Whether you’ve just opened for business, or you’ve been selling online for years, you’ve probably thought about or tried to increase your sales using Facebook marketing. The bad news is that most businesses get this very wrong — often alienating their Facebook fans by pelting them with a barrage of sales pitches and promotions. The good news is that it IS actually possible to increase sales through Facebook (without turning your profile into a huge electronic billboard).

Build an Audience on Facebook

The first step to using Facebook is using Facebook. It’s impossible to engage with a community that doesn’t exist, so the starting point for any business has to be to build an audience based on value and helpfulness. I know, I know… that’s a lot of work. But even if your end goal is to sell products, no one will “Like” a Facebook page simply to be sold to. When your fans Like your page, they are doing so because they trust you, and they want to hear from you. In order to hold up your end of the bargain, you need to do more than just sell to them — you have to delight them!

Delight Your Audience

What does it mean to delight an audience? It means being 100% UNselfish with your messaging, and sharing relevant, informative, and valuable stuff on a regular basis. Especially for businesses that have traditionally used “hard sell” techniques to move inventory, this can often be the more difficult step, because it is critical NOT to sell. It’s your opportunity to build relationships, and be a positive presence in the lives (well, at least the Newsfeeds) of your fans.

Sony using Facebook to delight

Take a look at this recent post by Sony on their Facebook page. Sure, there are Sony products featured, but that’s not the point. The image (and linked blog post) is designed to provide value to the audience. As a photography enthusiast myself, I am always dying to know what’s in everyone else’s camera bags!

Delighting your audiences with interesting posts and a general level of approachability is not only good for business, but it’s also good for the fate of Social Media as a whole. By definition, Facebook is a platform intended to connect human people and build relationships. It’s not a megaphone for your latest promotion! But by using your brand page to connect with your audiences, you will be in the minority of companies who are actually using Facebook the way it’s meant to be used.

Pull them in

When you focus on delighting your audiences 70-80% of the time, you’ve earned the right to be promotional — you are a business after all! As long as you find the right balance between delight and promotion, your audiences will accept (and even welcome) posts about your products and services.

There it is — your license to sell. But how do you do it?

Even when you’ve earned the right to sell, striking the right chord with your promotions on Facebook is still tricky business. You always have to remember that you are communicating with people in a very (very) personal space.

Think about it — your message is going to show up in their newsfeed, and will probably be surrounded by updates from their friends and family. Which means, if you do it wrong, your Facebook post could look something like this:

Aunt Tilly: OMG! Your new baby is so adorable!!1 Can’t wait to see her!
Jane Jones: You’re the best husband ever! Thanks for the flowers!
[Your company]: BUY A NEW SEPTIC TANK NOW!
Tim Smith: Thanks for the friend request! How’ve you been since high school?

In the context of that newsfeed, would you (or anyone) really care about buying a septic tank at that point in time? Probably not.

Instead of transplanting promotional messages from your brochure to your Facebook page, your messaging on social media should always be tailored toward your audience, and optimized for the platform. That is, you’re not just competing with other Septic Tank suppliers, but you’re competing with everyone else in your fan’s newsfeed. That means your message, while promotional, also has to be interesting and intriguing enough for your fan to scroll past Aunt Tilly and click your link.

Use images

One of the best ways to pull users in on Facebook is to use amazing imagery. Whether it’s a photograph they can relate to, a well designed infographic, or an artistic illustration, an image will stand out in your fan’s newsfeed, and attract their initial attention.

Sell the lifestyle

Unless you’re Sony, Apple, or Burton, your products may not be attractive enough to sell themselves. And even if they were, remember that your audience is browsing through a newsfeed of their life and their connections — not a product catalog. So when you’re selecting imagery, or writing copy, make an effort to connect with your fans on their own terms. That means understanding their lifestyle and catering to it with your messaging!

Don’t be sneaky

Within your promotional messages, don’t be shy about being promotional! Like we mentioned before, if you’ve done your job, and delighted your audience 80% of the time, you don’t have to beat around the bush when it comes time to promote. Make a strong pitch using your best images, best copywriting, and most persuasive ideas. DON’T mislead your fans by trying to sneak a link to a product into a “delight” post.

Meet their expectations

Your fan clicked your link! Now what?

Just as important as your messaging ON Facebook is your messaging AFTER Facebook. The page you direct your audience to should be tailor-made for that specific link. That is, you should pair your social promotions with specific web pages on your site that ensure any expectations you set on Facebook are subsequently met on your site.

This can be as simple as making sure the message and imagery are in sync, or as complex as creating a custom landing page that matches your social content exactly. In either case, your website landing page needs to walk the walk that you’ve promoted on Facebook.

Get them to share

One often-overlooked strategy for leveraging Facebook (and other social media) to increase sales is to make it easy (and/or incentivize) for your customers to tell their networks about their purchases. Again, this isn’t applicable for all businesses (no one wants to share the fact that they bought a new toilet plunger), but for companies looking to amplify their social message, a key strategy is to enable your audiences to spread the word!

Using social media to drive sales to your eCommerce website can be really tricky business. But if you focus on the tips provided here, and on making sure you understand your customer’s expectations and needs, Facebook and other social platforms can be powerful sales tools for almost any business!