Here are two questions I hear a lot in my classes: “How do I successfully sell things on Facebook?” and “Can I sell anything on Facebook anymore?” Of course, the answer is “Yes,” but you perhaps have to look at selling differently to qualify what “successfully” means in relation to sales and Facebook.

I want to start by asking you to examine something in your own life — and be totally honest with yourself: Why do you log into Facebook? As a user, not a business owner. Is it to shop? Is it to see what brands you like are up to? Is it to catch the latest updates to your industry? If you’re being honest and you’re in the majority, your answer would be, “to see what my friends and family are up to and what’s going on in my Facebook community.”

The truth is Facebook is NOT so much a shopping channel — even though they have a full-on advertising capability and even a Marketplace, page Shops and more. Few people wake up in the morning and think “I need ___________, I’ll go on Facebook and buy it!” The motivation for people to go to Facebook as users is to see what their friends and family are doing. What’s more is that Facebook users come to the platform more as a social “killing time because I have nothing better to do” mindset rather than a “discover new information” mindset. This makes new ideas and new sales opportunities more difficult to get across. Not impossible, but more difficult nonetheless, because they are a secondary result not really related to the primary motivation.

These reasons alone make Facebook difficult turf for small business marketers to gain sales footing. Add in Facebook’s algorithm along with user distractions such as the current political climate and the goal line feels further and further away for a small business.

For many business owners, the lack of engagement and sales from their Facebook property is disheartening. Not only is Facebook often billed — by Facebook itself and marketing gurus — as a catch-all, cure-all to small business marketing woes, it also feels at times to be the ONLY place left to gain marketing share. Magazines, newspapers, Yellow Pages, and other traditional media simply seem unviable in an Internet driven age. Google and paid search engine traffic can be a difficult and undependable game. Direct mail feels overwhelmingly expensive. And on and on.

I can assure you that, although Facebook is decidedly NOT the only — or maybe even the best — place to market your business, it is still a very valid marketing channel. IF you shift how you think about and use it, you can find true sales and marketing success on Facebook.

Stop thinking of Facebook as a direct sales channel.

Facebook — like all social marketing — can create direct sales (as in publishing a “Buy this now” post), but it is much more powerful as an engagement engine. In January, Facebook underscored this fundamental concept by changing is algorithm to favor comment heavy posts — and the longer form the comments, the better. You’ll also notice groups are a more dominant presence on your newsfeed than ever before. Facebook understands that engaged users spend more time on the platform and that keeps Facebook relevant in everyone’s daily lives. Think of how long it takes you to compose a thoughtful comment, how engaged you become in watching the comments flow on a topic you’re passionate about or how you watch a post that has spurred a provoking conversation. (I’ve left the trolling and snarky arguments purposely out of this article, but they, too, are a factor in how we engage with each other.)

As a business owner seeking success on Facebook, you have to ask yourself, “How can I get people THOUGHTFULLY talking on Facebook about my brand?” You need to be as unique and mindful as possible here. When Facebook was young, a simple “What do you think about ____________?” would have been sufficient. But with the monumental amount of content — and the restrictions of the algorithm — it takes much more than simplicity. It takes a strategy and a mindful one at that.

Some businesses have created Facebook groups to fill this need. By developing a place where customers and potential customers can come together for brand information and inspiration— or better yet as a cohesive target market within an industry— the business can create the perfect storm of engagement, sharing, and conversation leading to sales. Active HELPFUL and THOUGHTFUL groups are the best groups on Facebook and also the best groups for marketing conversions. Because groups promote engagement — and Facebook is all about getting people to engage more — group posts can get a boost in the newsfeed. Creating an active group is hard work — and it takes time and effort to keep the group functioning and engaged. It is not a set-it-and-forget-it proposition. But once running, and if well-maintained, groups are an amazing way to reach, convert, and keep consumers making them a smart strategy for marketers.

In addition to groups, businesses can adopt a policy of posting and promoting thoughtful or educational content that inspires conversation and sharing. For every business owner wanting to utilize Facebook as a core marketing channel, thoughtful content is a must! Ten years ago, brand posts were few and far between so they all seemed special. Today, everybody is doing it, and your competition is part of that everybody. The goal is to find every authentic (ie, non-gimmicky) way possible to get people to engage through comments and shares — and to position everything to keep those commenters on Facebook longer and your business top-of-mind over your competition (without dissing your competition). Think about what is VALUABLE to your followers and customers. What can you do to bring that value to them through Facebook?

The bottom line here is that direct sales ads don’t have the ability to maintain engagement like groups or conversational/educational content. They are a “click here and leave” or “click here and buy” proposition. Again, remember people don’t come to Facebook to shop, they come to Facebook to see what’s up with friends, family, events, etc. You may occasionally net a sale from a “Buy This” ad or the Marketplace, but you’ll build a far stronger, better consumer base if you position your Facebook presence as a “Serve-to-Sell” model with groups and mindful, useful content that promotes a thoughtful purchase and continued engagement with your brand.

Facebook marketing is a marathon, not a sprint.

Because engagement marketing is not something businesses see immediate results from, it can cause erratic commitment. In other words, when sales don’t start rolling in from the group you created two months ago, you lose interest and let the concept die — and die it does, along with sales potential. Hey, we’ve ALL been there — I’ve been there multiple times. Engagement marketing is most definitely a marathon activity and, if we don’t practice, it’s easy to get winded a few miles into it. So mark up all those past “failed” activities as dry-runs and regoup for the future!

Another shift in mindset can help. First of all, don’t put so much pressure on your engagement marketing activities to convert to sales right out of the gate. Networking, direct mail, trade shows, expos, and events (ie, webinars, seminars, open houses, etc.) should all be able to offer fairly immediate sales opportunities. Engagement marketing, not so much. Honestly, engagement marketing is almost like selling a whole ‘nother product or service — one where the dividend payoff can be huge, but not very immediate!

If you think critically and mindfully about how to position your engagement marketing channels, of which Facebook is one among other social channels and email marketing, then your strategy should be to use these channels as SUPPORT for your more direct sales activities rather than a place to actually make conversions. This is true for almost all businesses, but especially lead-based businesses and businesses that serve customers long-term. So many sales are lost between a consumer’s introduction to your business and the actual exchange of money — so many! — and this is where engagement marketing shines its brightest. It keeps these prospects engaged until the sale can occur.

Another long-term audience you need to consider in your engagement marketing strategy is your current customer base. You need to be able to depend on this group for both return sales and referrals. Keeping them engaged with your brand is a “forever” goal — and you should mindfully construct your engagement marketing to include rewards, encouragement, and empowerment for this segment of your customer base. Think customer service addons — little things that make a big difference to the folks that use your product, service or patronize your non-profit.

Pay to play is necessary.

Whenever anyone mentions to me that Facebook — or social — marketing is a “free” way to advertise, I have to speak up! Just because you can create and maintain a presence on social media platforms does not make them free of cost. Social media marketing takes up a lot of time — a lot of time! — and, for most businesses, money in ad dollars as well. Paying for advertising is necessary and a budget of 15 to 20% of desired revenue is standard fare for most small businesses. It doesn’t all get spent on Facebook ads, mind you, but a respective chunk can and should go to paid placements and boosts if Facebook is part of your overall marketing strategy.

Reaching new customers on social definitely requires ad dollars — and targeting of the ads themselves to very specific audiences. This is very much within Facebook’s wheelhouse, and although it’s not my favorite way to utilize the power of Facebook, it is very viable. This channel, probably more than any other, has been building a compelling and monumentally useful set of data on its users and their consumer behaviors and interests. This means that a marketer can reach in and touch the exact, right potential customers. Accessing this power does, however, require you to buy ads on Facebook.

Common ads that should be in every Facebook advertiser’s arsenal should include list building activities (such as lead magnets in exchange for an email address), “Like” campaigns, post boosts, event boosts, and paid content ads that focus on a specific target marketing. Keep in mind that sometimes that target market for you paid ad is people who already like or follow your brand on Facebook.

Please note here, I am not saying every business should buy paid Facebook ads. Far from it! I believe some businesses are better geared toward utilizing Facebook as a marketing/sales platform. Other businesses — not so much. Give me any industry and I can probably fit in how it can do Facebook advertising, but I’d rather follow the old adage of just because you CAN do something, doesn’t mean you should. If you’re a business owner who has push back to Facebook marketing because your industry just doesn’t seem to “fit,” you’re probably on to something. Sometimes, all you need is a page (to build trust and credibility) and a post every week or so to let people who are researching you know that you’re business is still open and viable. It’s the businesses out there that could potentially get leads, create engagement, support their potential customers through to a sale, and stay top-of-mind with current customers that will find Facebook marketing the most useful.  

Remember, we are all still technically in our digital diapers — the baby stages of learning how to navigate this new cultural and marketing phenomenon of contact and communication. What worked five years ago, doesn’t work any more because shifts have occurred in how we use and interact with digital media. The businesses that are successful in utilizing Facebook and other digital avenues for marketing are the ones that are willing to shift their mindsets and techniques to match the trends.