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In my last post I talked a lot about the advantages of having a Facebook account for your business, including interacting with customers and colleagues, sharing content, getting “liked,” and learning about trends in your field; or, as one friend of mine put it, “the warm fuzzies.” So let’s switch into copper baron mode here and discuss the other dimension that you’ve all been wondering about: how do we turn the warm fuzzies into customers and sales?

The truth is that it takes time to build a following and reap the rewards of social media engagement. The real reward, in my opinion, is realized in the long-term with enriched interactions with your audience, a boost in your reputation, and more sales through your website as a result. But I would be remiss to not discuss a few other options at your disposal, so I want to look at two specific features that have been hot topics lately: Facebook storefronts and Facebook advertising. To make things simple, I’ll split these services into two posts and begin today with the storefront. I actually have some pretty firm opinions about selling on Facebook (which I will share at the end for those of you who are interested), but I believe the choice is always yours. What works for one brand may not be right for another. And full disclosure: I am writing the following after careful research, not through personal experience as in previous posts, so please keep that in mind and if something piques your interest, do look into it more closely!

The Facebook storefront is basically a tab that you add on to your existing Facebook business page. People who like your business can click on it and browse items for sale, theoretically making it easier for them to make purchases and for you to cash in on that “impulse buy.” Unlike the Facebook page that you initially set up, however, this type of service is not normally free (surprise!).

Because e-commerce is such big business these days, it’s no wonder that Facebook wants a piece of the action; however, as it stands right now, the social network has yet to come out with its own software to that end. In other words, this is where things get tricky, because you will need to get a third party application to support your Facebook storefront. And here’s the catch: unless you are interested in code and writing your own application to circumvent this process, you will first have to create a separate online store with the third party’s site. You will pay a fee (usually monthly), design your online storefront, upload your inventory, and then and only then can you integrate it into Facebook. The problem with this arrangement is obvious: most of us in the trade already have online shops up and running on our websites, so creating an entirely new operation for the sole purpose of selling on Facebook is not only time consuming but potentially confusing to your customer base.

Is there a workaround to this problem? The way I understand it, the answer is “kinda.” Some of the major players offering Facebook storefront applications are indeed compatible with a select number of e-commerce platforms. So provided you are already using one of these popular platforms on your website, it should be possible to link your existing online shop with the third party app, and then plug it into your Facebook page (if you aren’t sure which platform you are using, check with your website host). StoreYa and Storefront Social both look like good options to investigate if you want to go this route. Another intriguing option to check out is Ecwid, which offers a free plan that allows you to list 10 items or less – sounds like a great option if you want the freedom to experiment before committing further.

But really, is it worth all the fuss? Operating a Facebook storefront really comes down to time and money, so you will need to examine whether you have both the audience base and the kind of “brand” that makes the cost/benefit worth it. The argument can certainly be made that creating a Facebook store will generate buzz and attract more people to your page. While that is certainly the hope, there is one very big problem with the whole operation: Facebook is just not known as an e-commerce site right now. And the reality is that the kind of customer that wants to buy rare and valuable material is probably not going to feel comfortable trusting Facebook to secure that transaction. I pose these questions and considerations mainly to highlight the fact that a Facebook storefront is not going to work the same way as Abebooks or Biblio. The available technology, which I have outlined above, will require you to approach the process differently, cautiously, and creatively in order to make it an effective tool in your arsenal.

And now for my promised humble opinion: having done a lot of research into the subject, I think that Facebook has neither a strong enough presence in the e-commerce market nor a sense of their role in it to make it a good use of my time...for now. Rumor has it, however, that Facebook is working on a “Buy” button that will supposedly revolutionize the way we make purchases. Until that happens, I think Facebook is much more effective as a marketing device (not to mention easier to control) when it is used to generate traffic back to your website (think links to featured items, catalogues, blog posts, etc.) where people can browse your inventory and connect with you directly. But if any booksellers out there have had success with Facebook storefronts and want provide the dissent, I would be very interested to chat with them.

The real deal on advertising with Facebook is slated for the next post, so until then, happy networking!