Monday, September 19, 2011

What We Learned at "The Book

As part of the Big Break for Small Business contest, we had the great fortune of spending two days this past August at the Facebook headquarters in Palo Alto, California. For those of you who are not familiar with the contest, American Express OPEN and Facebook teamed up to provide five companies with a “big break”. Specifically, they wanted to give five small businesses the opportunity to grow their businesses by utilizing social media. By combining hands-on training from Facebook experts, and a cash prize by American Express OPEN, it would give these small businesses a unique opportunity to accelerate the growth of their business. 
Just 45 days since our return, I’m pleased to report that we’re making significant progress AND beginning to reap the benefits of an enhanced focus on social media.
In this blog post, we’d like to share a few of the learnings that we walked away with and give a couple examples of how we’re putting it into practice in our business. While we’re not pretending to be experts in social media, Facebook opened their doors to us and we want to do our part to “pay it forward”.
American Express OPEN will also be producing a series of videos that will document our learnings and provide even more resources for small businesses. Once those are published, they’ll be available at
What We Learned (for business & organizations)
While it’s impossible to encapsulate all our learnings into such a brief document as this, there were a few key concepts that made an impression on us and our outlook towards social media. Some of these learnings may sound basic on the surface, but as is often the case, it’s the mastery of fundamentals that separate the great companies from the good.
The official Facebook-for-business marketing plan is “Build, Engage, Amplify”. While the complete “Best Practice Guide” can be downloaded directly from Facebook (, allow me to elaborate on what it meant to me.
The basic concept here is START your social initiative. Build a Facebook page for your business or organization. Utilize one of Facebook’s many pre-built plugins. Extend your basic page with a custom app. Bottom line, get off the sidelines and into the game. There are a number of advanced steps you can take, but not until you take that important first step.
Another important concept is to “bake” social media in at the beginning - make your marketing efforts “social by design”. We are perfect examples of this...or should I say, perfect offenders of this concept. Like most small businesses, we already have a lot on our plate and sometimes that the position that “I can’t possibly add another task to my schedule”. The notion of “social by design” is more about weaving social media into everything we do versus treating it as some disparate marketing function. Baked in at the start, social media will become a natural extension of your brand and an organic component of your marketing efforts.
Once you have created the social platform, it’s time to engage your customer base. For me, the true meaning of the word “engage” had eluded me. As a marketer, I thought I had been “engaging” my customers for years, when in fact I was simply broadcasting to them. Engaging is all about creating a conversation, and by definition you need at least two parties involved to converse. There are a number of ways that a business can interact with their customers in the social web, but the key concept is to stop talking TO them and start communicating WITH them.
Some important tips when engaging your customers:
  • Keep it human. One of my biggest pet peeves with e-commerce companies is when they build up a technological wall from their customers and utilize their website as if it were an order taking robot. Social media is not only your chance to bring a human touch to your company, but it’s practically a requirement. 
  • Give it a voice. Having a voice is part of keeping it human, but make sure that your voice is consistent and representative of the brand you wish to project. It can be more conversational, but make sure that it’s in line with the goals and greater mission of your organization.
  • Keep it timely and relevant. Make an effort to engage your customers on a frequent basis, but don’t force it on them. Make it meaningful.
  • Reward your customers. Give them a tangible reason for becoming your “friend” by utilizing Facebook’s unique features or by providing exclusive offerings for friends only.
  • Listen. Like any conversation, it’s important to listen (at least) as much as you speak. In the context of Facebook, carefully observe the responses you get to various posts. Are you getting a lot of likes on certain content and not others? Are your customers commenting on your videos, but not photos? What are customers saying about your business, your products, your service? Listen attentively and adjust your engagement as necessary.
Once you’ve built something and begun to engage your customers, now it’s time to amplify! Originally on Facebook, amplification only happened organically by the nature of friends sharing with friends, who shared with more friends, who then shared with other friends, etc. Facebook now has a variety of sophisticated tools that allow you to take a more proactive role in the amplification process. 
While online sponsored ads have existed for well over a decade, the enlightened nature of the Facebook platform has taken sponsored ads to a whole new level of targeting. In the “old world” way of doing sponsored search, you would target hundreds of potential keywords, adjust their respective bids and copy in hopes of finding a favorable ROI for a small portion of those keywords. These were simply the only levers that you could pull. In contrast, thanks to the myriad of data that individuals volunteer about themselves to build their Facebook profile, it’s now possible to target an ad to a very specific set of consumers. For instance, if I owned a tuxedo shop in Omaha, I could create an ad that says “Best Prom Tuxedos in Omaha” and display this ad during the months of March and April only to male high school students in Omaha, Nebraska. Think about your own business or organization. How valuable would your online advertising be if you could tailor your marketing message to your exact demographic?
Sponsored Stories
Sponsored Stories are perhaps the purest example of amplification on Facebook. Every time someone interacts with your business, that action briefly appears as part of their News Feed. With Sponsored Stories, that action is highlighted in the right column of their friends’ Facebook page as well, amplifying the original action and accelerating the word of mouth impact for your business.
There are a number of other technologies and tactics that could be classified as Build, Engage, or Amplify depending upon where you are in your social media evolution including: Social Plugins, Graph API, Events, Places, and Deals. And it’s important to note that social media is evolving quickly. Just as the technologies that preceded it, it’s likely that social media will look very different five years from now. But that is no excuse to procrastinate another day! Social media is here to stay and can provide important benefits for your
How We’re Applying Social Media
Since our Facebook visit, we’ve had some time to gain perspective. There were some things we were already doing well. There were a few simple things that needed to be improved. And then there were still other things things that needed serious work. But most importantly, we have begun baking social media into all facets of our business. These changes are subtle in some areas while dramatic in others. But make no mistake, we intend to use the gift we’ve been given. 
A couple examples of how we’ve baked social media into our marketing efforts:
Free Toy Tuesday & Free Game Friday
Every week we give our Facebook friends the opportunity to win one of our fantastic toys & games. A contest like this serves several purposes:
  1. It gives us an opportunity to grow our fan-base and prospect list
  2. It gives us the opportunity to gain goodwill by putting free toys & games into the hands of our wonderful customers
  3. It creates a viral effect by friends sharing with their friends
Fat Brain Toy Awards
While we’ve been hosting the Fat Brain Toy Awards on for the past three years, this year we made the leap to integrate Facebook into the voting mechanism. Our customers can now either vote for or “Like” a given product. This was a great example of an application that was ripe for social media - all it took was a little advance planning to bake in the social media component. Try it for yourself at:
In the coming weeks and months, look for a Facebook “Connect” login in our order process, allowing customers quick and easy access to their shipping information. And look for several exciting social apps including a Gift Wizard, Photo Sharing and Gift Registry. 
But Does Social Media Really Work?
There is a lot of buzz around social media, but as a small business owner, should I spend time and money on an unproven marketing medium? Twelve months ago, I was asking the same question. But today, I have both a great appreciation for the value of social media, but more importantly I have cold-hard numbers that are beginning to paint a positive picture:
    • On July 5th, when the Big Break voting began, we had 947 Facebook likes. By the conclusion of the contest, we had accumulated 2,488. As of this writing, we’re are in excess of 7,000. So while we worked very hard during the course of the contest, we’ve added another 4,500 since the contest ended.
    • Friends are nice, but what about revenue? Year over year, we’ve seen a 281% increase in referrals and a 183% increase in revenue from Facebook visitors. 
We’re not there yet, but these are all promising signs that social media is working for us and can likely work for you too! Regardless of where you stand today, it’s time to get social!
If you have thoughts or questions for us, we encourage you to reply to this blog post.

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