With more than 600 million users to date, this Facebook thing looks like it could really take off someday. If your company's not on it yet, it should be.
You have two important ways to claim your brand on Facebook. The first is by having a company page where you can share your blog posts, promote special offers, and interact with your customers and people in your industry. The second is by claiming your actual business location on Facebook Places, so users of the geolocation service see valid, up-to-date information about your company.
Setting up a Facebook page is almost as easy as setting up a Twitter account. Log into Facebook with your regular user account and go to Create a Page. Choose the type of page that best fits your company, and then fill out the short form to continue. You'll just need to enter a little bit of basic information to start with, and you can customize your page in a variety of ways later.
If your company has a single location, you'll want to claim its place by clicking the Local Business or Place option on the Create a Page screen. Choose the type of venue you have from the drop-down menu and fill in the address. You may well find that Facebook is already aware of your location, and this process will give you ownership of the Places page, so you can add a photo of your business and update the listing. PCWorld's Patrick Miller has written a quick guide to Facebook Places that includes some useful tips on claiming your location, and Tony Bradley's Three Ways Businesses Can Take Advantage of Facebook Places offers helpful advice on making the most of the service.
Whether you claim a physical business location or just create a company page, Facebook Pages should be a focal point of your social media marketing effort, because it gives your visitors an easy way to keep up with your brand. To help ensure that visitors to your page click the Like button and become fans, check out JR Raphael's guide to the newly revamped Facebook Pages.
In order to claim a branded username for your Facebook page, you'll need to reach a certain threshold of activity on your page. This basically means getting a bunch of people to like your page and comment on your posts. An easy way to hit this threshold is to simply ask your employees, colleagues, family, and friends to go to your page and click Like. Once you've got 100 people liking your page, click Edit on your page and claim a name for your page the same way you would with any username on any other service. From that point forward, you can send people to facebook.com/yourpagename.
As with Twitter, it's critical that the content you post offers actual value for the people who like your page. Be especially wary of posting excessively about deals and offers, or you risk losing fans fast. Once again, a measured stream of valuable content is the best way to build a following. Blasting your fans with a firehose of self-promotion is a sure way to lose them.
Facebook and Twitter get all the glory in the social media world, but YouTube is another important site that can help you build your brand. By uploading informative videos on your core subject matter and embedding them in your blog and your Facebook page, you can offer an effortless learning experience for your visitors.
Since Facebook readily embeds playable YouTube video, it offers a low-friction way for your Facebook fans to share content they find interesting. Be sure to get your business branding into any video you create, but again, subtler is better here. A quick mention of your brand and location or a flash of your logo and URL is all most viewers need. Hitting them over the head with repeated mentions of your company and services only dilutes the value of the content you're creating.
YouTube has successfully trained Web audiences to expect low production values from its content, so don't worry too much about spiffing up your videos with special effects. In fact, avoid that stuff all together. A steady hand with the camera and a simple, clear narrative will do you a lot more good than a bunch of flashy transitions. Unless you're trying to go viral, all you need to do to create a watchable YouTube video is tell people what you're going to show them, and then show it to them. Keep it simple.
Don't just use your personal YouTube account for company videos, though. Take the time to create a separate account using your company's name (or the closest available approximation of it), so people who click through to your channel don't end up seeing a bunch of your home videos intermingled with your business content. Your YouTube channel is an extension of your brand, remember.
To further brand your channel, log in and click Themes and Colors at the top of your channel page. Here you can select from a variety of preset color schemes, or you can click Show advanced options to select your own colors for the various elements of the page. Naturally, you want to select colors that are consistent with your brand identity. You can also use this menu to upload a custom background image with your company's logo.
Creating a custom YouTube background is easy. Just pop open any graphics editor and create an image that's about 1400 pixels wide and 2000 pixels tall. Set the background color of your image to match the background of your logo (or use a logo image with a transparent background for a perfect match) and position the logo on either side of the image. The content area of your YouTube channel is 960 pixels wide, so make sure to leave that much space in the middle of your image.
Consider Other Sites
Between Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, you'll probably have your hands full giving each channel the attention it needs. But if you do business abroad, or if your business serves a particular niche, there may be other sites you'll want to hit.
For instance, MySpace is mostly irrelevant to mainstream American users, but still serves at least two markets fairly well: the music industry and Southeast Asia. If either of those markets matter to you, you might want to establish an outpost there.
Tie It All Together
If you don't have a full-time staff dedicated to your social media campaign, it would be foolhardy to spend hours a day keeping each of these channels stocked with fresh posts and content. So don't kill yourself trying. Instead, use these channels to share content from your primary channel--your blog.
Make sure your blog features a plug-in that makes it easy for people to tweet your posts or share them on Facebook. This should appear on every page of your site, in a prominent spot. There's nothing presumptuous here: If people like what they see, they'll share it. If not, they won't. But if you don't make it easy for people to share what they find on your site, you can be nearly certain it won't happen.
Stick to your blogging routine, focusing on making great content. Throw video into the mix and embed it on your blog. Tweet your latest blog post as soon as it's live. Link it on your Facebook wall. Along the way, take the time to engage with your followers and fans. Answer their questions, thank them for their feedback (even when it's bad), and generally kill them with kindness. Keep at it, and you should build that proverbial virtuous circle, feeding your social media streams with good content that drives people back to your site and keeps them watching your streams for more.
Meanwhile, add your Facebook page and Twitter handle to your business cards and marketing material. Make sure your existing clientele knows about your social media presence, and consider offering rewards to customers who follow you on Twitter and like you on Facebook. It's an easy way to jumpstart your online audience and keep existing customers and colleagues engaged with your brand.
From start to finish, you should probably be able to complete all of the basic setup steps in this quick guide within a single afternoon. What takes time is the ethereal social element, building relationships. But that, in my view at least, is what business is all about.