Why so few small businesses customize their Facebook pages

Today’s post on Social Media Examiner looks at 10 Facebook Pages that do a great job selling their owner’s brand and identity: 10 Top Facebook Pages and Why They’re Successful.

Of course any small-to-medium sized business (SMB) will probably note right away that these are all highly customized Facebook Page accounts featuring custom-designed pages. These pages are either using FBML (Facebook markup language), FBML apps, or iframes.

And that web production “jargon” above is exactly the reason why so many SMBs don’t customize their pages. Because many Page owners may think: “But the reason why I use Facebook is BECAUSE I don’t have to hire someone to help design it!”

They’re right: the reason so many don’t customize is because it’s so easy to get a “bang for the buck” by simply setting up a page and posting on it. But there’s a deeper reason, too. Because customizing your Facebook page (like the Social Examiner’s “Top 10” do anyway) requires a deeper level of thinking.

It requires businesses to step back and ask themselves what they really should be promoting or doing with their Facebook page. And that’s the nut of the problem. Many SMBs need to do a deeper think into their marketing. What do we really want to promote? What do we want people to do when they get to our Facebook Page? How do we get people involved?

These are the real reason so many SMBs don’t customize their Facebook Pages.

I’d advise if you are an admin or owner of a non-customized page you start by looking closely at those “Top 10.” Then you may want to step back and call in a professional to help you determine answers to those key questions. And hire a developer to help you execute.

It’s not as hard as you think, and the benefit will be to focus you’re marketing efforts on achieving real results.

The only 3 social media strategies that matter

I had a journalism professor who had an interesting philosophy about writing news stories: “Explain it to the reader as if you’re explaining it to a friend at a bar.” That’s more clever than it sounds. What my old prof meant was: keep it simple, brief, and highlight the interesting stuff  (you don’t want to bore your friends do you?).

This weekend I was explaining social media success stories to a friend in the media. In that short conversation, I summed up the three big strategies of social media marketing. I walked away thinking “I should put that down in writing” … so here it goes.

1. Promotional: I know I know, every social media expert and “guru” out there tells you the opposite. They’re fond of telling all you (dear reader) that you must first appear “human” for anyone to listen to you, and that overselling yourself and talking about yourself is, well, crass. Yeah, well, not quite. The entire point of using social media for business is to spread the word about you, your services, your products. It’s OK to “promote” like hell — so long as you are honest and you focus on what makes your business/service unique. If you can’t do those two things, maybe you’re better off wearing a sandwich board.

2. Listen & Respond: A lot of small businesses think of social media as a one-way medium. A one-way string of messages posted into the interwebs that will bring you riches. Well, get this: if you aren’t listening and responding to other people, you’re wasting your time. If you don’t take the time to “listen” to the social conversation in your area, in your market, among your customers, you will never succeed. The “respond” part is easy if you’re engaged and listening. How you respond is up to you. When social media gurus say “be human” what they really mean is don’t sound like a robot or a carny hawking a fixed game of knock-the-heavily-weighted-milk-bottle-from-the-curved-stool-top. Do you like someone who talks business all the time at a cocktail party? Right. If you start by listening to the social conversation in your market (via social media), you’ll know how to avoid that.

3. Customer Service: This is not the same as “Listen & Respond” – I mean customer service, literally. Someone isn’t happy with a product or service that you or your company provides — you get off your butt and do something about it. Many companies are using their Facebook and Twitter accounts to reach out to customers. Let’s say I have a choice of renting a car from company A or company B. On company B’s web page is the usual service blather “We care” “Our customer is king” blah blah blah. Let’s say company A says the same thing — but has links to Twitter and Facebook. And on Twitter I see a tweet like this: “@john380, sorry about your check-in problem. Call me and let’s see what we can do.”

Guess who’s gonna get my business?

Sound scary? Well, OK. You can always hide. I understand customers love it when a company’s motto is “we don’t do jack for you.”

Social media as customer service: Learn from Zipcar

For many small businesses or individual business users, the idea of using the tools of social media is appealing because they see it as an easy “broadcasting” tool. It gets them on the web even when they don’t have a deep or robust web presence.

Yes, this is true, but the real value of social media, be it Twitter, Facebook, blogging platform, etc., is the ability to interact with customers/clients. In a post last week I showed how you can use Twitter to prospect for clients. But an even simpler way to use social media is to just listen and respond.

A great example of social media as customer service tool is to look at how Zipcar uses their Twitter  and Facebook account. Cambridge, MA-based Zipcar is operator of a car -sharing service, mainly in densely populated urban areas. Its emphasis is on self-service (complete with iPhone app) and the ability for members to easily get a car from service lots or easily accessed locations.

I won’t extoll all the virtues of their social media efforts but small businesses can learn the lessons of social-media-as-customer-service from Zipcar: On Twitter (4,600+ followers) it’s obvious that Zipcar is monitoring all mentions of the word “Zipcar” and responding/tweeting to customers who may be less than happy. Or to ones who are. I don’t know what tool they use, but if you can set up a free Hootsuite account or Tweetdeck account, your business can do the same thing by using the search functions. Or you can always use Google Alerts.

Here’s a textbook case of someone who tweeted about not being able to get a Zipcar for a holiday — and a Zipcar manager got in touch with them: Zipcar Does Social Media Right.

Here’s the value of listening: Think how much one good positive customer story like that is worth. Would it be that hard to ask that happy customer to post a review on Yelp? Or to write an email and ask permission to use that “testimonial” on your , blog or in a newsletter?

It’s also obvious that the Twitter team at Zipcar is doing some client prospecting: like my prior post mentioned, they are monitoring tweets for mentions of people with car/transportation issues, and reaching out to them on Twitter to suggest using Zipcar.

Of course they are also, amid the replies to users (happy or not), reminding people of services and promotions. Such as $150 in free driving when a member gets their boss to sign up the company for a business account. And that’s not all they have for promotion either: they just launched a Scvngr promotion that lets members earn points to rewards.

On Facebook, Zipcar is simply doing a stellar job of company promotion, but it is more one-way than their Twitter account. Still … it’s a great Facebook page, complete with videos and deep info on their “info” tab.

The point is: interacting with customers isn’t that hard, but you have to get in the game.