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Build Your Relationships Slowly to Grow your Passion-Based Business

Back in July 2012, Rory Cellan-Jones created a Facebook page for “VirtualBagel Ltd.,” a company selling downloadable bagels. The page contained a small amount of  basic information, a picture of a bagel and a description of a dream of delivering virtual bagels across the Internet to a Web full of virtual eaters. He then created a Facebook ad with a budget of $10 targeted to people aged under 45 interested in cookery and consumer electronics, and living in the United States, the UK, Russia, India, Egypt, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines, an audience of around 112 million customers. Twenty-four hours later, his $10 was gone and his page had picked up 1,600 likes — an instant community.

It’s a story that should show the power of Facebook and its main product. With just ten bucks any business, even one completely new to Facebook, can use Facebook ads to build a big audience in no more than a day.

Except that it didn’t work.

When Cellan-Jones, the BBC’s technology correspondent, looked closely at who exactly was liking his page, he found that most of his audience was made up of people outside the main markets of the US and UK. While his overall clickthrough rate was 0.55 percent, that figure fell by a factor of ten to 0.059 percent when the ad was targeted to just those two countries. He also found that many of the likes outside the US and UK seemed to come from profiles that did nothing but like random pages on Facebook. Attempting to buy followers to create a fast community on Facebook was looking like a waste of money.

Facebook has since tried to clamp down on fake likes, cutting more than 45,000 from Farmville in September 2012 and more than 96,000 from Texas HoldEm Poker. But while some small businesses continue to hope for a short cut to Facebook growth (a service that other firms are willing to supply) the best option for relationship marketing is to let the community grow slowly and naturally, so that the people you’re bringing on board are customers who have bought from you in the past and leads who are likely to buy from you in the future.

For Passion-Based Businesses, Small is Beautiful

That’s the approach taken by many of the top sellers on craft site Etsy.

Claudia Rosilla, for example, is a textile artist from Uruguay who runs an Etsy boutique called Texturable. Her Facebook page has picked up 964 likes, over 600 less than Rory Cellan-Jones found that he could buy in a day for ten dollars. Those likes don’t come in particularly fast. In December 2012, her Facebook page was picking up between three and ten likes each week. That figure jumped to between 40 and 50 likes a week after her store was featured on Etsy then fell again once that buzz had died down. Between January 10 and January 24, she picked up just two new likes.

Her reach though, what Facebook calls “People Talking About This,” has remained high even as the number of likes her page picks up has fallen. Between mid- and late-December, the figure, which tracks shares, comments, replies and other activities, declined from 42 to just nine. It rocketed to nearly 150 during Texturable’s time as an Etsy highlight, and although it has since fallen, Claudia Rosilla’s store is still scoring between 30 and 50.

Those likes, in other words, originating largely from other craft-lovers on Etsy, are translating into continuing activity on Facebook.

So what are those new followers talking about? What kind of content on Facebook is picking up new followers, sparking conversations and spreading the name of Claudia Rosilla’s store wider?

Use Facebook Pages to Show Who You Are and How You Work

Mostly, they’re talking about pictures. Texturable’s Facebook page is filled with well-taken images. The page contains behind-the-scenes shots of her works in progress, images of her workspace, as well as photos of her latest products complete with a link to the Etsy store. There are a few personal things in there too: a shot of her cat and her dog; a picture of her son on his birthday; the view of the sea from her home. The effect is to close the gap between a business based in Uruguay and a buyer who may be anywhere in the world. Customers can genuinely feel that they’re buying from someone they know. They understand how the products are being made and they can feel confident that they’re being made with passion and care.

Other Etsy sellers follow a similar strategy. The Facebook page of Odelae Graphic Design & Book Arts, Erica Ekrem’s one-woman design company that specializes in hand-stitched journals, includes a range of different kinds of content. Any mentions in the press are reported to her followers, recommendations to Kickstarter projects that appeal to Erica get a mention, new products (such as her clam-shell book) receive due attention, and Erica will also throw in the occasional announcement of a gift certificate. The only thing missing is discount offers and exclusive bargains.

With just 260 likes, Erica’s following isn’t massive but her pictures do pick up comments and likes, and it’s likely some of those comments and likes are translating into sales too.

Facebook has developed into a model in which big businesses set up free pages then pour money into advertising to encourage potential customers to click “like.” That’s an easy strategy to copy if you’re willing to invest the dollars but much of the money will be wasted and a large chunk of the community you build will be useless.

For passion-based businesses in particular, a community of people who appreciate your art and your skill is essential. Let your community grow slowly, use your Facebook page to show who you are, what you do and how you work, and you should find that even though your following is small, your activity translates into engagement, trust and additional sales.

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