Facebook F-Commerce for small town businesses

I love talking to my friend Paul Chaney because he really gets both small business and small towns. He wrote a great book on the basics of social media for small business called The Digital Handshake. When I heard he had a new book coming out, this one on F-commerce, I invited him to tell us about it. 

First, explain what F-commerce is, and what it means to businesses. 

Paul Chaney is a small town guy
who gets small business
and social media.

F-Commerce stands for Facebook Commerce, and denotes the use of Facebook as a channel to monetize social media. It is one facet of a larger genre referred to as social commerce. In its earliest iteration, f-commerce stood for the buying and selling of products and services on Facebook. For the most part that hasn’t worked out as well as people like would have hoped.

A recent research report from customer engagement service Get Satisfaction and analyst Incyte Group said that only 13% of people log onto social networks like Facebook to interact with brands, and that “when customers want information to make purchase decisions, they are more than four times as likely to go to the company’s website (89%) as they are to use a social network (21%).”

So if people aren’t going to Facebook to buy stuff, then why should a small business have a presence there? The main reason is that it’s highly likely your customer is there. With over 901 million people on the network and growing, combined with the fact that every 1 out 7 visits to a website is to Facebook, and the average visit being 20 minutes or more, “why” to have a presence is pretty clear.

The issue, then, is how best to maximize the value of that presence — and it’s not by using it simply as a marketing and advertising tool. (Note that I said “simply.”) Lots of companies large and small view Facebook as just another channel to pitch products and services, much in the way way businesses do using more traditional forms of advertising.

A better way to use Facebook is to build long-term value with current customers. You do that by having a service-oriented mentality that puts the needs and wants of your customers before your own and by providing content that they will appreciate. Sometimes that may be a special offer or product discount that’s made exclusively to a business’s Facebook fans; at other times it’s answering a customer service question; and at other times it’s posting a funny video, quote or, in the case of small businesses, something of interest that’s taking place within the community.

Bottom line, it’s all about building relationships that lead to the fostering of trust. In that sense, Facebook becomes a virtual extension of what a business is already doing in the real world. Plus, by communicating routinely – 1 or 2 times per week minimum – a business can stay top of mind with the customer.

And, just for the record, the way a business establishes a presence on Facebook is through a Facebook Page, not a personal profile. However, it’s good for business owners to have a personal profile as well.

Second, tell us a little about yourself. What’s your small town connection? What do you know about small business? 

 I’m small town all the way. I grew up in the small town of Hickory, Mississippi. Only I didn’t grow up in Hickory, but three miles outside it. My first jobs were at the local gas station and then at the local grocery store. (Incidentally, the gas station and grocery store were owned by two brothers, Doc and Newt McCormick.

My parents were both small business owners. My dad had a trucking company and my mother had an accounting firm. In fact, at age 81, she still goes to her office every day! (Honestly, I think that’s just so she won’t have to sit in front of the television all day with my dad and watch reruns of NASCAR races.)

I’m a small business owner and so is my wife and so are her two brothers and sister. You might say I have small business blood in my veins, and small town small business to boot!

Small towns do have strong communities on Facebook. In my town, I’ve seen groups organizing to do good in the community, and a local business building excitement by sharing photos of their remodel. Do you see any special small-town applications for F-commerce? 

Those are two great examples and precisely the type of thing I was talking about earlier. I think Facebook can be used to express the personality of the business. Providing information like the remodel (to cite your example) is great because it gives Facebook users a “behind the scenes” look at the business.

I think it’s also important to make sure you interact with fans. For example, if a fan comments on a post, be sure and respond, even if it’s with something as simple as a heart-felt thank you. If a question is asked, respond quickly and sincerely. And, as mentioned, have a little fun now and then. Be human.

Many small town businesses have no web site of their own; they rely totally on Facebook for their connection to customers. How can they best build on those connections beyond Facebook?

While having a Facebook presence is vital, I’m an advocate of a business having its own website. That way you own the layout, can include whatever content you feel is suitable and can better tailor the site to appeal to you customers. An easy way to do this is to set up a blog using WordPress or other blog platform.

Aside from that, I’d say it’s important to have a presence within social networks wherever your customers do. The popular platforms include Twitter and, increasing, Pinterest. Also, use email marketing, which can be more overtly promotional. Tools like Constant Contact or Vertical Response make this easy to do. Finally, spend some time (and money) on search engine optimization, so that your business gets seen by Google. That’s yet another reason to have a website.

Facebook is always changing: the rules change, privacy settings change, designs and layouts change. How can a small town business hope to keep up? 

It is difficult to stay abreast of changes taking place within Facebook, and the network is famous for making such changes without giving prior notice. That being said, you can sign up to receive Facebook developer blog posts. Pretty much any changes made are reported there, including those that affect businesses.

Also, become a fan of the Facebook Marketing Page (https://www.facebook.com/marketing). If you have time, read sites like Mashable (http://www.mashable.com) and Techcrunch (http://www.techcrunch.com), which cover Facebook microscopically.

Can you share one specific example of how a small town business might do business on Facebook? 

A former small business client of mine, Classic Golden Pecans (http://www.classicgoldenpecans.com), a company that makes gourmet pecan products, uses Facebook to promote new products, announce seasonal sales, share events taking place at its retail location, as well as events taking place in and around the town, pecan recipes, humor (the store owner has lots of personality) and information about the staff. CGP uses a lot of photos – always a good thing – and occasional videos to tell its story in a manner than appeals to its customers, many of whom are fans of the Facebook page.

Of course, Classic Golden Pecans is a retail store. If your business is B2B – a law firm, for example – there needs to be a different emphasis. In this case, perhaps the emphasis is on providing educational or industry-related information. Regardless, the key is to find out what the customer/client/fan is interested in and provide content that scratches that itch.

What is the one thing you wish people understood about F-commerce or about the book? 

First, Facebook is not just another channel for promotion and advertising. It’s not about “stuff,” it’s about building relationships, so don’t send a constant stream of marketing/advertising posts to your fans’ newsfeeds. Provide a healthy mix of content, but keep the interests of the customer uppermost in mind. And they will tell you what they’re interested in with comments, Likes, and shares of your posts. Facebook also provides an analytics component called Insights that Facebook Page owners can use to discern what content best resonates with fans and others.

What I’d like them to know about the book is where to get it! It’s available on Amazon in Kindle and print formats, and at Barnes and Noble in Nook and print formats.

A good friend of ours, Toby Bloomberg, once analogized social media marketing as a “corner grocer relationship.” Its use harkens back to a time before mass media and mass marketing when business owners knew their customers by face and by name. In that sense, though social media is a virtual medium, it’s visceral as well. Use it as a way to turn strangers into friends, friends into customers, and customers into advocates and evangelists. Also, recognize that this will only occur over time. It’s not the fast road, but it is the high road. And, if you recall the lesson of the tortoise and the hare, “slow and steady wins the race.”

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About Becky McCray

Becky started Small Biz Survival in 2006 to share rural business and community building stories and ideas with other small town business people. She and her husband own a retail liquor store in Alva, Oklahoma, and a small cattle ranch nearby. Becky is an international speaker on small business.

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  1. says

    Great to be able to “listen in” on this (not surprisingly) informative and stimulating chat between the two of you. And I love the phrase from Toby – “corner grocer relationship”.

  2. says

    Great man this Mr. Chaney! The best way to go about in business is through people. In the technological era, what better way is there to meet your customers than by interacting with them through the internet.

  3. says

    Using social media as a tool in your business can guarantee you better results. And it’s best that you don’t only meet your customers online but also, establish a “face-to-face communication”. I think that is the best formula in winning the hearts of your customers.

  4. says

    Thanks for the comments, folks. I appreciate you adding your thoughts. Bonus points to Jonathan Ladd for also talking about face-to-face communication.