June 2015: Small Business Success

Business networking with Facebook

Columnist Jennifer McCluskey

Columnist Jennifer McCluskey

One of the benefits of running a business in the North Country is being able to build strong face-to-face networking connections with others living in your small town. I often attend business networking groups, chamber of commerce events, shows, and the like where business owners interact together to build both their businesses and the communities. After one of these groups approached me recently to create a presentation about networking with each other through Facebook, I realized that this is an area that may be lacking in our business community. How can these businesses who have formed strong relationships with each other in-person continue to build on their networking with social media?

The most basic of ways that business owners can help each other out is by liking, commenting, and sharing each other’s Facebook posts, retweeting their tweets, and sharing on other social media platforms. This can be especially useful for businesses who share a similar customer base but who have different products. For example, if an ice cream shop owner comments on a sandwich place’s post about how great their sandwiches are, people who visit the sandwich shop may see the post and decide to go to the ice cream place for dessert. This can be an even more powerful tool if businesses work together. Say the sandwich place and the ice cream place got together and offered discounts for each other’s products, then both posted about them. Each would then be seen by the fans of the other’s page and so reach a wider audience. I see some of this kind of co-marketing happening in the real world with coupons, but less online in the world of social media.

As I mentioned in my last column on this topic, it is getting tougher and tougher for businesses to get their posts seen by their full audience. Sometimes business owners may have trouble seeing posts from another business if they do not interact often with that business’s page. Facebook groups can be one solution to this. For those who are unfamiliar with Facebook groups, they are usually groups of people on Facebook organized around a single topic or interest. People can post information on the group board to be seen by other members. Facebook groups can either be open, allowing anyone to join, or closed, only accessible for people given an invitation by the group’s owner. Any user who is active in a group will be notified about all new posts for the group. Facebook groups can offer a higher level of visibility and networking potential than general business pages. One restriction is that you as a business owner would have to join a group from your personal page instead of the business’s page. Also, you can join multiple groups to connect with your customers and the local community. To find a good group to join, you can search for target keywords (“groups who like topic xyz”) in the search bar at the top left of your Facebook page, and you can also filter results by people who like your business page. Connecting with groups that your fans are a part of can help you connect with others in their community who have similar interests. Facebook groups can serve a dual purpose of helping business owners connect with each other and with their fans’ Facebook communities. If you want to start a Facebook group for your business community, be aware that it can take some work in monitoring the posts to ensure the group is staying on track and members aren’t only attempting to sell their products without actually communicating. You may also be the one to spearhead discussions if communications begin to fall off.

I have focused on Facebook this month since most businesses have a Facebook page, but there are other options for networking through social media sites such as such as twitter, Instagram, and Google+. LinkedIn is also a great site for business networking, and is often used for this purpose.

Jennifer McCluckey is a certified business advisor with the New York State Small Business Development Center at SUNY Canton. Contact her at mccluskeyj@canton.edu. Her column appears bi-monthly in NNY Business.