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Dublin: 7 °C Sunday 21 December, 2014

Column: I put my family business on Facebook. Here’s what happened.

Peter Faulkner was told he had to engage with social media to promote his company – but the results weren’t what he expected.

Peter Faulkner

WE ARE A long-established business, founded in 1860, in a pretty boring business-to-business industrial sector: packaging. It was obvious to us that as our traditional customer base is being eroded by the recession, we had to find ways to win new business from new customers, especially those involved in selling online. I want to deal with our attempts to understand and engage with social media, and Facebook in particular.

After a huge amount of work by all involved in setting up our websites (described previously on TheJournal.ie), we got to the stage where we were pretty happy that we had the basics in place. The next task was to respond to the challenge and opportunities offered by the whole social media thing.

Now, as an older chap of nearly 60, I am no spring chicken and readily admit that I have great difficulty in ‘getting it’. But everything I read about maximising your web presence and impact told me that SMEs must integrate and embrace social media, especially Facebook. Back to the dummies’ books for me: I set up a personal Facebook page to learn how to do the basics and get comfortable with the format. It was not at all difficult, much to my surprise.

Flushed with this success, I decided to go Facebook commercial. I picked two of our product ranges and set up the two pages, again not at all difficult.

I could not secure the Facebook page with the brand name until I had secured 30 likes. I sent around emails with links to the pages to my children, younger staff members and anyone else I could think of, asking them to ‘like’ my new pages. I got my likes for both and was able to secure the Facebook addresses.

Once my helpers stopped liking, I had expected the viral phenomenon of Facebook to generate more and more likes as the contagion of their likes spread to their friends and colleagues via their own Facebook pages.

Nothing. Stone dead. Zip.

OK, I reasoned, why would these people have any interest in my marketing products or the pages? They were just ‘liking’ them as a favour. On to my next step: Facebook advertising.

‘After a few hours my ads are approved’

I draw up two ads on their (again very easy-to-use) templates. I give it a decent budget of €40 a day (€1,200 per month), select the UK market as sole target, 24-60 as the age range and appropriate Target Interest Listings – in this case direct marketing and a couple of other similar titles. The template tells me I have targeted 178,000 people who within my interest range and selected demographics. I fill out the payment box and click GO.

After a few hours my ads are approved and the likes on the pages take off. Happy days! The 40 quid is getting used up each day. I consider increasing the budget – and in the end decide to pause one ad and give the other the full budget.

The page with the ad running continues apace and the other one stops stone dead again. What about the viral effect this time? These guys are supposed to be mad about all things marketing.

So far I have spent €160. Time to look at the number of our own website visits clicked through from the Facebook pages. Result? Two! €160 quid for two clicks, each of whom looked at two site pages.

Clearly something is not right, so I decide to view the profiles of all those who clicked the ads. They hit one common spot – they were all in the UK. But they were aged from 13 to about 70, many were unemployed or in education, we even had a Muslim fundamentalist who is very concerned about things in Pakistan. Lots and lots of doting mothers with FB pages full of cutesy little life mottoes. It may well suit some types of businesses but I can say we are not among that number.

I switched off the ads, a slightly poorer but wiser chap. Time to check my likes again. Nothing, rien, zero new likes. Ads off, ‘likes’ gonzo. I’m an Irish male. I will not pay to be liked!

I did some stuff on Twitter too, with equal success! I prefer the dawn chorus.

‘I can only see lots of tears down the road’

We have our Facebook buttons on our websites and will keep the Facebook pages updated. It takes a bit of work and costs next to nothing and we are present in that space. If something comes out of it, great. But I will not be spending precious marketing euro on their advertising offering, their only form of income.

I recently spurned an offer to get in on a slice of the Facebook initial share sale. To my mind it is a bit like the product, overhyped. Bebo 1 was sold for $850 Million and within a few years sold on for under $10. Bebo 2 is down to float at a valuation of around $100billion. I can only see lots of tears down the road, but they wont be shed by Zuck or the earlier investors – who have already made vast returns even before the IPO.

I read an article some time back entitled something like ‘Google is the Internet’. We have been spending money with them every day since about 2002 with various AdWord campaigns. This week, I decided to examine the source of all hits on all our sites since last January.

Google in its various domain formats accounts for 92 per cent of all our visitors. I am but a simple engineer, but if you hold 92 per cent of the space, you own it. I am going to do my business with the top banana: the owner!

Peter Faulkner is chairman and owner of Faulkner Packaging, founded 1860. He lives in Dalkey and has three adult children. He is a non-executive director of a number of other private companies. He is a  former chairman of the SFA and was one of the founders of ISME. He was a member of the government Taskforce on Small Business. His sites include www.discountpackaging.iewww.snazzybags.comwww.snazzybags.co.uk,  www.faulkner.iewww.alububble.iewww.95kpabags.com, plus a bunch of micro sites.

This article was written before General Motors pulled its advertising from Facebook.

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