Facebook strategies that work for business

Many small- to midsized businesses today shy away from using Facebook. That’s a mistake, say technology experts. Sure, there’s the risk of negative comments getting posted on your wall for the whole world to see, but here’s the reality: If you’re not on Facebook, your competition is.

So instead of avoiding of this powerful social tool, embrace it — and use it to boost your reputation on the Internet. Here’s how.

1. Get your employees to contribute

Creating a successful Facebook page simply requires posting frequently and answering comments. Make it a team effort, and the process will be easier — not to mention, you’ll have a more competitive page, thanks to continuous engagement.

“Fourteen members of our staff have admin status on our Facebook page and are encouraged to share and engage with our fan base,” says community manager Dayna Winter of GelaSkins, a Toronto-based company that sells decorative covers for gadgets. Because of the manageable number of employees with Facebook authorization and two people whose job is to actively monitor all comments, Winter says the opportunities outweigh the risks of putting yourself out there.

But if you still want more control, try setting a stricter approval policy. “Some companies have a fairly restrictive creation-approval-post process whereby no official content ever leaves the company without proper approval,” says Chenxi Wang, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research. “The approval process can be manual and similar to how you would control outbound content for press and media today.”

2. Engage your fans with multimedia content

The ultimate goal of your Facebook page is to promote your brand and connect directly with your customers. So post things that update and engage your users so they’ll come back to you and have a conversation. At GelaSkins, for example, employees post a good mix of content, including photos (GelaSkins-related skins), new art announcements and conversation-provoking questions.

You can also take the conversation beyond just what your company is doing and include links and pop culture topics. Or, try to poll your audience on various topics to get them to interact.

3. Use negative comments to your benefit

Comments from unhappy customers can actually be a boon to your business image: They’re opportunities to display your exceptional customer service. “Resolving the issues directly in this public forum shows transparency,” says Winter, “which goes a long way — and forces us to address these concerns quickly.”

And sometimes, customers can help answer questions too. Winter cites a recent example of a Spanish-speaking customer helping out another. “This is very useful for companies that do business worldwide but who may not have the resources to translate or respond in other languages,” he explains. So reward your most engaged fans, advises Winter; they’ll do a little legwork for you.

4. Mend a bad reputation

Technology experts agree that social media can help your business, as long as you know how to manage the flow of information. “Be aware of what social media content out there is associated with your company’s brand,” advises Wang.

This goes beyond just what your company is posting on Facebook to include content from third-party sources — customer and competitor comments, general reviews, community boards and more. Wang suggests MarkMonitor, which can help you understand what content out there is relevant to your brand and reputation. And if you don’t like what you discover, try services like Reputation.com and Cyveillance to correct a bad reputation or inaccurate content.

5. Resolve bigger issues offline

Don’t let it get ugly on Facebook. Most of the time, you can manage the two-way information flow easily online. But in some situations, the conversation should be temporarily taken off the social platform to find a resolution.

“Generally, we discuss as a team some of the more sticky situations and how we handle,” says Winter. “Many times, a customer who has posted negative comments has contacted us via email already and is looking for a more immediate outlet. It’s important that our messaging is consistent before we publicly or privately post a reply.”

GelaSkins uses iChat internally, so employees can check in with each other before they post, which could work for similar companies too, advises Winter.

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Marc Saltzman is a Toronto-based technology journalist who has written for many print and online publications, including USA Today, AARP and Yahoo!. His on-air segments on technology can be seen on CNN.