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Facebook is a free-access Social networking website. Users can join networks organized by city, workplace, school, and region to connect and interact with other people. People can also add friends and send them messages, and update their personal profiles to notify friends about themselves. While the service first focused its free service to a college audience, today it is encouraging users of all ages, including businesses, large and small.

Facebook and Small Business

During a earlier time, the use of Facebook was limited to individuals. Today, Facebook provides several free and paid ways for small businesses to use the service.

Free Services

Three basic services can be used to market a small business that require no additional investment beyond the time spent managing the service (your time is valuable, so consider it when calculating your investment). These services are:

  • Facebook Fan Pages: The best way to understand what a Facebook Page is simply this: A user profile for you business (or cause, school, club, etc.). Unlike a profile page for individuals, anyone can "friend" a Page by declaring themselves a "fan." A page must be set up and administered by an individual user of Facebook, so make sure that your Facebook Page is attached to a company officer and not, for example, an intern or free-lance consultant.
  • Facebook Groups: These can be set up by anyone and can be public (anyone can join), semi-private (only those you approve can join) or private (they are not seen by those who are not members). Unless you have a specific business reason for setting up a Group -- a special event or interest area, for example -- a Facebook Page is probably a better first choice for most small businesses.
  • Facebook Places: Places is a Facebook feature that lets your customers share where they are and find their friends nearby. They can check in to places they visit from their mobile phone, tag friends who are with them, and view comments their friends have made about your place of business. If your small business is a place where customers can physically walk into, then you'll want to claim your place on Facebook Places. By claiming your place you can manage your place’s address, contact information, business hours, profile picture, admins and other settings. You can also offer incentives and promotions for "check-ins" into your place of business.

  • Advertising: Currently, the focus of Facebook as a business is to generate revenue from advertising. Small businesses that set up a Facebook Page or Facebook Group will be presented with the option of paying fees each month to advertise to Facebook users who, from information in their profile -- age and location, for example -- correspond to the small business' targeted demographic.
  • Facebook Applications: While a business does not have to pay a fee to Facebook to create an application, there can be a significant investment for non-programmers in creating and promoting an application that is specifically designed for your intended audience. Some applications have even become successful ventures themselves.

Other Services

  • Facebook Connect: For certain businesses, especially web-based businesses or those with a "community focus" on their website, Facebook has a means to "integrate" Facebook user profiles onto other websites called Facebook Connect. According to Facebook, the service allows users to "connect" their Facebook account and information with other websites.
  • Facebook widgets: Free to Facebook users and great to add to your website. Incorporate comments from Facebook, a 'Like' button, 'recommendations', 'Like' Box, and much more on the Facebook Plugins page

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