Nov. 16 2011 07:26 AM

Should your business have a Facebook page? Or more importantly, why hasn’t that Facebook page that you created lived up to your initial expectations?

Is having only 35 “likes” acceptable for a company with 3,000 customers?

What type of content should you be posting—the same stuff as you use elsewhere? How much of a time investment should you be making in social media?

I am surprised by how many business owners lack an understanding of how Facebook works (or other social media, for that matter), whether their company should be involved with it, or even what the current status of their social media presence is. Rule #1: Have a strategy!

Some firms have leapt onto Facebook in the pursuit of an unknown goal.

The strategy seems to be, “It’s free, so why not give it a try?” Like any other marketing tool, Facebook’s fit as a tool to generate sales and retain customers will depend on the type of business you’re in, the customers that you serve and the nature of your relationship with them. Be sure you know why you’re doing it.

The more personal your service and your customer relationships, the more Facebook makes sense. When experts say, “Facebook is great for small business,” they mean services where the client works directly with a friendly proprietor and the staff: hair salons, handymen, bookkeepers, small restaurants, real estate agents, etc. It’s a great tool for creating engagement and getting customers and friends to unite as fans. The electronic word-of-mouth is invaluable in generating new clients and encouraging repeat business.

Be personal and genuine. If working with Joe’s Lawn Service means getting to know friendly Joe, Facebook can really help your company shine. Keep in mind that Joe will need to stay actively involved in maintaining the company’s presence: providing updates, answering questions, interacting informally and personally with clients and their friends. Be prepared to invest time and to be accessible. Don’t delegate it to an intern or a middle-schooler.

I also see Facebook working well for businesses where there is a high frequency of purchase and interaction. Customers want to connect with their favorite suppliers. Are there hot deals available at a favorite shoe store? What special confections will a bakery offer for Valentine’s Day? Introduce new products and services to loyal fans.

Speaking of fans, if you have tribal loyalists like Harley Davidson or Apple computer, Facebook can be a great forum where your boosters can network and amplify the strength of your tribe.

Gather feedback. The Internet is also where people often turn first to share their experiences. Facebook is also a great way to facilitate those discussions and encourage the exchange of reviews and suggestions. But be mindful of the risks; negative feedback can be shared just as quickly as positive.

If you’re going to use Facebook, investigate how it works, get some practical advice and have a plan before you dive in.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Jeff Carowitz leads a landscape industry marketing agency. Find him at LinkedIn or at