I almost lost the farm this weekend - at Facebook's Farmville, that is.I visited the site for the first time in, say, two weeks. My crops were wilted and I couldn't even open my mystery gifts anymore. Fortunately, my Facebook friends are more diligent farmers than I, so a few of them chipped in to fertilize my crops and do some general upkeep around the place. Meanwhile, my Wall was filled with the "graffiti" of shared weekend plans, but my input was nowhere to be found. So, what's my point? That, despite my lackluster Facebook participation, the social media phenomenon is alive and well.
Now a slew of companies are trying to leverage the power of social networking in the business world. A handful of them have got some pretty good ideas. Every time I turn around, there's another social network, or a jazzy new FB plug-in, or some other business that's capitalizing on the trend.
Today, for example, was the unveiling of FavRav, a social-media tool geared at helping small businesses win new customers through referrals. With FavRav, a Facebook-enabled website, consumers -- people just like you and me - can share recommendations about hairstylists, realtors, dentists, etc. Those recommendations originate at www.favrav.com and get broadcast to Facebook for the friends and family in our networks.
"Most small businesses today have an awareness of social media, but they don't know where to start or how to use it to engage customers," says Bill Manos, co-founder of FavRav. "Now they can build referral communities through Facebook without being social-media experts."
Here's how it works. First, a business would create its profile using a step-by-step wizard. Second, the business would let its customers know it's on FavRav. That's it. Once up and running, a business can check its online dashboard to see how many clients have raved about them, and to view total impressions and URL click-through.
There's even an automation component to save small businesses precious time and energy. Built into each profile is a "promo section" -- an area where the business can summarize what it does, list coupons, run promotions, send a seasonal message, whatever. Say a company has three different promos it wants to run in a three-week period. It can set up its profile so that those promos rotate in and out on a fixed schedule. That way, the profile promo is on auto-pilot for three weeks and the small biz can concentrate on its day-to-day operations. Businesses can even request "raves" from existing customers, and it's as simple as sending an e-mail.
FavRav is available now for a 30-day free trial. After that, the cost is $29 per month. Here's what subscribers get (FavRav is free for consumers):
-Social-media integration: Each customer's testimonial is posted on their Facebook Wall, along with your contact info and a direct link to your website. -Promotions engine: Promotions get posted along with each customer testimonial (see above). Create the promotion and let your customers drive traffic to your site. -Executive Dashboard: Check out your FavRav profile around the clock. This real-time analytics tool keeps you updated on how your referrals are performing and provides insight on how to engage your customers more effectively. -Search Engine optimization: All FavRav customers receive a microsite that displays their contact profile, and new Rav notifications are posted to our Twitter feed. Both of these are indexed by all the major search engines (Google, Yahoo, etc), driving organic traffic to your site when anyone searches for you.
Stay tuned for more on social media in the coming weeks.
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Michele Pepe-Warren was an editor and reporter for CRN and VARBusiness and has 10 years of experience covering the technology channel.