We've been talking a lot about social networking on both this website and in our Building Blocks webinar series.
It's not just because we like logging into our Facebook page everyday and seeing lots of friend requests.
More and more businesses are turning to social networking as a way to reach out to users (and potential users) of their product or service.
(and we really do like friend requests)
What we'd like to touch on in this article, however, is some ways and new sites in which you can reach out and connect with other businesses. Business to business social networking can help you meet other business owners to help share ideas, contacts and information. The social media model makes it easy for you to meet others in your field.
One of the nice things about business to business social networking across the internet is that you can meet companies on the other side of the world and in a completely different market who might be facing some of the same challenges that your company faces.
And while a local competitor might be reluctant to give you a tip or share some information about how to face a particular problem, a business owner in another country probably wouldn't mind. After all, it's not like you're going to be stealing any of their clients when you're operating 4,000 miles away on another continent.
We'll begin our discussion of business to business social networking by talking about Facebook Pages.
A Facebook page helps you promote your business by establishing a separate entity for a business, as opposed to a personal profile. But, in order to create a Facebook page, you'll need a user account. So, if you're one of the five people left on the planet who doesn't have a Facebook account setup, go do it now.
The nice thing is, however, that you can keep your Facebook page completely separate from your user activity. So, for example, if you want to post a picture of your cat wearing a cowboy hat on your personal profile, it won't show up on your business Facebook Page.
Once you've got your personal page setup, head over to Facebook Pages and setup a web presence for your business. Here you'll add some basic information about your business, such as your field, physical business address, hours, and contact information. You can also upload a business logo or brand image.
Facebook recently added a "Facebook for Business" guide that helps companies and businesses navigate the sometimes confusing options available when setting up one of these accounts.
One of the first challenges you'll face after setting up your page is getting people to "Like" your page.
You've probably seen the Facebook "thumbs up" button (right), even if you didn't know what it was. A "Like" is simply a way of allowing your customers or clients to let you know that they think your page is a-ok. A "Like" also shows up on individual Facebook user Wall pages, this helps spread the word about your pages quickly, without you having to lift a finger (or, in this case, a thumb).
You'll get your first payoff when you reach 25 "Likes". That's because when you first sign up for your Facebook page, you'll get slapped with a URL of something along the lines of
But, once you reach that magical 25 "Likes", you'll be able to go into your Page options and change that URL to something more friendly, such as
This gives you a nice, friendly URL that you can put on business cards, sales letters, brochures, and just about any other promotional material. And with the upcoming domain changes, a well thought out Facebook Page name could be your address to success on the internet of the future.
That's right! In order to make Facebook Pages work for your business to business social networking you're going to have to listen, as well as talk.
But, don't worry, Facebook Pages make it easy to interact and follow your customers.
Most comments, "Likes" and other posts from your associates and followers will appear on your Facebook Wall.
You can see an example of our Wall page from MSP Business Management to the right.
The Wall is simply a listing of the last few posts - whether they're status updates, photo uploads, links, or comments - that show up when a user visits your page.
A great way to build your follower base is to interact with other users through the wall. if someone leaves you a question or a comment, answer them back. Don't just let it sit there. That's the internet equivalent of dead air on the radio.
Another way to attract users to your pages is by creating a customized entry page. This takes a little bit of programming skill, but, if you're somewhat of a techie (after all, you ARE running your own MSP), it's not an unsurmountable challenge.
Facebook gives you the options of a number of "tabs" that users can land on when they get to your Facebook page. The way to create a customized entry page is to add a tab and then change your Facebook options so that users are directed to the new customized tab when first visiting.
Facebook has a developers page that explains some of the basics for this, as well as a number of Apps that help you create these tabs. There are also third party developers that create Facebook modules and add-ins to allow you to quickly create and customize your own tabs.
A customized entry page can do a couple of things for your Facebook page: it gives you a chance to integrate your brand and design within the Facebook setting, and it gives potential users an incentive to "Like" your page. By using customized entry pages, you can create one page for new users - people who haven't "Liked" your page yet, and another for people who have already "Liked" you.
One of the best examples of a customized entry page for a business is the McAffee Facebook Page.
McAffee has created an entry page (right) that encourages users to "Like" the page by offering a free 6-month trial subscription to their software.
Although the Wall and Info tabs are still there and can be reached on the normal Facebook left hand side menu, they've changed the default tab so that it directs users to their customized page.
One of the main things to remember when setting up a Facebook page for your business is to keep it loose and informal. Use your Facebook page to show how your business can let down its hair just a little.
Post interesting links, not just to your company blog or information about your latest product specials, but links that you think your followers and business friends might find worth reading.
The best way to go about connecting business to business through your Facebook page is by using the Facebook search engine to find other businesses, or try the Facebook pages browser.
Once you've found a business that you think you might like to connect with, go click on their "Like" button. Hopefully, they'll reciprocate and you'll have made a connection. Take a look at their Wall page and see if there's any interesting conversations that you feel like you can share something with.
In the next part of this series, we'll take a look at some of the other business to business social networking platforms and see how you can further expand and grow your company.
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