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Deep Lessons About Shallow Conclusions

To my great chagrin, I find I am as guilty as anyone of drawing shallow conclusions about the role and value or social media in a marketing plan. I read this article in Ad Age about an Australian study whose research proved that no more than 1% of fans actually engage with brands on Facebook. In other words, fans may “like” your page, but it’s pretty meaningless, because they don’t talk about you. 

So, I concluded, why spend a lot of time on Facebook, especially if you are a small business with limited resources. And I wrote that on Google+, home of the serious conversation. 

I was brought abruptly to my senses, by +Anne Heap, who owns Pink Cake Box, a specialty cake bakery in New Jersey. She’s one of the people I’ve met on Google +, and I probably never would have met her otherwise. Anne isn’t a social media guru; she’s a person whose business lives and dies by her own marketing methods. She taught me a big lesson:  

Anne:   I respectfully disagree Francine on the point that small businesses are largely wasting their time on Facebook. I do agree that share of voice is becoming increasingly difficult on these channels due to increased competition. In addition, there are certain types of businesses that have a more difficult time establishing themselves on these channels largely due to the nature of their business. 

However, speaking anecdotally from our experience at +Pink Cake Box, Facebook has become a key marketing and communication channel…. it’s one of our top 5 referrers to our web properties. Following that through our conversion cycle, facebook visits do convert (although not at the same rate as some of our other sources). In addition, the sheer volume of users on Facebook is another key differentiator. 

And lastly a facebook strategy is not confined to just a brand fan page. It should include integration with your web properties using facebook open graph, facebook comments and facebook applications.” 

(I don’t go down without a fight.) Me: You are about 10x as web savvy as most small businesses, and clearly you use all the channels. Do you mail your cakes? One of my issues with FB is that if your business is local, most of the traffic on FB isn’t of very much use to you. 

Anne: That’s a fair point about locally targeted businesses. Our business is primarily local as well. (We do mail cookies nationally but that’s a small portion) However, our philosophy about national exposure is two-fold. One is the idea of social connections that can lead to local connections. While I may live in California and have liked your facebook page, I may remember your brand when it’s time to celebrate my friend’s baby shower in NJ. Additionally, exposure nationally also can help virality of a brand. For example, a blogger in California posts one of our cakes after seeing us on facebook and links back to our site. This can help increase exposure on search engines and may help direct other local residents to our site from the bloggers site. 

So yes I think you are right in that it can be hard on facebook to target local/relevant customer base (but certainly not impossible and local targetting should be an important part of your engagement strategy). Interestingly this used to be an issue for google until they improved their local relevancy by factoring in the users location when serving up content. Perhaps we’ll see an evolution on Facebook’s end to also help ensure content shown through the news feed is more locally relevant. 

And on last point. I did a quick cross reference of incoming facebook referal traffic by region. In the 10 ten I had NJ, PA, & NY (NJ was #1). Those are all our target markets. So just by the fact that we do business in these states you can see our traffic from facebook is already locally skewed towards these regions. 

At this point, I realized 1) she had done her homework 2) she WAS getting value and 3) My conclusion about Facebook traffic being too global for a local small business was also incorrect. In fact, her traffic is skewing locally, even before Facebook becomes too focussed on geography, which I am sure is coming as soon as that IPO is done. 

Here are my deeper conclusions after the honor of having a conversation with Anne:

1) If you are a brand and you are going to use Facebook as a marketing tool, make it part of an overall strategy and don’t expect the impossible from it

2)If you are a small business and you think you can find your customers on Facebook, go for it after you have done the kind of homework Anne has done and you have the kind of understanding she obviously has.

3)If you want to learn something from another person, Google+ is a great place to do it. The civil, extended conversations make it better for someone like me than Quora, which tends to have a lot of grandstanding and one way conversations, or Facebook/twitter, which tend to be too brief and informal.

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