Social media such as Facebook continues to evolve with new applications every day. It is fast becoming “the” strategic tool of choice for business marketing. Large and small businesses have caught on that social media vehicles provide real-time opportunities for connecting with an ever-ripening field of new contacts.

There are many ways to include social media marketing in your marketing plan. It is effective and does work to a degree, but converting a virtual contact into a buyer can be a very long and tedious process. The market is also becoming over saturated. A person only has so much time to devote to checking into all his networks to read updates and to post something clever himself. While having a lot of friends or followers makes a person feel important, in reality the average person has difficulty keeping up with all the groups, Fan Pages and friends he has.

Still, if you don’t join the social network bandwagon, you’ll be left in the dust. It is a must for a small business to appear on-trend and to stay current. Putting a Facebook logo on your magazine or newspaper ad, billboard and other print material, as well as adding a linking widget to your website, is one of the best business cards and ways to connect with the public right now. Here’s a scenario that demonstrates it: Say “Joe Public” is driving past your garden centre that is closed for the winter but notices a message on your billboard that says, “Check out our specials and spring opening date on Facebook”. All Joe needs to know is that you’re on Facebook. One day he remembers the billboard, does a search for your garden centre, connects with your Fan Page, hits the “Like” button and becomes a virtual customer.

The next vital link comes when Joe’s friends see he “Likes” your garden centre. His friends become intrigued and visit your Fan Page too. In a way, Joe is recommending you, and word-of-mouth recommendations (albeit virtually) are priceless. This is referred to as “Friendcasting”.

Friendcasting is a great by-product of Facebook. Friendcasting is the process whereby one friend connects or makes a comment on your page and his friends see it and are introduced to you. Since the average Facebook user has about a hundred friends, your message is spread quickly.

A very subtle form of friendcasting, which might be harder for a business to manipulate, is when a person shares in his status update about something he’s bought or tried, a place he’s visited on vacation, a place he’s eaten at, etc. Again, the comment alone is a form of recommendation or at least idea forming. Here is an example: Friday night Joe is feeling under the weather and decides to stay home to watch a DVD he’s purchased. After watching it, Joe posts on Facebook that although he’s still feeling lousy, the such and such movie was not only great, but he highly recommends it. His friends see his post, and the next time they are looking for a movie to watch, they choose the one Joe watched and recommended. A sale is made, whether the movie is purchased from a store, rented or purchased through pay-per-view.

Another vital way to use Facebook is referred to as “Crowdsourcing”. This means you put a question out there that you want Facebook users to give their input on. They might be helping you make a decision on something, or you might ask them to vote on something so that you can see what comes across as most popular. You can entice users into responding by suggesting that the first people to reply will receive something special. Everyone likes a freebie, or at least a coupon. What people like most, however, is being part of the conversation. Reality TV-type commercials have been the closest thing until now to make the public part of the conversation. Facebook has taken it to a new level.

For the public to become part of the conversation, create opportunities for two-way conversation. Entice Joe Public into conversation with you. When Joe posts a comment on your page, you have the chance to take your relationship to the next level by responding. Joe will welcome the opportunity to be a vital contributor of ideas to your business and to feel he has a real connection at a human level with you.

These are but a few ways your business can become part of the Facebook Frenzy and connect with new contacts in real time through social media marketing techniques. With each application change or addition will come new opportunities to stay abreast of. Only time will tell what direction online marketing will go next. Without a doubt, for the time being, Facebook is a marketing tool that every business should be using.

Joy R. Calderwood