How to make Facebook work for your SME

Recently I was asked by Talk Business magazine to write a series of articles which will be published online and in their print edition. 

The first set focusses on social media – and I’ve written two about probably the biggest of all of these, Facebook. This initial piece is aimed at small business owners who perhaps haven’t ever used social media but realise they need to, in order to reach out to that huge potential captive audience.

The subject of this piece: how to make Facebook work for your SME.

You’re busy. People to manage, income streams to watch, clients to keep happy, new business to secure. And yet at the same time you keep on reading about how you need to spend time you don’t have on Facebook – the very thing you wish your employees would stop filling up the day with when they should be working. The platform almost every big corporate actually blocks. Are they mad?


Any social media for the sake of it, without direction or aim, ends up being pointless noise. An irritating, distracting time waster. Antisocial, more like. But as someone who has tried their share of marketing ideas, angles or just plain gimmicks (and you probably have too) over the years, I know only too well that can be true of any marketing campaign. You think that sponsored hot air balloon with your logo fifteen metres wide is going to increase sale tenfold – turns out, the salesman was full of… hot air. Same is true of a poorly-used Facebook for business page. Hot air for days.

So why use it? Why bother with any social media? Will it translate into sales you can measure? To understand better how Facebook might be useful to your business and what angle to take, let’s take a step back.


Where did Facebook come from?
This is a well-storied tale you may well be familiar with. If not, it might be an idea to watch the 2010 film ‘The Social Network’ which, while somewhat contentious with the characters depicted, explains how ‘Thefacebook’ was born on the campus of Harvard in 2004. The concept of sharing your life online via news, pictures and messages began in the college dorm room of Mark Zuckerberg and his college roommates. It was initially a student-only site, with the aim being to put ‘the entire college experience online’. Instantly infectious, after great success it expanded throughout the US ‘Ivy League’ universities and on to high school students.

Then, the breakthrough: on September 26, 2006, the simpler-named ‘Facebook’ was opened up to anyone over the age of 13, anywhere in the world. In 2015, it seems almost quaint to imagine (or indeed remember) the internet before Facebook. Up to that point, other websites like the British ‘Friends Reunited’ project had proven intriguing, but they were a way of looking back and as the name suggested, reconnecting. Facebook is about looking around you and sharing what you are doing now, in real time, with the people you are friends with today.


What sort of business is it useful for?
From my perspective this could be an article all in itself. For me a more apt question would be ‘how can I make Facebook useful’ as theoretically it could help every kind of business. As someone who sees an important correlation between any kind of marketing and business or lead generation, I feel strongly this is as much to do with strategy as relevance. However it’s clear that some businesses are more suited to Facebook than others.

One good sector for which there are clear benefits of using social media are local service-based businesses where personal relationships in the community are important

For instance:

  • a newly-opened café with handmade sandwiches and fast wifi attractive to the ‘WFH’ laptop professional;
  • a local florist vulnerable to the seasonal ebb and flow of business, talking about unusual new products, a particular fresh personal style of arrangement, as well as sales and special offers;
  • a farming cooperative who sell fresh fruit and vegetables direct from the supplier and deliver to local homes, even in out-of-town areas.


A couple of good ideas to translate hot air into hot revenue

• Get snap-happy
The examples cited above are all fairly ‘photogenic’ businesses. It’s well-documented that the feature people react to most on Facebook are lovely photographs, perhaps of family members, or ‘beautiful things’ from someone’s travels. I believe that with a little imagination, any business can take advantage of the benefit of a ‘photo telling a thousand words’. Invest in a decent camera and create images such as high quality fresh produce at a grocer, beautiful food at a café or restaurant, a successful makeover at a hairdresser / beautician or stunning bouquet of flowers with a story about ‘making someone’s Mum so happy on their birthday’. There’s no doubt this approach, used consistently, spreads the word about your business… plus everyone has a relative they have to send flowers to once in a while. It really works.

• Use your personnel as part of an ongoing story
‘In real life’ (as opposed to sitting at a computer screen) a friendly, charismatic person in the context of a retail environment, or knocking on your door making a delivery, is always favourably memorable to their customers. This same theory works like a charm on Facebook where a catchy turn of phrase and sparkle of wit translates into stronger relationships between that business and their customers. Thus your business becomes something people look forward to hearing about, not (crucially) irritated with. If you or one of your staff is particularly engaging or funny, why not let them become the face, or voice of your business? Then they can tell a story of a ‘soft-sell’ build-up to key events and promotions which will undoubtedly increase knowledge of these, and could well increase revenue.