From Like and Poke to click and shop, Facebook is becoming an easy and effective marketing tool for young entrepreneurs. Lavanya Mohan tells you more.
When Anju Shankar and Sujatha Kartic started brainstorming last July about ways to make their design startup “Zari” visible, the first option they hit on was Facebook. “It seemed obvious to us,” says Anju. “When we started, our target customer was the 18 to 25 age group, and most of them already had Facebook profiles. The interface is so easy to work with, so it didn’t take much time for us to set it up.” Seventeen thousand nine hundred likes later, Zari is one of the most talked-about design startups both online, and offline.
Anju and Sujatha are among the new breed of young entrepreneurs who use Facebook to push their business. “When you’re a small or medium sized business, there’s not much money that you can allocate towards marketing,” says Deepak Suresh of Amadora Gourmet Ice Creams. “Facebook helps me achieve the reach that I want without having to spend the kind of money that radio and television ads demand.”
No costs involved
Creating a Facebook page costs nothing and the process is simple as well. You are required to have an account on Facebook for yourself as an individual (or sign up for one if you don’t), after which you can make a page for your business. People can then be invited to “Like” the page, which will subscribe them to your page’s updates, the same way it would if they added any person as a friend. “The Amadora Facebook page is updated every day with Flavours of The Day. Sometimes we put out pictures of our new flavours. We even post updates on what music we’re playing in the store!” says Deepak. “While it may not boast the levels of customisation that regular e-commerce sites have, it is definitely more intimate and engaging. The kind of reach you can achieve with Facebook is phenomenal!”
Deepak isn’t the only entrepreneur to feel this way, and with good reason. Facebook crossed one billion members in October 2012 – that is three times the population of the United States, eleven times the population of Germany and 20 times the population of The United Kingdom, making Facebook the third largest country in the world.
With Facebook, all it takes to broadcast your thoughts is a single click and consequently, opinions are as numerous as reactions are instant. “Whenever we put up something new, people comment on it in seconds!” says Anju who quotes instances of receiving feedback on her Facebook page. “When someone is happy, they say that and it’s great publicity. But there had also been occasions where we had taken a little more time than usual in replying to our messages because we had been held up with work at our end, and people started writing on our page demanding a response! Initially it was overwhelming, but now we’ve picked up the pace with which we do business.”
This is one of the factors that makes Facebook a challenging platform to promote your business in, because it operates on an amplified word-of-mouth. Anything that your customers say about your product or service will reach all their friends, and negative publicity could break your business. “It’s all about survival of the fittest” says Sarah Natasha, who founded and moderates the 25,000-member strong Chennai Shopping Facebook group. The group was born out of Sarah’s boredom with the offerings at commercial stores and her desire to explore work done by home entrepreneurs and independent designers. Today the group acts as a platform for entrepreneurs who want to feature their business as well as customers. “We verify the authenticity of our vendors, but we don’t have a mechanism to verify quality yet” says Sarah, but goes on to point out that members often post in the group about the experiences they have had with the vendors’ services, which act as suitable recommendations (or warnings) for other members, making the process self regulated. “Only the best survive”
“What draws me to Facebook shopping is the uniqueness of some of the products on sale” says Kavya Kumar, a 23-year-old working professional. “They’re one of a kind, without having the price tags that say, designer goods do” she says. She also talks about how “liking” them on Facebook helps her keep track of what the store has. “It’s not like going in to a store and coming out, where your knowledge of what they have ends the moment you step out. Even if something I like is sold out, most store owners are more than willing to tell me if and when it’ll come back. The customer service is excellent here.”
A distinctive product line, good customer service and a steady stream of content may as well be the winning combination for coming on top of the Facebook market, but what happens next? “Facebook recently brought out an e-commerce application to help entrepreneurs sell their products right off their page, but we found the interface really inconvenient” says Anju, who plans to launch a website for Zari in the near future. “This format has been great for us so far, but we’ve realised that we can’t grow at the pace we want to without an e-commerce site”
Deepak warns of how “over dependence” on Facebook is not a good thing either. “It’s great when you’re a new startup, but eventually you will have to spread your advertising over other mediums such as television or print or a conventional website.” Anju also points out that branching out doesn’t mean “leaving” Facebook. “This was where we started. This is where our fans are. Our growth will be inclusive – we’ll still continue to promote our brand here.”
Although Facebook does have its own disadvantages as a marketing channel, its advantages far outweigh its shortcomings. Low investment, convenient interface and the presence of a billion plus potential customers makes it the most preferred way to promote businesses for up and coming entrepreneurs. It has restructured the very fundamentals of modern marketing, from where the focus had always been on what the organisation had to say about the product to what customers have to say about the product to each other, and that a brand’s popularity (much like when our own back in high school) depends on how much it is talked about.
It’s easy to get lost among the many complicated words that form social media strategies, but one thing that all successful entrepreneurs agree upon is that there will never be a replacement for a genuinely good product or service. The lesson to take home from Facebook, is that while the product is king, conversation is queen. And we all know who really rules the country.