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How to increase Facebook fan engagement: an interview with Andrea Vahl

by Joe on September 13, 2010

Update: I’ve added a transcript of the interview. Look below…

[Watch the intro video on YouTube if you're on a mobile device]

The other day I had the chance to interview Andrea Vahl, otherwise known as Grandma Mary, the crotchety Facebook expert. Andrea shared several tips and techniques for making your Facebook page more appealing to your fans and “likers.”

By the way, Andrea will be co-authoring the next edition of Facebook Marketing For Dummies, so she’s worth listening to…

Andrea VahlTake a listen to the interview. We kept it short, so there’s no fluff to wade through. Just some great suggestions for getting more fans and increasing their engagement with your small business.


[Right click to download the MP3 file.]

We focused on small local businesses (yes, the brick and mortar types), but the advice is just as applicable to online-only businesses.

Putting up a fan page is a lot of work, so you want to make sure it’s doing good things for your business, not just sitting there “taking up space” on the internet.

Among the topics covered:

  • how to turn walk-up customers into fans
  • how to use your page to connect your customers to each other
  • how to keep the focus on your fans, not on your business

Have you discovered a great way to increase engagement on your page? Let us know in the comments.

Oh, and don’t forget to click the button to share this post on FB and Twitter. Your friends with small businesses will be glad to have this advice.

If you’re interested in learning more about the nuts and bolts of setting up a great Facebook page for your business, check out Andrea’s guide to Facebook pages. She walks you through every step, and with a sense of humor! It’s a real time-saver.

Andrea’s e-book: How to Use Facebook to Grow Your Business

If you liked this interview, be sure to sign up for my newsletter (check out the sidebar or click here to sign up) so I can let you know when I publish new stuff.

The transcript:

Here’s a transcript of the conversation for those of you who prefer to read rather than listen. Just be warned that any typos, missed words, or anything else that makes either of us sound like a complete idiot is entirely my fault, not Andrea’s.

Joe: Hi, this is Joe Thoron with and we’re here today with Andrea Vahl, a Facebook expert who blogs as herself and also as Grandma Mary on the

We’re here to talk about some issues with Facebook marketing, so Andrea, welcome…

Andrea: Thanks so much Joe. It’s a pleasure to connect with you here–-we’ve tweeted and chatted online but it’s always good to talk on the phone.

Joe: Yes it’s fantastic. So you just got through with Facebook boot camp?

Andrea: I did. It went really well. It was a half day boot camp designed to help people take their Facebook page to the next level. A lot of people get a page started and then they’re not sure where to go from there — how to make it look really good and bring in some of the pieces that engage your community a little bit more. So that’s what we did. It was all local businesses looking to amp up their Facebook presence and get some tips and tricks on connecting.

Joe: Excellent. Some of the material that I’ve seen from you really helps people through the first stages of getting through the initial confusion of getting a Facebook page up and knowing how to attract your first fans and get things going. And that’s where some of the people that I know in the local business community here–where they are–and part where they get stuck is than knowing what to do with the page. And of course they’re busy people, so knowing how to build a strong community and keep attracting fans who really care about the business…this seems like something you might know a little about…

Andrea: Yeah, yeah. As you said those initial steps can be hard because you don’t know sometimes how to name your page, or there are different categories you can put your page in, and what those do… So I think a lot of people get hung up on these first details, and it becomes overwhelming. Even sometimes people say “Should I form a group or do a fan page?” It gets confusing how to start some of these things and then where to find them after you started them. It’s not always clear on Facebook.

Joe: Yes, getting back to things can be challenging.

Andrea: So the first steps are definitely challenging and can bog people down, but then after you have it started, then how do you connect with people and where do you find people is another challenging step. The first thing I suggest is to suggest your page to your friends. That’s an easy thing you can do to get your fan page started. Go under the picture on your fan page and find the “suggest to friends” button and you start with that and get your friends connected and then ask them to invite their friends, so it’s a little bit viral.

Joe: For businesses that have a retail location, that see people face-to-face, are there some strategies that you’ve seen that work well to get your walk-in customers to actually go home and connect on Facebook?

Andrea: there’s a couple things I recommend that local businesses do. It’s basically trying to hit people from all directions so they see your page and know where to connect with you and are reminded in a couple of different ways. The first thing you want to do is have a nice name for your page so it’s something people can remember. If you can get up to the 25 fan minimum which is where you can get a name for your page, that’s the first step that they would take. Then you can put a sign up that tells people the name of the page like It’s an easy way for them to remember how to find the page they’re looking for when they go online later. So that’s the first step, to get a nice URL, and you can do that when you get to 25 fans, and then go to to get it.

Then once you get the username you want to have a sign up in your store that says find us on Facebook than you put that nice easy-to-remember name on it: or Andreasflowershop — whatever it would be that’s easy for them to remember. Then you also want to send an e-mail out to your e-mail list. Because hopefully you have an e-mail list of all of your customers — or some of them at least — so that you can say, “hey we’re on Facebook now and would love to connect with you there,” and then tell them _why_ to connect with you, you know, what value they are going to get by liking your page, by becoming your fan as it used to be.

Joe: That’s a great point, to focus on the value that comes to them. That seems a good thing if you’re setting up a page at all is to think what value does it bring to my customer, not just what value is bringing to me.

Andrea: Exactly, exactly. Make sure you’re clear from the beginning on what kind of things you are going to offer. Make sure you’re thinking about different tips different resources you can provide for your customer base that are going to be helpful to them and that are going to reinforce your expertise in your field, and remind people of why they want to be using your services or coming to your store versus other people’s stores — because you know the most about your subject and you’re helpful, and helping them out, and they will be reminded of that hopefully every day as you’re posting.

Joe: Do you have any examples you can share from businesses you’ve worked with that have done a particularly good job using these kinds of tips and resources.

Andrea: Yeah, since were talking about mostly local businesses who are online and connecting with their market online, there are some fun businesses that I’ve worked with that engage with their customers and also to remind them what they’ve been up to.

One is a local pizza place here called Double D’s pizza and the owner there has been very good at just posting pictures of what’s going on in the kitchen and restaurant, what’s happening with their drivers, shots of their pizzas, and they asked people what kind of toppings they love, and try to engage people more. If you search on Double D’s pizza you can find it on Facebook.

Another one is Cripple Creek Barbecue. [The owner is] making barbecue sauce and he does a lot of U-stream videos of him cooking–he’s a chef–and he engages his audience by doing live events on his Facebook page and connecting with his audience there, telling them about the new sauces that he is making. And giving away things as well — to the first three or four people who respond to a post he’ll give a bottle of the new sauce to try. And then people come back and say that was fantastic. This is a fun way to engage your audience in different ways.

And then I have another person I worked with, Instant Imprints. It’s a franchise and they have a fan page and she talks about what they’re doing — we’ve been listening to music all day, or here’s our latest design for this customer or that customer. This also promotes their customers as well by showcasing their customers on their fan page.

These are just some neat and different ways to engage people and talk to people. A lot of people wonder what you post, what should they say? They think, “I don’t have that much to say.” But you really do. You can make it fun and make it social.

Joe: From the examples you’re using, part of it is connecting other customers to each other, sharing news about what’s happening (without revealing too much about anybody’s business).

Andrea: It’s kind of connecting your community and making your community know about each other and share with each other, so it’s totally not all about you. It’s about your community and about connecting people. A feature fan of the week, for example.

Joe: The image that pops into my head as we’re talking is the idea of a great host of the party who isn’t at the podium talking to everybody, but is coming around and connecting people. Saying, “Oh Bob, you might like to know Bill,” and actually building a community of people who know each other and have shared thing that they care about, which ideally is your business.

Andrea: Right. That’s a perfect analogy. You’re the host of your community fan page party.

Joe: Are there some areas to watch out for? I know that some people say you don’t want to get people to used to discounts. You don’t always be offering a discount because then you’ll just be attracting people who are going to wait until they get a coupon to come into the store. Are there some other trouble areas that you’ve seen people get into?

Andrea: I think some people worry about who is going to be posting on their page, and worry about people posting strange things. And it doesn’t happen very much. There are some people who post SPAM things out there, like “Go check out my page,” and they’re not really trying to connect to anything else on your page, [but you can always delete those].

I think you want to make it so people can post on your wall. Leave it open. If something’s really bad you can always remove it. I’ve talked to some people where someone has posted a rant — they were trying to be funny but but it didn’t come across and they used some profanity — you can always message a fan and say “I don’t want that on my page and I went ahead and took it off.” If they are part of your community they’ll understand. And the other thing is just not always talking about yourself; you’re not always directing people back to your website. People are on Facebook to be social. Some of the highest comment counts I’ve gotten have just been strange things — the weird lunch I’m having — or whatever. [laughs] So keeping it social and fun is the other thing — it doesn’t all have to be about business. People want to get to know you.

Joe: Yes, I think that sense of connection from the customer to the business owner — or the people who work in the business — it’s really important. I’ve seen that in a couple of nonprofits that I’ve been helping. The work is important, and people connect to the work, but people also just like the people in the office and in the field doing the work, so they wanted to know a little bit more about them, to have a touch of the personal in with the stories about — in this case marine science stuff — but they will have a mix of real people that they like doing work they care about.

Andrea: Right, sure.

Joe: I think you’ve given us some great tips, if people want to know more about either getting started with Facebook or doing more of these advanced things with Facebook once it got started, where can they go?

Andrea: I have a lot of free tutorials on the Grandma Mary show website. There’s a tab with Facebook tutorials that walks through some of the basic steps to get started, where people sometimes get hung up, how the user page is connected to the fan page and how other stuff works. That’s definitely a good place to get started.

Joe: And they’re funny. Grandma Mary is pretty funny. For those of you who aren’t getting the picture here, Andrea changes her appearance, changes her voice, and becomes a little bit of an elderly curmudgeon who guides you through the ever-changing landscape of Facebook with a little bit of attitude. It’s pretty funny.

Andrea: Yes, she does have some attitude… I also have an e-book that’s available that you can download and have access to. It’s 60-some pages of step-by-step instructions and includes how to add things to your page to make things more fun and interactive.

Joe: So if people want access to a step-by-step handholding e-book that will walk them through that, that’s available. Great. Okay, so I’ll put links to all of that stuff below the audio, so if you’re interested in that check below for links to Andrea’s websites. Andrea thanks so much for your time this morning.

Andrea: Thanks so much Joe. It was great talking to you.

Joe: Thanks everyone.

Here’s the link to Andrea’s e-book: How to Use Facebook to Grow Your Business

And here’s another reminder to sign up for my newsletter: click here.

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Tim Malone September 14, 2010 at 4:03 pm

Grandma Mary and Andrea have been so helpful. The other night I hi-jacked Grandma Mary about this very subject. She was very graceful in answering my questions. Her info is always very practical and helpful in the nuts and bolts dept. So many people these days show you how to go from step 1 to step 10 by going from step 1, to step 2, to step 6, 7, 8 ,9 10. That can be frustrating. Grandma Mary stands in that gap!

Joe September 14, 2010 at 6:03 pm

You’re so right, Tim. It makes such a difference to have someone who can communicate ALL the steps. That’s why I’m a fan of Andrea’s e-book.

Andrea Vahl September 14, 2010 at 8:54 pm

Thanks Tim and Joe! That’s why I had to do what I’m doing! And Tim, Joe has some great tips too on developing websites and using Google analytics – make sure you are on his newsletter list!

Thanks again Joe for doing the interview – so much fun!

Eugen Oprea September 17, 2010 at 4:17 am

Joe, Andrea, thanks for this interview and the wonderful insights you’re presenting.

I will also have a look at “How to Use Facebook to Grow Your Business”. It seems like an awesome resource worth checking.


Joe September 19, 2010 at 7:34 am

Glad to help, Eugen. And do check out Andrea’s e-books.

Jennifer September 20, 2010 at 6:06 pm

You mention contests on Facebook but the official rules say that you cannot run contests on Facebook…am I misinterpreting the rules?

Joe September 20, 2010 at 8:04 pm

Good question! We’ll check into this and clarify…

Andrea Vahl September 21, 2010 at 5:27 am

Jennifer -
Yes, Facebook has cracked down on running contests. You can run them yourself but they have a long list of rules.

The easiest way to run them now is through the Wildfire Application. They have two that you can use, Contests or Sweepstakes. If you do a search on those terms, you should find them. Or you can go to Wildfire’s website to learn more:

It does cost money to run a contest through them but it’s pretty reasonable. Hope that helps!

Joe September 22, 2010 at 10:00 pm

Thanks for the details on that, Andrea.

Jon January 11, 2011 at 6:01 pm

Great tips from Andrea: don’t ramble on about yourself and don’t be constantly directing people to your website.

I couldn’t agree more that people are on Facebook for the social aspect and want to get to know you. Be social. Be friendly. Care.

You could say that the rewards are commensurate with your level of genuine engagement.

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