Facebook Etiquette for Businesses and Brands

By Mikal E. Belicove

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

facebook.jpgWhen your business establishes a presence on Facebook, you make a commitment to be a good neighbor, a trusted Facebook friend. The emphasis is on being a friend, not a store, a business, or even a customer service help desk (although these days, your customers are just as likely to ask you a product support-related question via Facebook as they are through your website, but that's really a topic for another blog post). As my co-author Joe Kraynak and I point out in our forthcoming book, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Facebook, if you are not careful, social-media marketing, particularly on Facebook, can do more harm to your business or brand than good. To improve your chances of success, adhere to the following rules of business etiquette when launching and managing a business-related page on Facebook.

Avoid "I" statements
Unless you are your business, speak about your business in the third person (they) or second person (we). For example, to announce that your company is exhibiting at a conference or trade show, post "[Your Company Name] will be exhibiting at such-and-such show later this week," rather than "I will be...." Using "We will be..." would also be appropriate. The same holds true for responses to fans' comments... never respond with "I" or "me" (e.g., "I'm on it, email me that info right away.").

Focus on quality, not quantity
You might not agree but I wholeheartedly believe that the quality of your business's or brand's Facebook fans counts more than the quantity. If you're thinking about posting a message like, "Help us out, we only need 257 more fans to reach 3,000," don't! Arbitrary numbers do nothing but stroke someone's ego. Focus instead on the quality of your relationships. If the quality is high, the quantity--through referrals and authentic word-of-mouth--will rise with it.

Display your fans' wall posts
While it's true fans and others visiting your Facebook page want to see what your business is up to, they also feel they have a right--and therefore, they have a reasonable expectation--that they'll be able to see what other fans have to say. If your Facebook wall settings have "Only Posts by Page" as the default view, or "Fans can write or post content on the wall" is unchecked, change both right away. If you're uncomfortable with fans posting content when you're not around, uncheck the latter before heading home for the evening or weekend, but be sure to turn the feature back on the next workday. Remember, as the page admin, you can always remove a comment or wall post (and you can even remove a fan should the need ever arise).

Avoid the heavy self-promotion
Remember, this is called social networking, not social selling. While your prospects and customers expect you to be on Facebook, they don't want you pushing yourself on them or intruding into their social time. With this in mind, limit the number of times you send updates to fans. Just like the little boy who cried wolf, no one wins when you treat everything like breaking news or a matter of immediate urgency. If anything, you lose credibility and fans turn a blind eye toward your messages, or worse, they remove themselves as a fan of your business or brand.

Engage with your Facebook fans
When fans leave comments or questions on a status update or note, thank them, and then answer the questions or comment back, if called for, and always do so in a timely manner. If a fan posts a photo or video on your wall, make a comment or click the "like" button if, indeed, you appreciate the comment. Nothing's worse than visiting a businesses or brand's Facebook page only to see unanswered questions or unacknowledged testimonial-like comments.

Flesh out Your Facebook fan page profile
Include everything requested when setting up your company or product profile, so Facebook members have everything they need to make a well informed choice of whether to become a fan and how to reach your business should the need ever arise.

Post status updates regularly
Facebook fans lose interest fairly quickly unless you keep them engaged, so post status updates, photos, videos, and other content regularly. If you have a blog, set up a news feed on the Notes page that automatically pulls fresh content from your blog onto your Facebook fan page.

Be authentic and transparent
This one's fairly obvious by now but some business owners and brand managers still don't get it. Facebook members have little to no tolerance for phoniness or hidden agendas and can easily spot both. They do tend, however, to be forgiving. Be genuine and transparent. If you make a mistake, own up to it, do your best to resolve the issue, and then post back on the action you have taken.Â

In closing, remember to be a friend. Facebook is a digital hangout where friends gather to share. Think of your Facebook fan page less as a tool for promoting your business and more as a place where friends feel comfortable to gather and share their enthusiasm about your products, services, and other offerings, and you will be well on your way to doing it right. If it helps to think of it in these terms, operate your business or brand's Facebook presence less like a used auto lot where it seems everyone's always looking out for themselves, and more like the interior of a coffee shop, where people are treated more like guests than they are prospective customers.

Mikal E. Belicove is a market positioning, social media, and management consultant specializing in website usability and business blogging. His latest book, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Facebook, is now available at bookstores. 

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