Starbucks is often touted as a Facebook success story. Well, Starbucks is pretty much a business success story, but that doesn’t mean everyone can, or should, emulate them.

Alex Wheeler, Starbucks’ Director of Digital Strategy, explains their Facebook success as the result of creating a relationship with their customers as fans, through brand stories and daily interaction. I think even Facebook would have a hard time listing someone as “in a relationship” with a multi-million dollar company, but that seems to work for them.

Chances are that you are running a small business, not a national or international brand, and need to take a different tack. Lucy Beer, of Web Training Wheels, puts it really well:

“Here’s what no one in the social media space seems to want to say: Facebook is a difficult place to reach new eyeballs organically if you do not already have good brand awareness. There I said it. If you are trying to use Facebook to reach a new audience, organically (i.e. without paying for Ads), from scratch – you are facing an uphill battle.”

Beer goes on to cite a social media study showing that people become fans of companies they’re already customers of, and the most popular reason is to receive discounts and promotions. Despite social media’s claim to helping build communities, “to be part of a community of like-minded people” was the least likely reason for someone to fan an organization (nonprofits may be the exception). Combined with previous research on social followers, the data suggest that what your fans really want is insider tips on the latest news, specials, and promotions – privileged access.

So, what are you giving your fans that makes them come back?

Sara Prentice Manela

P.S. Speaking of Facebook – Have you joined our fanpage?