Should Local Businesses Make “Friends” With Customers on Facebook?

UPDATE: I believe I did a poor job or titling this story, so to be clear I am not suggesting that business create a profile. I am suggesting that individuals create profiles that they use on a professional level. Big distinction there. Thank you, Grace, for being the first to notice I never made that clear and actually misled with the title itself.

There is little doubt that having a strong, professionally-designed and active Facebook page is important for businesses, particularly in the retail and service segments on a local level.

For high-end, long-term sales such as automotive, insurance, and real estate, is it also prudent to establish a relationship profile to profile as a “friend” of customers?

Most would say that an individual’s Facebook profile is personal and isn’t the right venue to connect with customers. A few (myself included) believe that it is a good idea to establish a business Facebook profile as a stand-alone unit for marketing, sales, and customer service purposes. Here’s why:

Large Investments Are Best Secured Long-Term

When people go to a grocery store, they may be buying meat from the butcher or checking out with the clerk. The idea of becoming friends with these people either in real life or on Facebook is not common. We are friendly, but we rarely become a “friend” who shares thoughts, pictures of the family, etc.

Large purchases as well as long-term service relationships (your favorite barber, for example) are often people that we become friends in real life. It is common to go to the same nail tech for years to the point that they know your husband and kids’ names. In such instances, creating a friendship is not uncommon. It should follow that becoming friends on Facebook may be natural.

For long-term retail purchases such as buying a home, we often have relationships and stay in contact with our Realtor beyond the sale. Realtors, car salespeople, lawyers, insurance agents, and the like often attribute a large part of their business to return and referral business. Facebook would seem to be the perfect place to stay in touch and share without having to pick up the phone every month or go to little Pat’s Bar Mitzvah.

Success Through Tagging

Particularly in real estate and automotive sales where purchases of tangible, long-lasting items occur, the ability to take pictures and tag them with on Facebook to the buyer can be a very powerful tool.

On Facebook, what you say on your business Facebook page is important, but what is said about you on real people’s Facebook profiles is much more important. Word of mouth is a powerful way to build a reputation, expand branding, and increase exposure. “Word of Sharing” on Facebook is similar but can be even more potent.

Imagine taking a picture of John and Sally Smith after they just purchased their first home. If they are active on Facebook they will probably share this information on there, but it doesn’t hurt to help that process along and include your own congratulatory message. On your Facebook page, you can post this image but there is no way to attach it to them if you aren’t friends with them on your profile.

Creating a business profile either separate from your personal profile or instead of it will give you the opportunity to become friends with your happy customers. As a friend, you will be able to tag them in the image of them standing in front of their new home. Once tagged, it appears on their wall as well as emerging into the feed of all of their friends. This can generate conversation, buzz, and an all-important link to your business page.

This video below, a training video for clients of TK Power Social, explains the process as it pertains to the automotive industry, but this process can be duplicated in any industry.

Don’t Be Creepy

One thing that must be said about the practice of having a professional Facebook profile – you can’t spam with it. When people become your friend on Facebook, there is a trust that is established that you will not be Mr. Marketer constantly filling their wall with promotional links.

Your business page is perfect for promotions and establishing engagement. Your business profile should be for engagement only. Congratulations to those who buy, reactions to local or brand-related news, and the occasional “can’t wait for Stan’s BBQ at this weekend’s big sale” are the only things you should be posting to this profile.

On the other hand, you should definitely be active with your friends. On Facebook, it’s okay to be a narcissist. Let them be. Respond to them. Answer their questions that they pose to the world. Comment when they post something interesting. Just don’t overdue it. Some may wonder, “What’s my car salesperson doing commenting about how adorable out baby is? We bought the car last year.”

In other words, be active and engaging, but not creepy.

Be Genuine or Don’t Do it

Some people are made for social networking. Others don’t even like people. If you are not a social person in real life, there is a good chance that you won’t be good at social networking even for business. This isn’t 100% the case – in fact, some of the best at social media that I’ve met are extremely shy or cynical in person.

You either care about establishing and maintaining long-term relationships with others or you don’t. Some of the best at sales don’t like to ever talk to a customer again until it’s time for them to buy something else. Others establish relationships that transcend beyond the sale into the bonds of true friendship. Most of us are somewhere in between.

If it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it. If you aren’t being genuine, don’t even try. If you are good with people beyond the sale, this may be a way to dramatically increase your business.

You’re Facebook Profile is Portable

This is the ugly advantage of building a business profile, but it should be stated. You are you. Your business Facebook profile is yours. If you quit or get fired and you stay in the same industry but with a different company, you’ll be glad that you made friends and connections through a Facebook profile. Enough said about that.

Arguments?

I’m open. This is a topic that can be polarizing. Many would say that it’s technically against Facebook TOS to have a second profile. Some would say that it should be a Facebook page that you build for yourself to help with your company’s page. Some would say that the ROI is minimal and it would be a waste of time.

If you agree, let me know and give me other pieces of similar advice that I can pass on. If you disagree, let’s hear your arguments. I’m not one who is unwilling to change my mind in the face of strong evidence…

… but it better be compelling.

* * *

Read more about Facebook Marketing here or check out some of our Automotive Social Media packages.

Comments

  1. says

    It’s completely against Facebook’s Terms of Service for Brands to pose as ‘people’ via a Profile. They have frequently made the distinction very clear that Pages are for Brands and Businesses and that Profiles are for humans. Trying to game a platform is never a good idea. Yes, short term you might see a better result with greater functionality and connectivity to your audience. Long term, you risk being completely shut down as you are violating FB’s TOS (as you touched on). I have seen countless small businesses have their accounts shut down for this reason.

  2. JD Rucker says

    @grace – Very, very true, but I’m am not suggesting that people create profiles for their brand or company. I’m suggesting that they need a business profile for themselves as individual. This is them, as a person, discussing their lives within a particular business. Their picture, their name, their life – just on a professional level posting relevant information rather than pictures of their kids.

  3. says

    Completely agree! We have a separate page for real estate and personal – that way Andy does not become the facebook friend that talks real estate every day on his personal account, but also has a personal account to keep in touch with clients (and gives the ability to tag). Only those who choose to “like” his real estate page are updated with daily business info.
    I have a few facebook friends that have created a profile for a business and play farmville on their business accounts! Terrible!
    Thanks – great read!

  4. F1Vega07 says

    I find this article to be an interesting read. I understand people’s disapproval with the use of Facebook in this manner, but from a realistic standpoint, I do not find it to be anything negative, unless as the article stated it is used in a creepy manner. I think that adding people on your Facebook that you have created business ties with gives one a step up on competition and enables one to be more likely to be of use tothe consumer in the future. As long as it is kept professional, I find adding people you have a work relationship with to be a useful tactic.

  5. says

    This is a good question that you pose. I have thought about this several times before. I have a Fanpage for my business and a FB personal profile…I’ve thought about opening another one as my business profile like you suggest. I don’t like the idea of mixing all my personal information with business. Given the fact that it is against FB TOS, what would be the difference of starting a Fanpage vs profile. Let’s say for example that you work for a small business of 15-20 employees and the business has its own fanpage…couldn’t you start your own and still be in accordance with FB TOS? I guess the only downside would be that it is a fanpage and not a profile which has a slight marketing taste to it. But you are still able to treat it much like a regular profile. Just my three cents.

  6. says

    It takes a lot of work to maintain relationships with customers on facebook and develop another means of communicating with them in an open environment. I think it’s great for businesses to interact with their customers on Facebook. It provides another avenue for customers to get help, attention and of course be sold. But, for the businesses out there, I think they need to understand that their facebook marketing or fan page or whatever they establish needs to be “manned” all the time, just like their phone operator that shows up for work 9-5 monday to friday, they need to have someone regularly checking in on their facebook customers. I’ve seen a few businesses that have pages that have become complaint central because they don’t take the time to login and even check what is being posted or sent to them.

  7. says

    This is a great article, and creating a business profile is a good way to brand yourself as an expert in your niche market. Your prospect/client relationships don’t really need to see pictures of your family, but rather see value driven content posted in your niche. It’s like a more social version of Linked In.

  8. says

    Facebook is a powerful medium that all businesses should at least have a presence. I would make friends and us Facebook for customer service rather that try and get new business. This always depends on your ideal customer and the products you sell.

  9. says

    Estate Agency websites not only need to provide an easy to use property search facility for the prospective buyer looking to create a viewing shortlist.
    This is because, once you sell the land, it ceases to be yours forever.
    known to produce more real estate salespeople than any.

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