I often see small businesses make the decision that they "need to be on Facebook" without taking the time to truly understand the platform and figure out how to make it work for them. While you may get something out of simply having a Facebook presence that you post to every once in a while, by-and-large you definitely won't get back enough value to justify the time you put into it.

When it comes to your social media marketing, the most important thing you can do is to educate yourself first (take a look at my introduction to Twitter when you're done here). To that end, here are five quick tips to help you with your Facebook marketing and advertising efforts.

1. Determine Your Goals

Before you embark on any marketing or advertising effort, it's important to determine what your goals are for that activity; social media marketing is no different. Social media activity in-and-of-itself is useless if it doesn't provide some return on your investment. It's up to you to determine how to both define and get that return. Whether you're a deli or a restaurant looking for a good way to get your daily specials out, or a community newspaper that wants a platform to build a bigger, you need to have a clear idea of what constitutes success. From there, make sure to re-evaluate your goals on a regular basis and make sure your content falls in line with your goals.

2. Use "Boost Posts" Sparingly and Strategically

About two years ago, Facebook made one of the best business decisions it ever has; they provided the ability for page admins to pay to boost their regular posts as ads. This was fantastic for Facebook and potentially damaging to small businesses that don't use it properly. This feature is a fantastic way to quickly and easily test content and ads. It isn't an end-all-be-all solution to your Facebook advertising. Facebook has some extremely powerful advertising features that can only be accessed in the Ad Manager or in Power Editor. While all of Facebook's ad tools are continually getting better, at this point in time there is no replacement for what these two can do for you. Between custom audiences, advanced targeting, conversion tracking, and ad types that can only be created using these tools (Power Editor just released an awesome new "Lead Ad" you should absolutely pay attention to), there is still no substitute for either of these tools.

3. Images, Images, Images!

There's a reason Facebook paid $1 billion for Instagram and tried to also acquire Snapchat for billions: Images work. Scroll through your Facebook feed and tell me how many posts without images you see at all, let alone notice and pay attention to. A good image for your post is the initial attention grabber that your headline and post text need to convert to a click (or a like, or whatever other goal you're trying to achieve with your post).

4. Native Videos

Facebook has made a few key moves that affect how you need to handle video posts within the platform. The biggest was when they stopped auto-playing YouTube videos in the feed and instead began to display them like links. The reason for this was to push users to upload their videos natively to Facebook rather than uploading to YouTube and then embedding the video in Facebook. (My assumption is that Facebook is actively working on ways to monetize video content the same way YouTube currently does.) What this means to you is that those embedded YouTube videos get far less views than they used to, while native Facebook videos with their auto-play and click-to-hear-sound functionality get significantly more. SIGNIFICANTLY. It's not a small difference, it's a MASSIVE difference. If you want your video seen on Facebook, you have to go native.

5. Dark Posts

Dark posts are becoming less of an "insiders only" feature and more of a standard for Facebook advertising. I suspect the term "dark posts" will probably go away soon as more people use the feature without even knowing they're creating a dark post. A dark post is simply an ad that doesn't appear in your page's timeline. This is powerful because you can separate the content you push to your existing audience from the content you push to those who aren't already following you. Want to offer a discount to a targeted audience that doesn't yet follow you without pissing off your existing followers? Dark post. Want to advertise an introductory offer for new customers in a specific market segment? Dark post. Want to advertise the same exact item or content to different demographic segments with different text and images? Dark posts. To create a dark post simply use the aforementioned Ad Manager or Power Editor and create a news feed ad with brand new content.

Chris Searles is President of Searles Media and specializes in helping small businesses maximize their available resources to market themselves effectively using a wide variety of media. Visit Website

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