Small business owners can’t afford to ignore Facebook.

Nearly all consumers use the Web to search for local businesses – and most of them are on Facebook. The website is the biggest social networking platform in the world by far, with more than a billion active users.

Meanwhile, the social media giant is steadily rolling out features to help users find small businesses, while helping small businesses connect with potential new customers.

A good Facebook presence can help you engage your fans and grow your business. But with so many ways to promote your business on Facebook, it’s hard to know where to start.

Read on for six easy steps you can take to make social media work for you.

1. Create your Page

Your Facebook Page is your business’ home base on the social networking site. A Page is a lot like a regular Facebook profile, but for brands and businesses.

You will interact with Facebook users through your business’ page, so make sure it truly reflects your brand. Use your business logo as the primary photo for your Page, and pick a cover photo that is attractive and showcases what your business does.

Type up a few snappy sentences to describe your brand, and choose a memorable Web address. Facebook Page URLs appear in the form of www.facebook.com/(yourbrand).

2. Share!

It’s not enough simply to have a Facebook Page. To rack up followers you’ll need to create worthwhile, interesting content for your fans.

Users who like your page will see your posts show up in their main Facebook news feed, so get cracking. You can share updates, photos, videos, promotions and a lot more.

The most successful Facebook posts – the ones that drive the most people to comment, share and like – are short and visual. Look for ways to add a visual element to your posts, whether it’s a short video clip, a photo from inside your store, or just stock art.

Facebook’s Page Insights tool helps take the guesswork out of sharing. The tool, accessible from your Facebook Page’s Admin menu, provides valuable information on follower activity. For example, it can tell you what time most people view your content so you can plan your promotions.

3. Start making connections

What good is sharing content if nobody sees it? Fortunately, Facebook has built-in tools to help you build an online following.

First, check out the “Build Audience” tools found in your Page’s Admin menu. You’ll find options to invite both your Facebook friends and email contacts to follow your Page.

Traditional marketing techniques can help you grow your audience beyond your existing following. That means advertising your Facebook Page’s Web address on signs in your store, on your business card, in emails you send, and on any other marketing materials you produce for your business.

If you took the time to create a simple and memorable URL for your Page from the start, it will be easier to promote it in the future.

4. Engage your followers

Meanwhile, you can grow your audience organically by creating content that your followers want to share, like and comment on.

The key is to post quality content regularly. That means sharing updates that are relevant to your audience at least once or twice per week. For best results, try taking a friendly, conversational tone, and remember to be succinct.

Keep your updates timely, and respond directly to comments and private messages. Creating a dialogue with your followers will encourage them to engage with your posts in the future.

Facebook also offers a few direct marketing tools for business users.

Facebook Offers is a tool that allows you to create coupons that can be redeemed in your store or online. For a fee you can also have Facebook push your offer onto the news feeds of users who don’t already follow your business. By establishing a budget you determine how many users will see your offer.
Promoted Posts allow you to boost the visibility of any Page update. For a fee, your post will appear near the top of news feeds belonging to potential customers.

5. Leverage friends of fans

New customers are more likely to try your business if their friends already use it. Facebook lets you leverage word-of-mouth to promote your product or service.

Keep in mind that when a fan interacts with your Page, their friends will see the activity in their news feed.

You can foster more interaction in a variety of ways. Set up polls and ask questions on your Facebook Page that fans can’t resist responding to.

Encourage customers to “check in” to your business on Facebook when they visit by offering a small discount for anyone who does. Checking in is a feature that allows users to notify their friends of where they are.

You can also create special events and limited-time promotions and invite your followers, who can invite their friends in turn.

6. Consider Facebook ads

Facebook also offers traditional advertising options that let you position your custom ads in users’ news feeds. The ads appear as promotional posts and direct anyone who clicks straight to your website.

Because Facebook collects heaps of user data, it can target your advertisement to users who are most likely to be interested in your product or service.

The platform also features an analytics tool to help you understand which ads drive interest and sales.