We entered the social networking world of Facebook last week, and I’m slowly watching the number of “fans” of my store increase. I hadn’t really thought about using Facebook or MySpace to reach new customers, but we’ve taken the plunge (thanks to my son Erik, who created the two videos on our page while he was home for Thanksgiving using his digital camera). The cost? Nothing at all, except for a small reward to Erik for his efforts.

An August, 2008 survey by Internet Retailer and Vovici showed that about a third of all retailers who sell online have Facebook “fan” pages. They range from the sophisticated sites of chains such as Urban Outfitters (which has 55,000 fans and puts much of the material from its web site on its Facebook page) to local mom and pop shops. As the promotion for Facebook says, “Your fans love you, and their friends will know it."

The best commercial Facebook Pages combine the folksiness of a personal page with information about the store and its merchandise, and allow customers to interact. This is, after all, supposed to be “social.” Clever videos are an excellent feature, and are incredibly easy to upload. Make your page fun for shoppers to visit. Once someone becomes a fan of your store, that fact shows up on their Facebook page, allowing you to do some “viral marketing” to your fans’ friends.

You can also send updates to your fans regularly with special news or offers. That’s one of the features that makes being on Facebook fun, and which we look forward to exploring in the future.

If you want to look into establishing a Facebook page for your store, go to the help page set up by Facebook for artists, businesses and brands. You can choose whether to permit your employees to help manage your Page, or whether you’ll be the only administrator. To see what other businesses are doing, you can go to Browse Facebook Pages without having joined.

One interesting benefit to having a Facebook page is that the Insights page will tell you what it can find out about your fans, for example their age and gender demographics. If you have a “bricks and mortar” store, you probably already have a good idea about what your customers are like, but it’s fun to see which of these customers are on Facebook.

Ironically, the two markets that Facebook may help you reach best are Gen Xers and seniors. My father had a Facebook page months before I did, and many of my son and daughter’s friends in their 20s have them as well. You need to belong to Facebook to become a fan, so I can’t send you to our page unless you already belong. But if you do take a look at Orange Tree Imports, I hope you’ll consider becoming a fan. We have a long way to go before we get to 55,000!

Happy Retailing,

Carol “Orange” Schroeder