Eight Tips on How to Launch a Facebook Page

I'm not sure how a month that features the start of the baseball season could have a rep as the cruelest month, but such is April's fate. I suppose Tax Day might have something to do with it.

Anyway, I'm going to try and unsully April's good name by doing something on the blog I've never done before: Answer a reader's question! I was so wonderfully surprised to get an email question from a reader the other day that I figured what the heck - I'm going to live a little and write a response on the blog. (Danger is my middle name, after all.)

If all ya'll enjoy it, feel free to use the suggestion box on the right to send in a question - maybe it can become a regular feature on the blog.

Anonymous (but clearly awesome - s/he reads this blog after all) Reader: I have a question that you might answer in your blog: If you were starting a Facebook page for a university department today, knowing what you know now, what would be the first things you'd do or post?

Ah... the age-old question of successfully launching a Facebook page.

The crummy answer to this is that I would have started it several years ago, because Facebook has stacked the deck so much against pages that it's nigh on impossible to grow a new page at a satisfactory rate without spending some cashola. It's doable, sure, but it's difficult. That being said, here is a to-do list in no particular order.

1) Touch base with your university marketing team. Not only will the person running your school's "official" page will appreciate it - departments going rogue are annoying - they can be your best asset in terms of promoting the new page when you're ready for them to. Work with them to come up with a bit of a plan (don't get caught up in firm timelines - social media doesn't work that way) of them encouraging their followers to follow your page and to share some of your early content.

2) Get buy-in from your co-workers. Make sure they know it's going on and check to see if they'd be willing to promote your new page on their personal profiles. If any of them are alumni or have worked their a long time, see if they'd be willing to send out "page like" invitations to people they know might be interested.

3) Come up with some dynamite content for your first few posts. In my experience running a college social media page, I've found that the best way to reach the highest number of people is by getting people to tag themselves and their friends in photos. If you are an academic department, you might consider doing something similar to what the University of Portland School of Nursing recently did. (Without any assistance/guidance from me, I might add... they did his all on their own!)

They set up a photo booth with fun props near where their classrooms are, and encouraged students to take part. The end result? 40,000+ photo views, with a huge number of people reached. If you think you can pull something like this off, do it. If you do, be sure to collect the emails of all the students so you can let them know once the pictures are posted and be blatant about telling them to tag themselves and their friends. In the captions of all the photos, paste in a link to your new page with a clear call to action to like the page.

Beyond a photo booth, maybe you could start it off with some beautiful pics of faculty/staff/students that tell a small story (like the "Humans of" pages I featured a while ago).

With Facebook severely ratcheting down the reach of posts, prepare to be visual and prepare to post things that people actually want to see - not boring links and self-promotional junk. That stuff just doesn't work anymore.

4) If you've got a wee bit of money to spend, make a custom audience of "hot prospects" (alumni from your department, current students, faculty/staff, etc.) from your email contact lists and run an ad for them. If you're going to do this, go all the way... don't bother with right-hand column ads and definitely include mobile. A simple page-post ad with something like "Our department is now on Facebook - please like our page!" with a nice visual will suffice.

5) DO NOT waste any money on general "Get More Likes!" ads. These are pernicious and actually can do more harm than good, even if they do successfully get you some likes. Relevance is so, so, so much more important than the vanity number of how many total likes you have. 200 people who have a vested interest in your page are worth enormously more than 1,000 (probably fake) people who don't care at all. Don't believe me? Watch this video and recoil in horror:

6) Stay flexible. Having some solid plans for good content is crucial - but I would also encourage you to avoid getting to caught up in creating a content calender or a really specific posting schedule. Social media works best when the things you are posting have some immediacy to them. I have never operated on a posting schedule, and I never will. Sure, sometimes I have to post PSAs about graduation tickets or scholarship applications and the sort, but I always a) have several good content ideas in the hopper and b) monitor what's going on around campus and in the world on a given day and will react to it when appropriate. (Example from today: It was a beautiful sunny day and while walking across campus I spotted a class taking place outside taught by a longtime and popular professor. Social media gold.)

7) Follow a lot of other colleges and departments for inspiration. Operating in a bubble in social media is never a good idea. See what other schools are doing and learn from what you see - both good and bad. Imitate the things you like, avoid doing the things you don't like.

8) In the immortal words of Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush... Don't Give Up! Keep at it. Growing a Facebook page is HARD. It requires discipline and creativity and persistence. Get into the habit of posting once a day if you can. Learn what it feels like to have to come up with something (good!) to post when you don't have anything to post. Be ready to fail a lot... you'll get better at it, I promise.

Good luck and godspeed, faithful reader!

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