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A blast from my past

July 29, 2010

While I left Army Public Affairs nearly a month ago I still regularly get e-mails, phone calls, and Facebook messages from individuals in the Army community asking for advice, assistance, and information. I’m glad these folks are still finding me, and hope the love continues – wanting to serve our Army better when it came to public affairs advice, assistance, and social media help was a key reason I left my old job and started consulting on my own.

Two questions have come in this week specifically concerning how to market on Facebook, or how to market an existing page, with no cost. Separate but similar queries, I thought I’d outline a few of my thoughts here, and save myself the trouble of two different replies!

When it comes to marketing for free, there’s no better arena than social networks. Contrary to popular opinion, good social media should take some money, but I’m happy to report that if you’re unfortunate enough not to have a budget (welcome to my world for the 18 months I lead the Army’s social media efforts), you can survive, and thrive, in the social media space.

With Facebook reaching its 500 millionth user just this month, there’s no question that it is, and will remain, a global social media powerhouse in the near and far term. I’ve never been a believer that a Facebook page should be the center of your social media strategy, but I do think engaging on Facebook should be something you consider or explore as a part of building your brand’s image online.

The first Facebook question I’ll tackle is how do you market on Facebook without purchasing ads? You could go a lot of ways with that question but for the sake of simplicity in this post we’ll say they’re looking to both build traffic and interest in their page as well as increasing the number of individuals who see each piece of content. It’s a broad question, but here are a few general tips:

1. Cross promote, cross promote, cross promote. Good social media doesn’t exist in a vacuum. If you’re looking to increase visibility on an existing page or build reach in current content you’ll want to check out where else your audience is engaging online. Have a great blog? Awesome, highlight your Facebook page there. Currently using Twitter? I generally don’t like linking Twitter and Facebook updates (because I personally find it annoying when brands do this), but there might be times when a bit of cross-pollination is good.

2. Gather a focus group. Track your page and see who your top users are. Or if you’re on a military installation and you have easy access to your target market (say you use your page for command information – your target market is probably in the commissary the day after pay-day). Reach out to those individuals – either via a Facebook message or in person – and get their feedback on how to improve the page. Let them know you value they’re exceptional support of the page, identify them as a power user, and tap into the love of your network.

3. Get competitive. I personally hate the whole “Help us get to 5,000 fans before Veteran’s Day” campaigns – a bit too cheesy for my taste. But, there’s nothing wrong with engaging your community in a little good-natured competition. Compete with a sister service or another unit or command you have a natural competition with.

4. Create good content. No matter what other tips and tricks you use, if your content stinks, no one will care.  You can market, compete, and cross-promote till your heart’s content but if you see improvement, it will only be temporary. Create content and conversation that people care about. Gather ideas from your community. And be controversial, or edgy, or whatever you like to call it – but make sure your social media content doesn’t just look like your press release content and your installation newspaper.

It’s pretty basic stuff, but if you’re new to social networks or you’re a part of a cautious organization – like so many in the military are – these are important lessons. I’d love for this post to become a thread of advice and information that others can take to heart. Let me know if you have a great example of how your organization used Facebook well or marketed it well, let us know!

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