Seeded content, engagement drive a Facebook strategy

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Can you believe that a b-to-b publisher can rival Newsweek in Facebook presence? Believe it. The Praetorian Group, an online-only media company for public safety professionals, has amassed a remarkable 192,000 “likes” for its FireRescue1 page on Facebook, or about 10,000 more than the venerable newsmagazine. In fact, when combined with the companion and EMS1 pages, Praetorian's Facebook footprint nearly doubles that of Rolling Stone. In building such a successful presence, Praetorian has learned tactics about engaging the Facebook audience that would be useful to any marketer. Emergency workers are unlike most business customers: They're a family bound by a shared commitment to service and the knowledge that their work can sometimes involve considerable danger. Social networks are a way for this geographically dispersed group to come together and support each other. Praetorian editors have learned how to seed these communities with content that generates response, which is a critical factor in Facebook success. Stories that inspire strong emotions are one tactic: “A man who stole firefighters' equipment and then posed with it in a Facebook photo was arrested after one of his 79 friends sent in a tip to the fire department,” one post this week read, “What would you do” in a similar situation? More than 100 members commented within the first hour. Another approach is simply to ask questions about topics or concerns that members have in common. “Do you agree that cops and dispatchers often have a love-hate relationship?” asked a recent post on the PoliceOne page. Almost 200 responses have poured in as of this writing. Facebook “is not about broadcasting,” said Jon Hughes, VP-content at Praetorian. “It's about encouraging interaction.” Stories about fallen comrades and disasters spark considerable discussion, but even simple tactics like asking members where they live can generate hundreds of responses. That question isn't a throwaway. Emergency response professionals want to connect with their nearby colleagues, and Facebook is a place to find them. Now that Praetorian's communities have reached critical mass, the company is experimenting with new ways to monetize them. One is through recently launched spinoff Facebook pages, focused specifically on first-responder products. FireRescue1 Products spotlights one or two firefighting products every business day, often with photos and video. While the product pages are editorially driven, Praetorian will soon be in a position to charge sponsors for featured placements. Another tactic is contests and giveaways, which are tried-and-true crowd-pleasers on Facebook. ShortStack and Wildfire Interactive are just two of the companies that offer applications for creating such promotions. Visibility on such pages as FireRescue1, with its nearly 200,000 “likes,” can drive significant traffic to sponsors' pages. Building and maintaining a Facebook presence isn't easy or free, Hughes said. The company's mostly young editorial team must be tuned in to the topics that motivate its audience without crossing the line into frivolity. Each day editors post multiple news items and monitor hundreds of comments to keep conversations on track. Praetorian also spends some money on audience development. One effective tool is the Facebook feature Sponsored Stories, which cherry-picks activities and comments that members make about products and companies, then displays them to their friends in Facebook's advertising well. These promoted posts drive visibility that otherwise might scroll off the screen. So far, the investment is paying off in member affinity, with Facebook driving as much as 27% of the traffic to some of Praetorian's branded Web properties. Paul Gillin is an Internet marketing consultant and author of three books on social media. He also writes the New Channels column in BtoB.
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