You Should Be On Facebook. Here’s Why (and How).

People either love the "new Facebook" or hate it – there’s not much of a middle ground evident in the online chatter and media coverage.

My take? I love it. I think any professional or business heading online today to engage an audience in meaningful ways should – among other things – maintain a presence on Facebook.

More to the point: I think that the recent changes to Facebook Business Pages represent an excellent opportunity for all service professionals, including attorneys and law firms, to build and engage a responsive – and ultimately viral – network of friends, clients new and old, colleagues, and valued connections. Here’s why.

Facebook Pages: Connecting What You Know and Who You Know

One of the most noticeable changes has to do with the way Business Pages (previously known as Fan Pages) now connect to the rest of the Facebook experience.

Below is a recent screen shot of my personal News Feed – three timely updates in a stream of many others from the friends, media outlets, businesses, and points of interest I’ve connected with on Facebook:

  

For some, this News Feed is one of the site’s most addictive elements: an ever-changing aggregation of activity, images, videos, links, and other information particular to your own circle of friends and connections.

Addictive or not, the snapshot above reflects one of the key changes rolled out by Facebook.

Updates from firm Wolfe Law Group and media outlet Mashable are included in the stream because now Business Page status updates appear in personal News Feeds. This is at the heart of the brilliance behind the new Facebook layout and functionality.

Networks on Facebook manifest in two ways. You undoubtedly know the first: friends connect with each other behind the walled garden of their personal profiles. Fan pages have for quite some time allowed the other type of Facebook connection: anyone can literally "become a fan" of any entity whatsoever that has set up a Fan/Business page on the site.

The latest changes enable the two types of networks to meet at a critical point: each individual’s personal News Feed. Businesses and brands of every type only stand to benefit from this.

Becoming a Fan on Facebook: The New Opt-In

I see the act of becoming "a fan" of a Facebook Page as the new opt-in. It’s the 2009 equivalent of saying: "I’m willing to hear from you." Only, now it means: "I’m willing to engage with you in the presence of all of my friends."

Page administrators have always been able to send e-mail updates that appeared as notes in their fans’ Facebook in-boxes – and in whichever email in-box connects to each account. (In other words, Facebook has always quietly offered one of the simplest ways to deliver email messages to a broad base of followers.)

Now, those followers can hear from businesses in real time – again: in the rich context of the personal News Feed. And they can respond, publicly and directly.

In just  a matter of days my new News Feed became my primary source for stories and links from Mashable (see screen capture above). And in fact, it was in the feed that I first saw Mashable’s own coverage on this very subject: You Might Not Love  the New Facebook, But Brands Should.

Apparently I’m not the only who has been engaging with the social media news outlet via Facebook:

…we’ve been using our page to share our articles, post photos from our journey to SXSW, and engage users in conversation. And the results so far have been rather stunning. Comparing traffic to Mashable.com referred by Facebook from 3/5-3/11 to 3/12-3/18 (the 7-day period before and after the new homepage rolled out), we’ve seen a 75% increase in visitors. Moreover, our Facebook Page itself is seeing 2-3x more visitors on a daily basis than it did in the previous iteration of Facebook’s homepage.

Indeed, hardly a surprise that inclusion in a data stream thus far reserved only for personal updates would lead to this kind of traffic spike. If the content is valuable, it’ll get the attention it deserves.

[Critics of the new Facebook model miss a crucial point: you still get to control what your stream looks like. No longer want to see updates from a particular connection, whether it's friend or business? Click the "X" that removes them from your feed. Done.]

Your Facebook Network: Syndicated Content. Viral Engagement.

Think of a Facebook Page as a self-created syndication network – because, really, that is what it is.

You build an audience by encouraging friends, clients, colleagues, and others in your network to become fans. ("Join us on Facebook. Become a fan of our page.")

As your audience builds, you stream in all of the content you are creating and delivering to audiences elsewhere. Do you have a blog? Tether it to your Facebook presence. Every time you write a new post it will appear as a status update. Same with JD Supra (in fact we have an application, JD Supra Docs, that streams your work to Facebook every time you post it on JD Supra.)

Wolfe Law Group‘s Facebook page is a rich collection of content from multiple sources, including: at least three of the firm’s blogs (see the "Boxes" tab), their JD Supra portfolio of legal work (see "Documents"), as well as misc. photographs that open a human window into the firm. Much of the work pours automatically into this page – such is the nature of the current online landscape and what we mean when we talk about "connecting the dots" between various platforms in which you’ve decided to plant your flag.

Yes, today Wolfe Law Group’s collection of Facebook fans only stands at 36 – but with time and effort it could reach the hundreds, or even thousands. (Mashable boasts over 9,000 fans at time of writing.)

Each new fan, each small engagement, includes a viral element that can make a difference both in terms of brand awareness and organic growth. When I become a fan of a page, all of my friends by virtue of our connection see it. Likewise, when I comment on someone else’s status update, my friends see that, too. (A quick glance at the 9,000-strong page for outdoor sports and adventure store REI should show the viral strength of this type of connection. Every fan of REI broadcasts their love of the company not just on REI’s Facebook Page, but also on the News Feeds of every one of their own friends.)

I have always been a fan of Facebook Pages, excuse the pun. In the simplest terms, I believe that any firm’s online strategy should include two broad objectives: 1. to own your Google resume (to take possession of as many of the top-page search results as you can, when people search on your name or your brand); and 2. to meet your audience(s) where they are gathering.

In many cases, a Facebook Page succeeds on both counts – it can rank well in Google and it happens to be hosted on a platform that boasts 175 million active users. On this second point I know there are a number of people who like to generalize about who, exactly, is using Facebook and why they are using it – but, really, can we generalize about 175 million people? The sheer size of the site makes it worthwhile to plant a flag there and see what type of traction you are able to muster.

Last fall when we were rolling out our first Facebook application I heard by e-mail from a legal professional who uses the site:

… I put some business-related info on my Facebook profile and mentioned it to a few key people in my personal network. A friend contacted me online and said he had spoken with one of his Facebook connections that day that may be in need of my services. Long story short, the prospect reviewed my personal page/info, liked what he saw, and sent a project less than 24 hours later.

The opportunities made available to legal professionals by Facebook Pages are well-described by attorney and early tech adopter Doug Cornelius recently in a blog post about social networking:

…your lawyer listing, articles, cases, news, and people connections would be all linked together in one place… you could show your expertise through the stuff you write, the cases you work on, the transactions you work on and the news about you. Then you tie that all information to a central profile and connect with the people you know.

Sound familiar? Sound compelling? Start a Facebook Page for your professional service. Here’s how in five easy steps:

  1. Create your Facebook Business Page here. Begin with basic corporate information.
  2. Connect your blog to your Page’s "Notes" feature for automatic updates.
  3. Connect your JD Supra portfolio to your Page, for an automatic stream of professional information and legal work
  4. Announce your page to your current network, ask people to connect by becoming fans.
  5. As you become familiar with the page and its functionality, start playing with other features (like events, photos, video, and the like).

Do you have a Facebook Page for your practice or firm? Include it in this entry’s comments field. We’ll start building a list of which legal professionals are leading the way on Facebook.

(Here is ours: Join us on JD Supra’s Facebook Page – become a fan, spread the word!)

Further:

- You Might Not Love the New Facebook, But Brands Should

- Law 2.0: JD Supra Frees Legal Content

- Stream Your Legal Docs and Information on Facebook

- Facebook apps: JD Supra Docs (for legal professionals) | JD Supra Legal News (for everyone)

- Please: Digg This if you dig it.

JD Supra Legal Marketing on Facebook: Real Estate Law | Intellectual Property Law | Consumer Protection | Tax Law | Business Law | Immigration Law | Insurance Law | Bankruptcy Law | Environmental Law