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Here’s how small business owners can use Facebook to build relationships with new and existing customers while driving in-store and online sales

This past summer my family opened Terre Bleu, an agritourism lavender farm located in Milton, Ont. Using no other forms of advertising other than Facebook, we saw more than 6,000 people visit our farm in just eight weekends. And, with 'Likes' on Terre Bleu's Facebook page skyrocketing from 200 to nearly 10,000 in the past year, we think we can hit 50,000 visitors next summer.

Needless to say, Facebook has been an incredibly powerful tool for our business. But you can't set it and forget it. Many small business owners believe that by simply creating a Facebook Page, thousands of people will magically 'Like' their page and buy their products and services, but – just like the lavender on my farm – your audience/customer base won't grow unless it's cultivated properly.

Here's how small business owners can use Facebook to build relationships with new and existing customers while driving in-store and online sales:

1. Target the right audience. It's important to know your audience and target specific individuals based on their interests, hobbies and location. Because Facebook's targeting tools allow me to reach a very dedicated audience, visitors to my farm spent five times more than I had forecast for an average sale per customer on premium products such as lavender essential oils, lavender-infused honey, lavender soaps, etc.

2. Pay attention to how your posts perform. If one of your posts is collecting a lot of organic 'Likes' within your community, devote some advertising dollars to giving it a boost. Boosted Posts stay in users' News Feeds longer and are shared with your audience's like-minded friends. Facebook has become the new electronic word of mouth for us. Overwhelmingly, when we ask visitors where they've heard of us, they say "Facebook."

3. Don't flood your audience with information. No one likes to be bombarded with brand messages. Focus on developing interesting content, but don't drown your community with daily deals or savings.

4. Deliver value. Facebook is most useful when you use it to engage in conversation with your community. Don't focus on merely selling your product. Engage your audience by turning posts into questions. For example, we always get excellent interaction when we ask people how they use our products. We're then careful to respond to every comment with a 'Like', comment or private message.

5. Focus on one social media channel. Instead of trying to be on multiple channels simultaneously, you should perfect your strategy on one platform before expanding your brand onto other channels. We chose Facebook because it has a massive user base and allows us to target a specific audience based on the demographics and personal interests we sought after.

6. Create a voice for your brand. Understand what your product stands for, what you intend to deliver and what the user expects to see and keep this messaging consistent. I personally handle all Terre Bleu's Facebook content to ensure a consistent brand voice.

7. Pictures and videos are worth a 1000 words. Facebook is a very visual medium. We share a lot of photos of Terre Bleu lavender farm with users in order to create a "sense of place" and further our brand's story.

8. Keep it personal. Facebook is not a television ad. You want to create personal relationships with your users. For example, a lot of our audience follows Terre Bleu not to capitalize on new sales or offers, but to learn more about the farm, our new business, where our products come from and even about our family's story behind our start-up.

9. Experiment. Facebook has audience insight tools that can help businesses discover their target audience and measure their success. Try buying a few different ads and then compare their success rates to find out what does and doesn't work for your specific business.

10. Use captions and headlines. It's important to remember that your post is in users' News Feeds competing against wedding photos, baby pictures, etc. That's why I like to create titles that draw attention and create user engagement with our posts.

Ian Baird is CEO of Terre Bleu Lavender Farm as well as a Global Technology Executive who has worked for and advised fortune 500 companies, particularly in Cloud and SAAS computing.  Ian is also an early stage investor, entrepreneur, and recognized public speaker.

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