Facebook Forces Small Business Owners to Look in the Mirror
It’s eerie that my blog post last month came only days before Facebook’s announcement on the significant changes it intends to make to its news feed algorithm. The ensuing panic among tech pundits, small business owners and non-profits was certainly understandable, given that so many of them lazily rely upon the world’s largest social media network for digital marketing.
Now that the dust has settled, a few thoughts:
The Bad Dinner Guest
It might seem surprising, but I actually agree with Facebook’s justification for the proposed change.
“With this update,” Facebook explained in its news release, “we will also prioritize posts that spark conversations and meaningful interactions between people. To do this, we will predict which posts you might want to interact with your friends about, and show these posts higher in feed. These are posts that inspire back-and-forth discussion in the comments and posts that you might want to share and react to – whether that’s a post from a friend seeking advice, a friend asking for recommendations for a trip, or a news article or video prompting lots of discussion.”
This is social media, after all, and interesting content and meaningful interactions are the platform’s lifeblood. Despite the introduction of rampant advertising, people overwhelmingly use the service to stay connected with friends and family, to giggle at funny videos and memes, to pursue their hobbies and interests and to stay informed on the news of the day. SMBs who thrive on Facebook have always understood that they’re an invited guest to a neighborhood dinner party. How they connect with other guests depends on what they talk about around the dinner table.
Unfortunately, an overwhelming number of businesses on the platform act like bad dinner guests. You know the type. They either chat with others about dry, boring topics, or obnoxiously promote their insurance agency during light conversations about cooking, gardening, travel, politics and sports. When they finally excuse themselves to refresh their drink, their new neighbors are relieved, if not grateful, for their exit.
The Memorable Guest
Social media strategy is much more than just self promotion, and that’s what Facebook is getting at with its news feed changes. We are friends with people who have shared interests, teach us things, have a sense of humor and silently remind us with each encounter why we value them as a friend. We aren’t friends with them merely because they know how to hang a door, fix a water heater or have financial experience. They’re a complete package. Sure, they chat about their business on occasion, but, most of the time, they enjoy talking with us about things of mutual interest.
Businesses on Facebook are no different. Instead of seeing themselves as a person and contributing to digital conversations, they view social media as little more than advertising, and their audiences as “marks.” Nothing wrong that, but Facebook is now going to put them where they belong — in a separate area of the news feed or in a paid ad that we can ignore or block from our news feeds, because they’re decidedly anti-social.
If you think that’s unfair, the problem is with you, not Facebook. Start by looking at yourself in the mirror and asking some hard questions:
Does our company have a value proposition that guides our blog writing and social media shares?
If you’re an HVAC company that prides itself on superior service, for example, sharing helpful news/advice about home safety underscores that service commitment before and beyond the sale. Posting seasonal recipes that folks can enjoy in the warmth/cool of their kitchens (thanks to your products/service) can generate a consistent “Thank You!” from your audience, not to mention positive feelings, 5-star reviews and word of mouth endorsements to their friends and family.
Only 20% of your posts should offer calls to action to do business with your company. The other 80% should be a mix of interesting shareable content and imagery, strategically guided by a social media publishing calendar. A good start is to set up Google Alerts for articles and infographics that match keywords for your industry, so you’re on top of the latest news.
On a lighter note, participate in the celebration of social media holidays. For example, International Coffee Day is on Sept 29, 2018. Post a funny picture of you or a co-worker with a cup of your daily fix and run a contest that asks users to submit their photos in a Facebook message to you. Pick one as a winner and give away a $20 Starbucks card.
Make Your Best Customers Social Media Stars!
Getting good reviews is all the rage, but most businesses don’t do anything to encourage them or strategically use them in their marketing. People like shout outs! Start personally thanking people for their positive feedback on Facebook and on your Google My Business and Yelp! pages.
Next, choose the best reviews and spotlight them on your Facebook page with short, iPhone/Android created videos where they talk about their positive experience. If you or your customer aren’t comfortable with that, ask them for a favorite selfie from their Facebook page and pair it with their positive review.
Can You Teach?
DIY videos rank high in social shares on Facebook. Helping people help themselves without charging them for it is the mark of a friend, not a business. You can create videos for free or at low-cost with WeVideo, or use Facebook Live stream video to offer a weekly live Q&A with your audience.
If you want to really commit to teaching your followers, consider setting up a Facebook group to offer people the opportunity to ask you questions about your area of expertise. If you give them the answer that they’re looking for, who do you think they’ll call or recommend?
Get Creative and Visual!
Sorry folks, but no one reads anymore. That means photos and videos are not an option. They’re mandatory if you want to capture the attention of thumb scrolling mobile users or to pop from the clutter of an average user’s news feed. Check in to see what videos are popular on YouTube, use professional free photos from Pixabay and create eye-catching memes and graphics using Canva.
The Final Word
Answering Facebook’s news feed changes may seem insurmountable, but it’s a “glass half full” opportunity in terms of re-examining the value of your business and its place in social space. The guy in the mirror has the answers, and, while sometimes painful, you might actually enjoy the conversation, and transform the marketing focus of your business at the same time.