Group Dynamics

Facebook could reap a bounty of benefits for your business. Should you join?

+ More

After Alicia Rockmore's Ann Arbor, Michigan-based organizational products company, Buttoned Up Inc. scored shelf space at Target, Rockmore began doing research to keep the big red bull's-eye happy. A friend invited her to join social networking site Facebook, so she created an individual profile touting her business. She hit pay dirt when she found an existing group of Target customers on Facebook.

"They talk about what they like, what they hear is coming from Target," says Rockmore, 42. "It's like free market research." While she won't give specifics for competitive reasons, Rockmore says she adjusted the product line of her $1 million company based on Target's affinity for sharp looks and guest designers. She's optimistic that this will pay off in a big way.

Facebook came on the scene in 2004 and hit the jackpot last October when Microsoft invested $240 million in the company. Like most social networking sites, it allows users to have a profile page and to connect with other "friends" online, sharing information and interests. Although it started as a hot site for college students, market research firm ComScore reports that now more than half of its 53 million users are over age 25.

"If you have a passion to share, it's a no-brainer to be there," says social media consultant Paul Gillin, author of The New Influencers: A Marketer's Guide to the New Social Media. Gillin says the downside of Facebook is that it's still difficult to apply branding to the profile pages, especially when compared with the flashing logo-wallpapered MySpace. But Facebook's growth and audience make it a more attractive option for many businesses.

This is not lost on Facebook, which has added some handy business-oriented features, including a survey function that lets businesses get feedback on trends and ideas. The site also recently launched Facebook Ads, which lets businesses build pages on Facebook, spread brand messages virally and gather insights into the activities of Facebook users. Some have even built relevant tools for Facebook users through an application platform—for instance, an online movie retailer has a tool that allows Facebook friends to compare their favorite flicks.

As in most online venues, don't be too promotional, Gillin says. Do be as exhaustive as you can on your profile page, though. Include information and form groups related to your business. A photographer might start a group to discuss photo tips, for example. Include links to landing pages on a website built especially for your Facebook group so that you can target offers more effectively. Most important, he says, contribute to conversations in a meaningful way. You'll soon find yourself flooded with Facebook friends.

—By Gwen Moran, co-author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Business Plans. Reach her at gwen@gwenmoran.com.

Copyright © 2008 Entrepreneur.com, Inc. All rights reserved.