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Facebook may be a source of daily amusement (or annoyance) for many, but it’s also a growing and evolving advertising platform for businesses.

Recent changes to the social media giant, including the decision to shut the like gate, are changing the way Facebook advertisers do business.

Experts say businesses who want to use Facebook effectively to attract customers are increasingly going to need some new strategies in their toolbox.

Businesses today should focus their Facebook efforts not on gaining fans, but engaging their target audience using Facebook’s wide reach and user data, said Mark Flaharty, EVP of Advertising for SundaySky.

The Changing Face of Facebook

Many businesses are already adapting to Facebook's recent move to prohibit businesses from requiring users to like a page in order get a prize or promotion. 

“Facebook’s decision to prohibit 'like-gating' was a smart one,” said Flaharty. ”It puts the emphasis on quality over quantity with regard to fans. I cannot tell you how many marketers I have spoken to over the years who have no idea what the value of a fan is to their business. They regret having gotten so caught up in the race to gain fans.”

The Like gate change isn't the only one in the Facebook world. Facebook is creating more and more tools to help businesses target customers on and off Facebook, said Dan Cropsey, EVP of product and development at marketing decisions firm Networked Insights.

“Atlas is a great example of using Facebook data to better target in the broader web,” he said. “The Facebook Audience Insights tool is another step Facebook took to help companies big and small better understand their audience.”

Adopting a simple change in philosophy can help businesses keep pace with Facebook's evolutions. “It is not about using the platform to reach more than 1 billion users at once; it is about engaging with those billion users one segment at a time, and doing so with a message that is relevant to them based on who they are, their behaviors or their interests,” said Flaharty.

Companies need to really start to seek out those customers who really like and want to interact with their page.

“We are seeing clients look to improve their ability to find truly engaged consumers (those that view video, make a comment, read an article, etc) versus simply likes or minimum engagement necessary to get a coupon or deal,” said Cropsey. “More specifically, we are working with clients to analyze and leverage the broader social web (well beyond Facebook) to more fully understand all aspects of their brand audiences.”

Strategies for Success

In addition to putting more emphasis on quality over quantity, businesses can adopt some other new tactics to make the most of this advertising opportunity.  Below are some tips to help you get on your Facebook game:

Let go of old crutches. In the future, companies will have to be more creative to reel in customers, said Brooks Tiffany, customer engagement specialist and tech writer for Heyo.com. “The like gate was a crutch in the fan-growing game. Companies will have to focus more on creating high quality content that engages their existing fan base (which will lead to new fans). There's no way around it -- you have to roll your sleeves up and get creative with your content,” he said. For example use your cover photo to point to your Like button or an ongoing promotion. 


Focus on the right metrics. Many companies spend a lot of time focusing on media metrics when what they should really be looking at is how their page moves the customer journey, said Cropsey. “Some of our customers have found they are able to map the purchase path and brand health in real time and predict the sales outcome and their NPS scores in real time based on investments in Facebook,” he said.

Stop talking at your audience and start a conversation instead. “One of the biggest mistakes I see businesses making on Facebook is talking at their audience instead of engaging them," said Tiffany. "Many businesses brought old habits from television into social media. They think of Facebook purely as a means to sell to their fan base and make announcements about their brand. People don't come to Facebook to be sold -- they come to have fun. Of course, you want to eventually turn many of your fans into customers -- but it starts with being fun and engaging first."

Broaden your focus. “The second mistake companies make is limiting their targeting to the obvious. For example, if they have a movie about a superhero they only focus on targeting a known audience -- people that like superheroes or have watched a similar movie,” said Cropsey. “But consumers are not one dimensional, so these people also love other things, like tech and healthy foods. Target less obvious options for more impressive results.

Choose your incentives wisely. Businesses sometimes offer very generic incentives that appeal to just about everyone. After all who wouldn’t love a $1,000 Amazon gift certificate? Why is that a problem? “Yes, you will get a ton of likes and leads with this promotion, but a good portion of those likes and leads are a waste because they only came for the prize,” said Tiffany. “Business need to do the research and figure out what kind of prize aligns closely with their brand and the interests of their target audience.” Again, quality over quantity.

Use social media to its full advantage. With Facebook’s massive volume comes new opportunities for businesses to understand their audiences and sub-segments, said Cropsey. “Consumers leverage blogs, review sites, forums, YouTube and Twitter in different ways and stages of purchase and usage,” he said. “Leading brands are starting to understand the value of this end to end perceptive when trying to motivate their consumers.” Using this information can give businesses new insights into how to better tailor content to specific audiences within that larger group.

Take the time to do it right. Creating an effective Facebook page will take some time. “My best advice for a business to create a standout Facebook page is to complete their entire page profile," said Tiffany. This means filling in all those little details from the about section to your business hours, a step many businesses skip. “They should also get creative with their profile picture and cover photo and update these regularly because these updates show up in people's news feeds and let fans know that your page is active,” said Tiffany.

Get ready for video. “In the future, Facebook will also become a massive video advertising platform,” predicted  Flaharty. “There are already billions of video views each month on the site, and Facebook is just starting to build out its video advertising business, he said. This combination of video and Facebook data will likely be a powerful combination. ”Video brings many advantages. Users want and expect more video content.," said Flaharty. "Just imagine what will happen when the social network helps marketers engage their users on a one-to-one basis with the most powerful form of marketing communication.” While Facebook may not be ready for video just yet, it will be soon, because "one message-to-many, as most videos are, will no longer be relevant or effective,” he said.

Monitor and make changes regularly. Keep a close eye on your page's insights and see how your posts are doing, said Tiffany. “Figure out when your fans are online and what kind of posts engage them the most. Keep experimenting,” he said. Most companies today doing a good job of keeping a close eye on their pages and they are listening and reacting quickly, said Cropsey. “They try to engage with as many commenters as they can. They are also using more imagery and videos which work better on Facebook,” he added. All smart strategies to continue if you want to get ahead.

Stay abreast of changes. “I think Facebook will continue to make improvements that focus on bringing people closer together and also showing those people the content they most want to see,” said Tiffany. “I don't think businesses have to do anything major to prepare. The best thing they can do is keep creating high quality content and engaging with their fans. All signs point to Facebook rewarding this kind of activity moving forward.”

Cross-Channel Reach

Ultimately, brands shouldn't think about Facebook only in terms of brand awareness and reach, said Flaharty. “Leveraging micro-segments and delivering relevant messages, through channels such as video, will generate strong engagement that can then drive measurable performance," he said.

"Facebook should also be a major consideration when it comes to mobile engagement because of its unique ability to connect with people both on their desktops and mobile devices, which is a major benefit to every brand.”

Title image by JaysonPhotography / Shutterstock