Does your business have friends? I mean, in the Facebook sense. If not, better get some. Facebook is the new universal water cooler. It's where the people you do business with come every day to find out what's going on. With more than 845 million active users worldwide and 150 million unique monthly visitors in the U.S. alone, it's a must-have forum for discussion.

Two years ago, Social Media Today estimated that 41.6% of the U.S. population had a Facebook account. Facebook builds a ready-made and receptive audience for your marketing messages, whether those are conversational in-the-loop branding posts or actual offers. Having that audience provides you with a place to advertise inexpensively.

There are home improvement companies with thousands of fans or followers on Facebook or Twitter. They're not only spreading the word about the company, they're also ensuring that the next time any of those fans or followers needs windows, siding, or roofing, it's going to be that company that gets the business.

Follow Me

Social media means a lot of things, and those things constantly change. But if you want to focus your efforts on one particular medium, Facebook would be the one. It's not difficult to set up a Facebook business page. The challenge lies in developing a following for your page.

Get started by inviting your personal contacts through Facebook and by email. Pull all your email addresses and those on your cell phone and invite them to friend you on Facebook. After that, expand your effort (and your fan base) by reaching out to, for instance, suppliers or noncompeting home improvement companies you know.

If you're new to Facebook, features of the page such as the Like button on the center right top of the page may not mean much. Actually, you need to familiarize yourself with these features in order to communicate most effectively on Facebook.

Go to their Facebook page and indicate you "Like" the page. Like makes like. You can also build a fan base by running inexpensive Facebook ads. These would appear, for instance, on the side of the homepage for people fitting a specific demographic that you designate.

Captive Audience

Once your Facebook page is a go, post events or various activities you're doing in your business. To sustain and grow that following, you need to have something that engages people's interest. Set up a contest to raise money for a charity. Post about it and offer to donate a dollar to that charity for every person who Likes your page. Post about the shows your company plans to be at.

Get activity on your page on a regular basis. That means at least once a day. (Don't overdo it or those who Like you will start to block you.) These should be fun, friendly reports on your doings. If you start touting your own company, you'll get blocked. Remember, it's as easy for people to block you as it is for them to Like you.

The goal is to get more and more people to Like you and come to your Facebook page.

What we want to do by getting more Likes is to create an audience of people who are there again and again when we post. They're there to receive impressions. Advertising is all about impressions. When we buy a TV ad, we're buying X number of impressions, at a cost-per-impression. With Facebook, once you get the Likes, the impressions are all free. You have a captive audience for what it is you have to say.

Are They Talking About Me?

One sure-fire way to build your business fan page is to get visitors Talking About you. That means they relay page links to other people they know. What's the difference between Like and Talking About? Users who "Like" your page opt in to receive updates on their newsfeed. Talking About is a new metric that measures user-initiated activity, including posting to your wall, commenting, sharing a post or other content, answering a question, mentioning the page, and check-ins.

A user can Like your page, but that doesn't mean they're interacting. Those who are Talking About your page, on the other hand, have made the conscious effort to interact in one way or another.

When you get people Talking About you, they're sharing your page and your audience grows. You want them to say it on their page, to share it with their friends. If you get a whole lot of people Talking About you, your potential reach is phenomenal. You may have 233 friends, but customer Joe has 100, customer Bob has 500 and customer Harry has 2,000. What you're hoping is that people Talking About you like what you're saying on your page and Friend you. It's no different than the old days when people were talking about someone after church. It's all word of mouth.

Why It's Important

Social media has huge potential for home improvement companies, but most have no serious participation in it yet. If cost is what's holding you back, just think of it this way: You could set up a social media department for about what it would cost you to employee one good telemarketer. For, say $1,500 a month, you could create a really professional social media presence and an ongoing campaign.

I think many home improvement companies miss the connection between social media and marketing. Social media not only builds your brand, it expands your online presence. Many companies would prefer to spend all available marketing dollars on lead generation. But think about where your company ranks in organic search. Are you Page One? Are you near the top? If you're not, you pretty much don't exist for the actively searching/researching homeowner.

The other thing to consider is that those who are Talking About you are the ones who can turn into new leads. They're actively reading your content, and they're interested in what you have to say. Converting "Likes" into "Talking Abouts" is similar to turning leads into sales.

— Rick Menendez founded his consulting business, Sudden Impact Marketing, in 2001, after honing his skills as marketing director at Newpro, media manager at Thomas Construction, and VP of sales and marketing at Melani Brothers. Reach him at thericker@cox.netcbtardcfwwbueawrytyd.