6 Steps for Small Businesses to Master Facebook

Facebook announced changes to its News Feed rankings system Tuesday that aim to show users the most relevant content on a personal basis—even if it’s not the most recent.

According to Facebook, there are 1 million businesses who are active advertisers on the social networking site. That’s not many, when you compare that number to the estimated 23 million small businesses in the U.S. And some entrepreneurs who do use the site aren’t getting the most out of it, according to digital marketing pros Mike Dolpies and Ryan Lee.

It doesn’t take a lot of time to tap in: Lee and other experts say it’s possible to get great results from Facebook by spending just minutes a day on the social network. Here are six steps for small-business owners to get the most out of the world’s largest social network.

No. 1: Create a fan page, not a personal page.

Even if you’re a “solo-preneur,” your business page on Facebook should be separate from your personal page.

“A lot of small businesses have a personal page, but not a Facebook fan page,” says Lee. If you’re mixing personal with business, now’s the time to create a proper fan page that won’t get cluttered with your latest vacation photos or updates on your relationship status.

No. 2: Choose profile pictures and cover photos carefully.

Just as you wouldn’t choose an unflattering profile picture for your personal page, you want to make sure you’re putting your best foot forward on your small-business fan page.

Dave Kerpen, the CEO of Likeable Local and author of “Likeable Social Media: How to Delight Your Customers, Create an Irresistible Brand, and Be Generally Amazing on Facebook (And Other Social Networks)” , says both profile pictures and cover photos should be engaging and feature people – not just items or services you’re selling.

“If you’re a store, have people wearing the clothing, and if it’s a restaurant, have people eating the beautiful food,” says Kerpen. “They should also be attractive people,” he adds with a laugh.

Lee says you want great-looking photos – but nothing too cheesy. “You shouldn’t go to Sears, and get a photo of you in front of a white background with a fake lion,” he says. He recommends using sites like Fiverr.com, an online marketplace, to get professional help at a fraction of the cost.

No. 3: Acquire followers.

“You’re number one responsibility is follower acquisition,” says Dolpies, who calls Facebook a numbers game. “You’re not going to see results, because your volume will be too low.”

Kerpen says your first target should be current customers, who will be the most meaningful to your business as a starting point.

“The first thing to do is ask,” he says. “Put a sign up on the counter asking people to like you, or print it out on the receipts.”

Kerpen says another successful tactic is incentivizing likes by offering discounts. “Say you’ll give 10% off if you like us on Facebook and show us your smartphone, or a free cup of coffee if you like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter,” he suggests.

No. 4: Post engaging content.

All the experts agree that engaging, relevant content is the most important tool small business owners have in creating a meaningful Facebook relationship with their target audience.

“Add photos and tell stories,” recommends Lee. He also says asking followers questions can be a great way to get the ball rolling.

“Think of a hair salon. What they can do is tie into the news, post a photo of a celebrity’s new haircut, and instead of just saying, ‘Check this out,’ they can ask, ‘Do you like Jennifer Aniston’s new hair?’ Or they can take a before and after picture and ask, ‘Which do you like better?’ This will get you more likes and comments,” says Lee.

Chris Treadaway, the CEO of PolyGraph Media, which provides Facebook analytics, says the majority of Facebook posts should focus on humanizing your business – not selling your products.

“Bring a video camera around, and talk to customers or employees about how the business operates, and how it’s involved in the community,” says Treadaway. “Add value to someone’s life – don’t just say, ‘We have hot croissants today.’”

Dolpies says Facebook’s integration of Instagram makes it easy for business owners to create new content to post. “Just snap a quick picture from behind the counter, or shots of your items,” he recommends.

This is helpful for business owners pressed for time – especially since the pros recommend posting once a day.

“As a rule of thumb, post something five to seven times per week,” says Treadaway. And if you want to do it all at once at the beginning of the week, Kerpen says there are tools, like Hootsuite or his company’s tool, Likeable Local, that help business owners schedule posts.

“You can take 15-20 minutes to schedule posts for the entire week,” he says.

No. 5: Target potential customers with Facebook ads.

The experts agree that Facebook’s ads platform is an easy, inexpensive way for businesses to gain new likes and attract new potential customers.

“You can highly target your ads, and it’s easy to set up a campaign” says Lee. “If you’re a hair salon, you can target women between the ages of 20 and 32 within your zip code, or within five miles. And if you want to get even more specific, you can target women are who are in their 20s and single, and create an ad campaign that says, ‘Going out on a hot date? Get 10% off on our Saturday night special.’

“You can’t do that in a newspaper.”

Dolpies advises setting your initial budget at $5-$10 a day as you work out the kinks, while Lee recommends a budget of $100 per week for beginners.

No. 6: Don’t delete anything.

As you begin to gain a following, you may receive a less-than-glowing Facebook comment from a disgruntled customer. While it’s tempting to remove the post, both Treadaway and Kerpen say you should view the comment as a great opportunity to establish yourself as a responsive, customer-oriented business owner.

“We monitor chatter on local businesses, and when they apologize, it has a tremendous impact,” says Treadaway. “A local Tex-Mex restaurant opened up and got some negative customer feedback, but they turned it around, ran some Facebook offers, and now they’re full every day.”

Kerpen agrees.

“Don’t delete anything unless it’s bigoted, obscene or calls out personal information,” says Kerpen.

Instead, he says business owners should respond publicly – and then take the conversation offline.

“Say ‘I’m sorry and I sent you a private message.' This will de-escalate it publicly, and it tells the world that is watching that you’re a business that cares about its customers,” he says.