Tips on how to use Facebook as a business promotion tool

Whipty-Do! is a small, seasonal ice cream parlor located just outside of Cincinnati with a sizeable social media following nearly 4,000 Facebook fans strong.

That's no accident. Owners Joe (who has a promotions background) and Kristen Fields have meticulously cultivated the brand's social presence so that there is continual consumer engagement and growth.

"Facebook is not a website, it's a tool," Joe Fields said. "There are 800 million users on Facebook and it is expected to pass 1 billion soon. Your customers are there, so you need to make sure you're putting your best foot forward on your page."

At the North American Pizza and Ice Cream Show last week in Columbus, Ohio, Fields shared tips on how brands can best leverage the tool to their advantage.

To get started

Change your address to a vanity URL; for example, Facebook.com/whiptydo. This makes it easier for users to find your page. Then, register your vanity URL so it can't be duplicated. However, keep in mind that once a URL is registered, it can never be changed. Fields said to keep it small and concise.

Also, dress up your page. Whipty-Do! changes its profile design for every holiday (even smaller ones).

"Make it colorful, unique and fun," Fields said. For the profile photo, brands have a 180-pixel-by-540-pixel space to work with. Fill up as much of that as possible, keeping in mind that the bottom-middle is the area on display to non-fans.

On top of a Facebook page is an area to place rotating photos. Fields said these should be uniform and clean. His business, for example, recently held a T-shirt competition, and design submissions are positioned on top of the page, equidistant from each other.

When to post

Fields said one of the biggest misconceptions companies have about Facebook promotions is the frequency with which to post.

"Brands that post constantly tend to annoy users, and they start to tune it out," he said.

A rule of thumb is to post something every other day. If you're a seasonal business, like Whipty-Do!, keep posts central to the bigger news and announcements.

The busiest surf time on Facebook is Saturdays at noon, in every time zone. Weekday afternoons are also active.

Companies that cater to late-night crowds – such as pizza joints in college towns – shouldn't post too early in the afternoon, however.

Finally, randomize your posts.

"Fans will get bored if every time you're posting something, it's similar to what you posted before. They'll lose interest, then tune it out, then they'll hide posts and eventually unlike your page," Fields said.

What to post

Although it may be natural to want to provide as much information as possible, Fields suggests keeping status updates short – no more than four lines – and ending them with a question, which promotes feedback.

Also, tag other brands when possible. For example, Whipty-Do! offers a Reese's Cup ice cream and, whenever that item is promoted, Reese's is tagged. This kicks Whipty-Do!'s status onto the Reese's wall, where its more than 8.5 million followers can see it.

Additionally, it's important to post brand/customer/promotion-related photos whenever possible.

"We're visual creatures. You'll get people to recognize what you're doing more with photos," Fields said.

Along those lines, videos are also important, even though they're a bit more time consuming.

With videos, however, you have to have something to say, Fields said.

"Don't just post a video to post it. Find an employee and give them a reason to talk to your customers. But don't do a commercial. People are exposed to enough commercials," he added.

(Check out a video Fields created to promote Whipty-Do!'s T-shirt contest here.)

Finding the right content to post – the content that generates the most "likes" and comments and interaction – may take a little bit of trial and error. If you're not getting any (or little) interaction, then it's important to reassess the message, as brands with the most fans and activity show up higher in searches, giving them an edge.

Other tips to keep in mind

Facebook promotions: According to Fields, Facebook frowns upon blatant promotions that are held on the site. Businesses interested in doing something like this need to contact Facebook for written permission. Violators have had their pages taken down.

Fields suggests other, smaller contests and activities such as asking trivia questions as status updates. Whipty-Do!'s recent "Tag it to win it" campaign featured a photo of a T-shirt, a banana split and a few other items. Fans were asked to tag themselves as one of the objects for a chance to win a prize.

The contest helped bump Whipty-Do!'s fans from about 1,600 to more than 3,000 in one month's time.

"It was fun. We could give away prizes and get our fans behind it. And if you consider that the average active Facebook user has 310 friends, we were getting so much more exposure because their tags were visible to their friends who may have never heard of us before," Fields said.

Check-in deals: Fields said incorporating a check-in deal is another good way to reach a broader base of Facebook users.

"Too many times businesses will disregard these types of deals because the customers are already in the door. But don't think of it as 'they're already here, so I don't have to give them a discount.' Think of it as, 'they've checked in and are showing my location to their 310 friends,'" Fields said.

Facebook advertising: To advertise on Facebook, it costs $1 minimum a day and an average of 60 to 90 cents per click. The goal is to create a resonating ad that receives a lot of clicks to drop that per-click cost. Whipty-Do! achieved this with its blue ice cream promotion.

"That ad was short and sweet and we targeted the King's Island (amusement park) crowd," Fields said. "No other form of advertising allows you to target fans of your competitors, and that's why it's important to take advantage of Facebook's capabilities."

Whipty-Do!'s blue ice cream ad eventually dropped to 10 to 20 cents per click. It had taken some trial and error for the business to figure out an ad that was popular. Fields plans on bringing it back next season.

Read more about social media marketing

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