QAfacebook_Body.jpgby Cindy Waxer.

Imagine being able to target one-seventh of humanity using a single, cost-effective marketing tool. That’s precisely the power afforded small business owners who launch a Facebook business profile. In fact, 68 percent of small business owners say Facebook is the social media tool they use most for business, according to The Small Business Social Media Survey conducted by website provider

“The number one reason that you need a Facebook page is because it has close to one billion members,” says Mari Smith, Facebook marketing expert and author of Facebook Marketing: An Hour a Day. “I rarely come across a business whose target market isn’t on Facebook. But more importantly, if you’re a small business and you don’t have a Facebook page, you’re likely to be seen as someone who’s behind the times and might not even come up on a customer’s radar.”

Recently, Smith jumped offline long enough to explain how entrepreneurs can craft the best Facebook page possible.

QAfacebook_PQ.jpgCW: How can a small business avoid bombarding its Facebook ‘friends’ with advertising while still pitching its products and services?

MS: The job of a small business owner is to get on the radar of prospective customers. But if a business’ small business profile features too much advertising, spam and solicitous content, the members will get frustrated. The secret, therefore, is for small business owners to come across as more like Facebook members and almost befriend their customers and prospects. For example, an entrepreneur can humanize his or her brand by signing off each Facebook post with a first name. Moreover, studies show that about half of the comments posted by members on Facebook are ignored. However, when a business owner responds to these comments and posts, 80 percent of members will go on to make a purchasing decision. People just want to know that they’ve been heard and that they matter.

CW: Where should entrepreneurs draw the line between being friendly and sharing too much information with its Facebook members?

MS: There’s a clear distinction between the two. Humanizing your brand is about letting your online community know that there are real people behind the brand name. But it’s not necessarily appropriate for a small business owner to put up pictures of his kids. Generally speaking, unless you’re a mom-and-pop store, then I would say just keep it strictly business, but you can certainly have an element of fun by posting off-topic items every now and then.

CW: It’s not uncommon for people to post personal information on a business’ Facebook profile. How can a small business owner use this information to his advantage without infringing on a member’s privacy?

MS: You could keep a spreadsheet of your top 50 customers and really observe them online. For example, you could find out if they’re celebrating a birthday or an anniversary, or if they’ve just had a baby. In fact, a small business can have a profound competitive edge simply by just paying a bit more attention to its customers and by digging for those golden nuggets. Imagine if your son was graduating from college and you received a gift from a retailer because you posted that information on the business’ Facebook page. That’s pretty impactful.

CW: Many small businesses watch their Facebook profile explode with new members and then slowly peter out over time. How can an entrepreneur prevent a Facebook page from plateauing?

MS: I would highly recommend experimenting with posting content at different times of the day, especially outside of business hours. Studies show that Sundays are a very profitable day for businesses to connect with their customers online. In addition to posting during the evenings and on weekends, experiment by increasing the frequency with which you post. Or run a contest. Contests have a viral element that encourages Facebook fans to go ahead and do some of the evangelizing of your business for you. A contest that’s well executed can really make a difference.

This interview has been condensed and edited.