential customer, which is the kind of word-of-mouth that most consumer-focused SMBs crave.

"The real value of Facebook is that it is the ultimate referral engine," Schmulen said. "It is so easy to share content through Facebook--the whole platform is built around the concept of discovering and sharing information."

4. Popularity produces sales: 51% are more likely to buy after becoming a fan. Second verse, similar to the first: Just as fans turn into more fans, one in two Facebook likes will be more inclined to actually make a purchase. It's not as easy as it sounds--see the next item for clarity--but it's a tangible sign that Facebook likes have at least some link to buying behavior.

"When people like you on Facebook, they're more likely to buy from you," Schmulen said. "This shouldn't come as too much of surprise. This is really just about the value of getting in front of your customers and making it easy for them to share."

5. Read all about it: 77% interact with businesses primarily through their own newsfeed--not your Facebook Page. Here's the rub: It's not simply enough to generate a bunch of fans and likes and then sit back and wait for the payoff. You'll be waiting a while. Fostering loyalty on Facebook--or any other social site for that matter--depends largely on genuine long-term engagement on your part. In fact, if you're not ready or willing to commit that level of effort, it might be best to stay away and focus your energies elsewhere. As with some business-to-business use cases, creating valuable, shareable content is critical. So is a willingness to keep close tabs and interact with your audience. Schmulen said a business' Facebook presence should be checked daily, at bare minimum.

"Marketing on Facebook is not about getting as many likes as possible," Schmulen said. "That is a necessary step to effective marketing on Facebook, but now that you have those likes: What are you going to do with them?"

The Virtual Enterprise 2.0 Conference examines some of the leading use cases for applying social and collaborative application strategies for measurable results. It happens Sept. 15. Find out more and sign up.

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