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Firms spread message, not ads, on Facebook

In July, the world’s most popular social media site, Facebook, crossed the 500 million-user mark.

That’s a tremendous potential audience for any company, which is why businesses have caught on. But the power of Facebook as an advertising and marketing tool lies with the smaller, targeted audiences and an organic fan base, businesses said.

More businesses in Central Pennsylvania are finding Facebook is a good way to expand their Web presence, they said. Small businesses with limited budgets find just having a Facebook page to be a good way to get free advertising. However, companies are hesitant to dip into paid advertising on Facebook, marketing consultants said.


Marc Dalton, owner of Sidoti’s Italian Grille, has found a following on Facebook and is using the restaurant’s page there to promote specials and drive traffic to the Cumberland County eatery. Photo/Jim T. Ryan

“Everyone’s on their smart phones these days and they’re getting Facebook updates, so it seemed like a good way to get people’s attention,” said Marc Dalton, owner of Sidoti’s Italian Grille in Cumberland County.

Sidoti’s has had a Facebook page for less than two months and has garnered more than 320 fans in that time. He posts each day’s specials on the page and anyone who mentions seeing it on Facebook receives the special price, Dalton said.

The marketing effort has worked to some extent. Traffic is up in the restaurant, there’s a buzz about the business in cyberspace, but sales aren’t exactly going through the roof, he said. That’s a factor of the continuing sluggish economy. People still are not eating out the way they were before the recession, he said.

The pizzeria and Italian restaurant in Lower Allen Township has been in business since 1999 but doesn’t have its own website, which is another reason for adding the Facebook page, Dalton said. It’s a free Internet presence, something Dalton said he wants to increase in the near future. He said he’s considering paid Facebook advertising because of the relatively low expense and large reach.

Some midstate groups are venturing into the paid Facebook advertising venue.

“Based on the early results, I’m saying (Facebook ads) will be a big campaign for us next year,” said Shireen Farr, director of the Cumberland Valley Visitors Bureau.

The tourism agency for Cumberland County tested paid Facebook ads for three markets and events beginning in June, she said. The visitors bureau posted ads for fly fishing, the county’s beaches and the annual Corvettes in Carlisle car show Aug. 27-29 at the Carlisle Fairgrounds. This year’s Corvette show, the 27th edition that included a parade, saw an 11 percent increase in attendance, according to Carlisle Events, the company that stages the shows.

The bureau received a good response for two of its campaigns, including paid Facebook ads for the Corvette show, said Valerie Copenhaver, the bureau’s marketing manager. The bureau set a $50-a-day limit for its pay-per-click ads, which meant when that threshold was reached, the ads stopped running, she said.

“It’s low-cost advertising that returns a high yield if used properly,” Copenhaver said.

The Corvette show ads hit 205 clicks on 550,000 views, or impressions, in the four days before the show, she said. The beaches campaign — targeted at teens home for the summer — hit 1,129 clicks on 2.2 million impressions over 12 days. The fly fishing ads didn’t do as well, getting 474 clicks on 1.4 million impressions over two weeks.

Some words and photo combinations worked better than others, but that was the point of the test, Copenhaver said.

“It didn’t cost me any more, but it was a way to see what works and what doesn’t,” she said.

Sometimes, Facebook advertising can be better than buying keywords on search engines, said Oliver Feakins, president and CEO of Webtalent, a Lancaster-based Internet marketing firm.

Niche companies that have exhausted advertising options can use Facebook to better target customers in their niche, he said. However, Facebook has some drawbacks for advertising. The call to action — a hallmark of advertising — doesn’t always translate well to Facebook, he said.

“It’s really difficult to get someone to leave Facebook and go and buy a product,” Feakins said. “They’re already engaged and they don’t want to leave Facebook.”

Some people will venture away from Facebook and companies should try to capture that audience, said Bede Fahey, partner and chief technology nerd for Kiwi Marketing Group in Lancaster.

Facebook advertising can work well if it’s directing people to a specific page to buy a product immediately, sign up for a newsletter or use Facebook applications and landing pages that act like a company website, Fahey said.

“It’s not just about getting the clicks, it’s about getting the right people to click,” he said.

Harrisburg International Airport found that paid Facebook ads didn’t work for its business. The airport offers a service to travelers in the region, but it doesn’t sell anything. That made pay-per-click ads on Facebook ineffective, said Stephanie Gehman, the marketing manager for HIA and its operator, the Susquehanna Area Regional Airport Authority.

“We can get so much more frequency and reach with traditional forms of advertising,” she said. “We have a great airport experience, but that’s such an intangible thing.”

The airport used paid ads on Facebook to target college students flying for spring break. The ads weren’t getting the click rates HIA had hoped for, so the airport allocated the money to other marketing efforts, Gehman said.

The airport returned to using social media to engage people in Central Pennsylvania.  Gehman also manages HIA’s presence on Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube and Flickr. It has more than 1,500 fans on Facebook and 2,000 followers on Twitter, she said.

Word of mouth is still some of the best advertising any business can get.

“Few people are using the paid advertising,” Gehman said. “Most people are using (Facebook) as a platform to take their message to the masses.”