5 Principles for Using Facebook

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It’s difficult to give advice about Facebook because it keeps changing—in structure, functionality, and effectiveness.

For instance, I used to think accepting all friend requests for my personal profile was a workable policy, as long as I kept everyone organized in lists. But now that Facebook has a subscribe-to-profile feature, it doesn’t make sense to friend everyone. And so I’ve started the painful process of defriending people I don’t know. (This isn’t without reservation. Read my thoughts here.)

Facebook demands consideration from nearly everyone, because choosing to stay off it means stepping away from the social sharing and conversation of 800+ million people. Yet choosing to play the game as an author or marketer—and use Facebook as a means to an end—can spell immediate failure if your friends and followers feel used.

No one likes to be marketed to on Facebook, at least not in that overtly obvious “Buy my stuff” manner. And yet to approach it with no strategy at all could mean missed opportunities or wasted time.

No easy answers.

But here are five principles that I use and mention when people ask me about Facebook.

1. Like attracts like.

If you post helpful, interesting, or valuable stuff on Facebook, targeted to a particular sensibility, you will attract an audience who matches what you post—and will reward you for it through likes/shares. If you like to talk politics, or be argumentative, or complain, you’ll attract the same.

This is a critical principle for just about all online activity, but particularly important on Facebook because people tend to treat the site like their living room. They’re comfortable saying or doing anything.

If you don’t like the activity or conversation surrounding you—or you’re not getting the results you think you should—look at what you’re putting out. Don’t assume you need to increase your fan/friend count.

2. Fan pages take work to be meaningful.

One of the biggest questions I get is: Should I start a fan page separate from my personal profile?

I like to respond by asking: Are you prepared to develop a content strategy for it? Are you prepared to spend time on it? Otherwise, there’s no point.

Here are a few other questions to ask:

  • Would it make sense to allow people to subscribe to your personal profile instead? You can make any of your personal profile posts public, and your subscribers will see those posts in their news feed without being your friend.
  • Is there a huge divide between your personal friends and your target audience? If it’s problematic to make public posts on your personal profile (maybe for some reason you don’t want your friends to automatically see your public posts), then a fan page eliminates that problem. Think it through carefully, though. If your first step in developing your fan page is to blast your Facebook friends with, “Go LIKE my page!”, that tells me there’s no real divide (yet!) between your personal friends and target audience. (That’s not a bad thing—your friends are often your first circle of supporters who love to know what you’re doing and want to be supportive.)
  • Do you need the functionality of a fan page? One of the biggest reasons to start a fan page is to have app functionality and/or analytics/insights into your fans. You need to be rather advanced in your platform building and author career to benefit from the added features of a fan page (vs. using the personal profile subscribe function). As developed as my own platform is, even I don’t see the need for it in my own career.
  • Would you prefer to shut down your personal profile but still have a Facebook presence? I see this happening more and more. You may be “done” with Facebook but realize the importance of having a presence for marketing purposes. A fan page is the solution.

3. Target your posts appropriately.

For Facebook personal profiles, I’ve always advocated the use of lists, back when it was a hidden feature, and long before Facebook created automated lists.

It’s still a good idea to create unique lists, going beyond the automated list feature. While it takes time, having people tagged by how you know them, where you met them, or what your connection is becomes invaluable when you decide who should see each Facebook post.

Why should you care? See No. 4 below.

4. Reduce the noise.

A recent study asked Facebook users what they liked least about fan pages. One of the biggest annoyances: people or companies that post too often.

We’ve all done it: instead of defriending or unliking someone or something, we mute them instead. The end result is the same, though. That person or thing disappears from our news feed.

I’m a strong advocate of the “less is more” philosophy when it comes to content and social sharing. We all have too much to read anyway, so why bother sharing anything except the absolute best and most essential stuff?

What does this mean in practice? A few things:

  • Avoid automated posting, e.g., feeding in every last one of your tweets. While I’ve seen some people do this successfully (and some aren’t active on Facebook anyway, and don’t care!), it’s one of the fastest ways to get muted. Plus, you’re missing an opportunity to say something geared toward the audience you have on Facebook, such as asking a compelling question to spark a discussion.
  • There is no one “right” frequency for posting, but posting every hour, or multiple times per hour, will turn people off. (For some people, this is their shtick, and if you want to ride that personality wave, go ahead. Just accept its limitations in terms of reach.)
  • A little hand-holding goes a long way when you share links or content. Explain why you’re posting it, or share a compelling quote from it, or otherwise introduce the content so people understand why it deserves their time. Be a thoughtful curator, not a blaster.
  • Don’t practice the hard sell except during special campaigns. Facebook is a great soft-sales tool (building awareness and visibility). It is a lousy direct sales tool. Don’t try to turn it into one, though of course you should mention important events like book signings, conferences, product launches, special promotions, sales achievements, successes, etc.

5. Always take a personal approach.

I hate blasts regardless of platform, though I especially hate them on Facebook since I spend more time there and see them more often.

Do not blast impersonal messages or invites for any reason. This includes:

  • Inviting everyone to a fake event
  • Inviting everyone to an event you know only a small circle can actually attend, due to geographic limitations.  There is even less excuse to invite everyone when Facebook provides an automated list to every user based on geographic location
  • Sending a promotional Facebook message to huge groups of people
  • Adding people to groups you’ve created

Yes, please reach out to people on Facebook. But do it on an individual level, and be respectful of people’s time.

What do you think? What principles do you live by when using Facebook? And what do you wish people would START doing or STOP doing? Leave your thoughts in the comments. (And, if you like, subscribe to my public posts on Facebook!)

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