How Your Business Can Better Promote Itself—And Avoid Pitfalls—On The New Facebook

Facebook made a dramatic shift recently, announcing the rollout of a whole host of new features that mark its pivot from a site where college students went primarily to share private communications among friends and family to a network of 800 million+ people, whose default philosophy is "you will want to share everything." This arc toward greater public sharing has always been Mark Zuckerberg's philosophy, and it is also Google chairman Eric Schmidt's.

For businesses, Facebook especially just got exponentially more complicated, because there are now issues around your brand's visibility in the new timelines, as well as around the training you MUST offer your employees, who are all on Facebook in their personal lives.

Traditionally, if you were a business, no matter how public you wanted to seem, there were things you just couldn't share. And only you, the leader of the business, knew what those were. They may be competitive secrets, working conditions, or perhaps revenue numbers. Traditionally, too, only certain employees spoke for the company or the brand. And they probably weren't in your brand's marketing channels in their off hours.

But now every employee who is also on Facebook has the potential to speak, even if inadvertently. And there have already been court cases about whether employees can be terminated for talking about their companies on their own time. (They can't.)

Therefore, as a business you have no choice but to get out ahead of this movement, giving your employees good information that will keep them from saying something that will damage your brand. Before entering the arena of public sharing, most companies must dramatically increase the amount of internal sharing they do. And that requires an investment in training all the employees, not just the communications people. Or in re-training them, and first re-training yourself in the new standards. I rarely advise that a small business hire a consultant (the big brands already have them), but this private to public shift probably demands some good outside help and thought leadership on where you should go with your communications policies.

At the very least, you need to provide your employees a library of books by the best thinkers in the nascent field of "social business," which is what both Facebook and Google have brought us. Social business involves more training than most companies provide for employees, but this training will be worth it. At the very least, give everybody a copy of The Now Revolution, Public Parts, and The End of Business as Usual.

After my post last week on what the new Facebook changes mean for businesses, many people asked for a deeper dive into the potential business implications of the changes, most of which haven't even been rolled out yet, rather than just the brief comments I made on privacy and "frictionless" sharing.

So here are a few things you should consider before you even finish the books I've recommended:  

1. The apps you choose for your page, if any, are more important than ever, because they will now broadcast for you automatically whenever you use them. For now, I'd stay away from apps unless they have a real revenue-enhancing purpose.

2. If you have an advertising budget, don't be afraid to use it on Facebook. Advertising on Facebook will work better for you than it did in the past, because the demographic information about users will be deeper, and you will be better able to target actual customers. Again, this depends on the nature of your product or service.

3. But if you are a small business trying to build visibility simply through broadcast updates, you may find it more difficult for your updates to be found in the constant stream over on the user's right (this is called the Ticker). Updates are now in the "ticker," while stories deemed "important" to your target customer will be in the main Timeline. The ticker is ephemeral. The Timeline might be tough to crack. You may just want to give up on your brand page and invest your scarce resources elsewhere.

4. If you decide to stay on Facebook as a marketing platform, you are going to have to post better content than ever before, especially content with a broader focus than just updates from your business: trend stories, perhaps, or comparisons, or specific promotions that drive action. You are also going to have to find our who your customers are, and engage with them on an individual basis. For a large consumer brand, this can be challenging. The sheer numbers are daunting.

5. Most critical:  If you are a public company, you will have to re-double your efforts at diffusing your major messages throughout the entire company, and on explaining to employees what the SEC rules are concerning material information. Everyone needs to know--not just marketing, PR, or investor relations. Everyone who works for you is now in investor relations.

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[Image: Flickr user misspixels]

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