Can you get more out of Facebook?

by Maryann Devine, author of smArts & Culture for The Dance Journal

Today, it’s commonplace to see dance companies on Facebook. And no wonder. At 200 million active members, Facebook is fast becoming the world’s preferred social networking site.

But are you taking full advantage of your organization’s Facebook account? Sure, you’ve got a fan page, and a few hundred fans. That’s wonderful. But that’s just a start.

Don’t think of your Facebook page as a stand-alone web page – a place for Facebook friends to visit when they want information about your company. Think of it as a means to stay in touch with your fans, to encourage them to go further in exploring dance, and at the same time, to tap into your friends’ own Facebook networks.

People who love dance are likely to have friends who love dance, yes? Enabling your fans to evangelize on your behalf can save you time, and spread the word about you in a way that can’t be duplicated in other kinds of media.

That’s why it’s important to continually update your page. It might sound unnecessarily rigid to designate one staff person as your Facebook liaison, but if you don’t, your engagement with your Facebook fans will fall by the wayside. Facebook has quickly adapted to their members’ demand for real-time connections, so your staff person or volunteer must commit time to spend on Facebook, making those connections on a regular basis. People expect it.

The New York City Ballet is one organization that seems to be doing Facebook right. As I write, I see that their last status update was only 58 minutes ago. They frequently post status updates, videos, event invitations, and photos. The fans seem engaged, too, writing on the ballet’s wall, and commenting on updates often.

When friends write on your wall, or comment on your dance group’s status, your designated Facebook manager should respond. People want to be acknowledged – they don’t want to feel like they’re talking into a vacuum.

Use the “events” feature to let all your friends know about performances and such. When they RSVP “yes,” all their connections will see it in their updates. Your fans are promoting you simply by clicking a button that says “yes.”

Managing Facebook sounds like a lot of work. But here’s the good news: Facebook is also a distribution channel for all your other social media streams and that can save you a lot of time.

With a Facebook application, you can enable your organization’s blog to feed into your fan page. You can set up your twitter stream to feed into your Facebook status updates.

Lots of dance groups have discovered the power of online video to build their brand, to promote upcoming performances, and to take dance enthusiasts behind the scenes. When you post to your company’s Youtube channel, or flag videos as favorites, you can simultaneously post to your Facebook page. Same thing with photos on Flickr.

And speaking of photos and videos, consider putting your fans front and center at times. How easy would it be for your marketing manager to go out into the lobby with a cheap Flip camera and interview your most ardent patrons about the first half of the show?

Video of passionate fans can be pretty powerful in itself, but more magic lies here: when you post the video or photos on Facebook, you can tag the people who appear in them. People love to see photos and video of themselves, and they will forward them to everyone they know (as long as they’re flattering). Trust me on this. Post the video, tag it, and your fans will do the work for you.

If you’re really committed to engaging with dance lovers, you can enable your fans to post photos and video on your page themselves. You have to weigh this one – you’ll be empowering your fans, and adding meaningful content to the page, but you’ll also need to monitor the account closely, making sure that no one’s posting anything offensive.

The Facebook Causes application is another way to help your friends spread the word about how fantastic you are. There has been a lot of controversy recently about the effectiveness of Causes to raise money for nonprofits. But Causes is a way for your fans to publicly identify themselves as such. Many nonprofits use Causes to raise awareness. Even if you’re not likely to raise significant funds with Causes, why not allow dance enthusiasts the opportunity to feel great about sending you a few dollars?

Facebook applications are being developed and introduced round the clock, so there’s a good chance that something else will come along to make it easy to connect with your fans. Don’t miss that opportunity.

Maryann Devine is the author of smArts & Culture, where she gives the tough arts-marketing love to people in arts and culture.

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