New!All the buzz the past week centered around all the changes on Facebook. Some love it, some hate it. Right now, I’m really enjoying the changes. I’m enjoying the new Timeline with it’s integration of apps like Spotify.

But most of the conversations in which I’ve been involved have to do with the experience of the individual user. People don’t like change, and we have to use it and get used to it. But at least on the local level, there hasn’t been much discussion as to what this means for small businesses who are using Facebook as part of their online marketing. This is mostly due to the fact that most of the interface changes haven’t affected the look or functionality of the Facebook Business pages. But, if the user experience is changing, we need to re-examine how we are approaching our use of Facebook from the business perspective.

Truthfully, we really don’t know all the facts. Much of this will play out over time, but having read a number of articles and playing around with the interface, I have a few ideas as to how this affects marketers and businesses.

If I had to sum it all up in one phrase or idea, it would be that businesses really need to step up their game and take their social presence much more seriously. This is really nothing new from what I always tell my clients, but the laissez faire attitude where you just create a page and use it here and there will be even less effective than it had been.

Honestly, up front these changes might seem like bad things, but I happen to take a positive spin on them. More on that in a bit, but here are a few points about the changes and how they affect you and your business, followed by my suggestions:

1. The new Facebook favors those who spend money – What I mean by this is that apparently it will be harder to create a strong presence for yourself that shows up in users’ newsfeeds. The best way to get in front of them is through the use of third-party apps (such as with contests or games) or through Facebook ads. While this can be done somewhat affordably, most small businesses prefer a “free” presence on Facebook, so this favors larger businesses with larger marketing budgets. As John Jantsch points out, what we are seeing with Spotify and the Open Graph is the tip of the iceberg in terms of integration and real time marketing.

2. The new Facebook doesn’t require people to “like” your business in order to comment – Previously it was possible to set up your page so people had to “like” your page in order to comment. Now they no longer need to do that. The main implication of this would be people who either don’t feel a real attachment to your brand, or who have a beef with you, can now comment and share their opinions or displeasure. Think about it: If I buy your product and have a problem with it, I want to let you know. But I probably don’t want to tell you or the world that I “like” you, when I might actually dislike you. Now, if I’m in your business and I don’t like the service I’m getting, I can write it on your page without having to like it.

3. The new Facebook timeline favors businesses who have a cohesive, rather than scatter shot, approach – If you’re just throwing out random updates, you might get lost. But if you have a well thought out strategy, your updates and interaction with users will show up more easily on their new timeline profiles. Those brands that tell a consistent story will have a better chance of that story being an attractive and integral part of an individual user’s profile.

4. With the new Facebook we are no longer confined to having to “like” things – As the open graph spread across the web, we could now “like” things. Then they gave us the option to “recommend” things when “like” didn’t seem like the appropriate verb. Now we will be able to customize even more and choose our own verbs. If it’s a restaurant web page, perhaps you’ll allow your users to “taste”. Or feel free to use verbs like “love”, “read”, “watch”, or “listen”. The sky’s the limit on which verbs you use with the FB like button.

These are just a few of the most important changes that will affect how small businesses need to approach the social realm.

What’s a business to do?

So now that you know the changes, what are you to do? How do you need to respond? Does it change the way you approach your social presence on the web?

Again, remember that it is still much too early to tell how this will all shake out, but here are a few recommendations to help you refocus your priorities as you seek to find ways to best reach your customers online.

 1. Engagement, and especially engagement over time, is more important – The relationship is the thing. And this is nothing new. But the changes will force us to come out of our complacency. Just posting occasional updates to your Facebook page won’t cut it. With the new structure, if you want a better chance of rising up in the newsfeed as a top story, you will need to post thoughtful updates that get a decent amount of “likes”, comments, and shares. Ask questions. Post polls. Share great content. Again, this isn’t anything new, but it’s now more important than ever. And as you engage with individuals over time, it will help create a cohesive conversation that shows up in their new profile timeline.

 2. Think customer experience over marketing – Again, really nothing new, but don’t approach Social Media as a marketing tool. It is a communications tool that works well for providing great customer service and experience. The goal is word of mouth. Provide great content and engagement that translates into great customer service, and your “fans” will be more likely to talk about you positively and share you with their friends.

3. Think “story” – The new timeline is all about helping people tell their story. If you become a part of their life, and engage with them often, you will become a part of their story. The product or brand that becomes a part of the customer’s story will have the edge.

4. Ratchet your accountability up a few notches – I believe that the social web forces us to not only change how we do business online, but how we do business across the board. Now that people can comment on our pages without having to like them, many of us can expect a bump in comments, particularly of the negative variety. The best way of preventing that is to be better at what you do. Sure, there are always malcontents, but if you provide great content, great products, and great services…and stand behind them, your customers are less likely to be unhappy.

5. Turn the auto-pilot off and monitor more closely – You can’t just sit back and let things take care of themselves. We need to be ready to address all comments, positive or negative, whether the person “likes” us or not. Unanswered questions and unaddressed concerns will come back to haunt you. Plus, if you respond, you have a better chance of creating great engagement as mentioned in point 1.

6. Find creative ways to help people share their interests – Look at the Spotify model. It’s all about the sharing of music. Over the past few days my friends and I have been checking out one another’s playlists and discovering new music. What is that you have that people can share. This type of sharing can be centered around you, while at the same time building community.

7. Consider spending some money ads – Clearly, this is what Facebook wants. I’m not a big fan of Facebook Ads, and I never click on them myself. I generally tune them out, but they are working for many businesses. They can be quite affordable and very targeted. They may work well for some business categories, but you’ll need to be creative to draw people in. It can’t hurt to experiment, and many hosting companies and others often offer free credits for Facebook ads (as well as Google Ads).

8. Consider spending some money on apps – Whether it’s some sort of game or contest, now might be the time to experiment. Again, these can be quite affordable, and you might even find that your web person is capable of developing a customized app just for you. People love to compete, play games, and share. This is definitely going to be an important and growing area on the web in the immediate future.

9. Focus on the long haul, not just campaigns and prom0tions – Social Media has always been about the long haul as opposed to campaigns. When you do short form promotions, people will like your page for a chance to participate and win, and then unlike them. Find ways to hold on to them by focusing on every day interaction in the long haul, don’t think merely in terms of the short term spike of promotions and campaigns. These still work, and many will stay, but how you act and interact in the between times will be much more important.

10. Be creative – As you integrate the social web into the rest of your online presence, be creative in your use of the “like” button. Is there a verb that might more creatively grab peoples’ attention? Find something that makes people want to share your great content with their friends. “Like” just might not cut it anymore, and Facebook is giving you the tools to change that.

11. Keep it simple – One thing the latest changes have shown us is that people hate change. You’ve seen the reactions; people find the new interface complicated. Sure, they’ll get used to it, but Facebook will continue to move forward and change. Try to be a sea of tranquility in the midst of what many view as a storm. When changes come, don’t add to the panic, but be the voice of reason and help them through it all.

How are you viewing the new Facebook? Are there any other changes you’ve seen that either scare you or present you with opportunities?