With over 300 million active users worldwide, and nearly 100 million in the US alone, Facebook can be a good platform for those wanting to grow their consulting business. While there are other social platforms for meeting new contacts or building your professional reputation, like LinkedIn or Twitter, Facebook offers a variety of ways for consultants to authentically market themselves to target contacts and customers.
Because it’s a place where people play social games, post personal photos, and live out their real lives, it can sometimes lead to better connections than you could find elsewhere. Maybe you and a friend of a friend will get in a discussion about a move all of you like, and that will lead to more conversation…. and eventually a business contract?
But using Facebook for network requires nuance and sensitivity. Here’s our list of 9 Facebook best practices for consultants.
Make parts of your profile public — Facebook started out as a private site, but it has increasingly added features that let you make more of your identity public to any Facebook user — partly to be more competitive against other, more inherently public sites. This benefits any consultant trying to get their name out through the site. You can set your Facebook profile to be partially public. Go to Settings in the top navigation bar, select Privacy Settings in the dropdown menu, then you’ll see a few different options for what parts of your profile you can make public, including your basic profile, your basic info, your personal info, education info, work info, etc. We recommend that you make as much open as you feel comfortable sharing, but if nothing else at least your work info if you want people to know about your consulting job.
Make your profile searchable — Opening up parts of your profile is fine for other people looking Facebook, but there’s another step to take if you want people to find out about you from the web. Create and customize a publicly-searchable Facebook profile. The search subsection within Privacy Settings doesn’t let you display work info, but it does let you display your friends list, various types of Facebook pages that you’re a fan of, and more. For anyone searching for you, this is a good way to give them some clues about your focus.
Decide what to keep private — Two other options in Privacy Settings also deserve some attention. One, News Feed and Wall, lets you decide which types of stories will be visible to people when they visit your profile wall, and which will appear within their News Feeds. For example, you can chose to show or hide stories about edits you make to your profile, posts you leave on discussion boards, and people you’ve just added as friends. Also, if you have a secret addiction to social games or other Facebook applications, you may want to keep that private. If you’re a consultant with a score of 160 in Mafia Wars, for example, a client may wonder when you’re getting any work done. Here’s more about privacy settings for applications.
Post public status updates about your professional expertise — One of the options you can choose in privacy settings is if you want to make your status updates private. If you’re spending a lot of time updating about your line of work, we recommend that you make these public. This way, anyone can search Facebook and, if they’re in the same field as you, friend you and see what you’re up to. That won’t always generate leads, but it will more often than keeping your status updates private. Also, of course, if you’re posting about work, you may strike up conversations that show up friend’s news feeds — their friends may see this and want to take a look at what you’re talking about, as well. One note, of course, is that you shouldn’t be talking about specific clients here if you’re supposed to be keeping your work with them confidential.
Make “friends” in your industry — From its roots as a network just for college campuses, Facebook has grown to become a part of people’s lives in the workplace. The decision to become friends with someone in your industry should be carefully thought out. If you’re posting crazy party photos from your weekends on Facebook, you may not want those showing up in the news feed of a new client who friended you. Depends what industry you’re in, of course. If you’re involved in event promotion, maybe you want as many of those photos on the site as possible. More importantly, making friends in your industry can help you learn about who your friends are friends with. Sometimes, you’ll find that friends from work and friends from other parts of your life know each other — and you’d never know to ask them about those connections except for what you learn from Facebook friends lists. Protocol is a personal decision in some cases here. You may want to ask friends for a direct introduction. Or, you may just want to message a potential friend out of the blue. If you feel comfortable being aggressive on this front, we also recommend searching Facebook for other people’s status updates, then messaging and friending them if they look interesting.
Join and participate in relevant Pages and groups — Thousands of companies have pages, now, and any sort of topic probably has at least one Facebook group about it. Use the search feature on Facebook to explore all of these, see what your friends are in. You don’t want to go ranting and spamming away, though. Try to focus your comments and likes on things that other people will consider valuable. Remember that pages you join will show up in your public search results — also something to think about when you decide what pages not to join.
Create a page for yourself or your company — This is pretty obvious, but a page is specifically designed for letting you share information with the public. Pages show up in web search results, allow integration with Twitter and other sites, and can generally serve as the public venue for your consulting operation — and yes, they’re what you should use if you’re not comfortable sharing your personal profile in the ways we’ve listed.
Create a group for areas you focus on — Facebook groups are not designed to be commercial promotions; for example, you can’t publish into the News Feed through a group, but you can send message blasts as long as your group has less than 5,000 people. Instead, groups are what you should use if you want to do some good old-fashioned community building. We suggest creating a group specifically if you want to generate an ongoing conversation about a topic. If your real goal is just to promote yourself, it’s probably better to just use a page. Also, if there are already groups that address your focus area, we recommend joining those and engaging instead of trying to start your own.
Use Facebook Ads — The site’s ads can be targeted very specifically to users of different age groups, companies, and other interests. We recommend testing these ads out using very specific terms, trying for small buys and expanding if you’re finding them useful. There are enough free features on Facebook, however, that buying ads is a more advanced step to take. Also, if you’re serious about your Facebook page, we recommend using these ads to promote it. Think creatively about how to reach your target audience through Facebook Ads’ targeting parameters — you may find them effective.
Learn more about building your brand and growing your audience with Facebook Marketing Service Provider Directory, and the rest of our comprehensive guide to marketing on Facebook. The Facebook Marketing Bible is available at FacebookMarketingBible.com