This week’s Online Communications interview is with Annette Schwindt, a Bonn-based accredited PR consultant, and author of a German ebook-introduction to Facebook that’s been getting a lot of attention. Later this year Annette is set to publish a print book about Facebook with O’Reilly Verlag, Germany.
I wanted to talk to Annette because business clients can’t seem to get enough Facebook at the moment; however, from the conversations I’ve been having many aren’t sure how to use Facebook.
I’ve been watching Annette do interesting things with Facebook for several of her customers so I was delighted she took time out from her hectic schedule to share her thoughts with me.
Jon: You’ve been doing more Facebook work for clients recently. What do you think makes a Facebook presence so useful for business users?
Annette: Facebook is the mash-up solution for your communications. Which doesn’t mean it can substitute a website or blog. But it can help you create a platform (profile or fan page) where people can connect with all your communications activities in one place.
On Facebook you can easily:
- share any web content (and make yours shareable)
- implement your feed content in Facebook
- use all kind of applications that will even allow you to use other services right there
and the other way around: create a livestream for your website or blog by using the Facebook fan box.
That way you can create your individual mash-up for your communications and build community.
Jon: Clients seem to be increasingly keen to explore how Facebook can work for them. How does a business really get started on Facebook? And are there any major traps to avoid?
Annette: Ooh, there’s no short answer to this question!
Starting with Facebook is like starting with any other social media tool. Go there and watch first. See what others are doing and how you like what they’re doing. Is their fan page helpful? Do they provide the information you’d be looking for as a client and is it easily accessible? And in what way do they communicate? Is their fan page easy to find at all?
As a business I’d hire a professional to help me get started with my own fan page because, yes, there are traps you can easily fall into if you’re completely new to this platform (starting already with the question: business or personal account?). There’s never just one way to get something done but there are always several options. A professional will find out which ones are right for you and save you time, effort and money.
Jon: What kind of real-world results can you get for your business through developing and maintaining a Facebook presence? Especially if you’re a small or medium sized outfit.
Annette: Facebook, like any other social media, is a communications tool that helps you to get in direct contact with others. So your question is like asking what real world results you get from a phone. Especially since the distinction between “online world” and “real world” is almost irrelevant now. With the increasing use of mobile web and augmented reality (and whatever comes after that) people finally need to understand that the web is just another communication tool. I’m sure in a few years we’ll use the web as a matter of course just like we use the phone today. Digital natives are practically doing this already!
Businesses are increasingly expected to be available on Facebook today. Like you’re expected to have a website or email. If you’re not there, people will start to think you might not be where it’s at or not care about customer relationships.
Jon: How much time and effort does it take to build a community on Facebook bearing in mind businesses are looking for a ROI?
Annette: I know that’s what business owners always ask… But can you say what is the ROI of a business’ phone? Social media is about communication and engaging with people. If your only motivation is money then people will feel it and not feel connected to what you do because they will feel the lack of engagement behind it.
If you start a social media activity you need to provide quality content, be helpful and ENGAGE (check out Brian Solis’s forthcoming book on this subject ). The most important thing then is to be available regularly and reliably â€“ which means at least once a day. As for the rest, you decide how much time you can afford to put in there.
I was already present on Twitter, had a blog and a regular website when I started my fan page on Facebook. I only had to let my already existing community know where to find me. If you start completely from scratch things will take longer of course. But again: this is not about the tool but about how you use it.
The more helpful and interesting content you share and the easier your fan page is to find, the more fans you will get. Link to the fan page on all your other communication channels (starting with your letter and email signature, your website/blog up to your linkedin account).
Jon: What’s the bestÂ Facebook application for businesses looking to make Facebook work for them?
Annette: This depends on the kind of business you have. A musician will need the music player application, a hotel will need a booking application and a publisher will need a virtual book shelf. There is no such thing as THE Facebook application.
There are applications though that will be used more often than others. Like Networked Blogs for implementing your blog or other feed(s). An application that will become even more important when Facebook stops supporting Info- and Boxes-Tabs on fan pages is Static FBML, an application that helps you to create individually designed tabs.