As a small business owner or entrepreneur, you are probably trying to figure out how to use social media sites like Facebook and Twitter to actually grow your business. Sure, Facebook is great for sharing baby pictures, and Twitter is great for sending 140-character thoughts into the great unknown, but can these social media tools really be used for something productive like finding new leads and customers? Well, I'm happy to answer "Yes" to that question, although I do have to qualify the answer: One needs to know what one is doing on these sites, and more importantly, needs to engage in a focused program of communication, to get real world results for one's buisness. Unfortunately, you simply can not post a bunch of motivational quotes all over Faceboook every day and expect anyone to want to be your "Friend" or "Like" your business anymore. Maybe in 2007, but not today. In this piece, I'll be teaching the exact how-to-steps of using Facebook's Groups feature to grow your business, whether you have an online business or a traditional bricks and mortar business.

Groups are one of Facebook's original and oldest features; they are a critical platform on the site, just like people's personal Profiles, business Pages, and Events are primary tools for Facebook users. Facebook Groups are intended to allow people to gather support online for things like political causes, movements, awareness, interest in a hobby or niche, etc. This is important: Groups are not your business or brand's home page on Facebook, that is what a Facebook Page is designed to be. Facebook Groups are for promoting and engaging in discussion of a larger topic that affects many people and many organizations. Many people make this easy mistake, and then find that no one wants to join their Group. The reason people don't want to join a Group that is all about a specific person or company is that Facebook users are expecting a Group to be about a cause or other larger interest topic. As always, it's a good idea to work within the generally accepted framework of Facebook users to get the most users as quickly as possible.

Here's a quick example to crystalize the point: A Facebook Profile page is for "Taylor Garland", a Facebook Page is for "Social Media Marketing Made Easy by Taylor Garland", and a Facebook Group is "Social Media Marketing Entrepreneurs Group". From another user's perspective, if you want to talk to me or about me, you use my Profile, if you want to learn more about my business, you use my business's Page, and if you are just interested in the broader topic of social media marketing, they you use the Group. So, for your business, you want to think about an interesting and compelling topic in your industry that people are talking a lot about right now. Then, you want to start a Group about that topic and engage users in discussion. Every time you post something in your Group, it will show up as being by you (your Profile), so people will know who you are just by being in the Group. This will automatically attract a certain percentage of them back to you and your business.

When you're choosing a name for your Group, be sure to do some keyword research first. Use Google's free "Keyword Tool External" (just Google search for that) and put in a basic keyword in your niche. So, for example, "carpentry", or "bird watching", or "save the whales". Then, Google will think for a few seconds and come up with a nice big list of related keywords that get the most searches on Google. Sort the results by "Monthly Search Volume" so that the most-searched-for keywords or keyword phrases are at the top of the results list, and then make sure you use more popular rather than less popular keywords in your Group name if possible. Sometimes, you will be surprised to find that people generally think in terms of a totally different word or phrase than you happen to use when thinking about a niche. For example, you might think "environmental activism", when most people actually type and think "save the whales" or "prevent oil spill". These are important clues as to how to name your Facebook Group, and any websites or blogs you are working on, for that matter.

You an find the Groups function by clicking on Facebook's logo in the upper left of your page, once you're logged in, and then looking down the list on the left hand side of the page until you see "Groups". After clicking on "Groups", you will be taken to a page that shows all of the Groups you are a member of and that you have created. Click the "Create A Group" button at the top of the page to start a new Group. Facebook will then walk you through a short questionnaire about what your title, description, and some other settings are, and then you'll be done. It should only take a couple of minutes and your Group will be created.

The next task is to pre-populate your Group with relevant and interesting information, before you attract anyone to your Group. If people come to a "dead" or empty Group, they will just click away and not join. So, take a week or so and come up with a bunch of interesting articles, videos, information, tips, etc. related to your topic and post them on the Wall, Discussion Board, etc. Also, make sure you completely fill out the Group's profile so that it looks like someone cares about the Group! I know that sounds easy, but you'd be surprised how many people think it's better to save the two minutes of thinking and typing and they have Groups that look half-baked... not the impression you're trying to make!

Now you're ready to invite a few people to join your Group. You don't want to go blasting status updates on your main Facebook personal profile about your Group yet, and you don't want to do any other "big marketing" of your Group yet. Right now you just want to invite 20 or 30 of your personal Facebook Friends to take a look at your Group, join if they want to, and give you feedback. This is key because a few of them will join, even though it's basically an empty Group, since they're your Friends. Now, when strangers find your Group, it will not look like a ghost town... there will actually be posts and interaction involving people other than you!

Once you have a few people other than you as members of your Group, it's time to go for some bigger marketing efforts. Make sure you have some good content and discussion topics already in your Group, though, and make sure you are committed to checking your Group at least once a day or at the least every other day to engage in discussion, post more content, etc. The most obvious and most productive method of growing your Group is to find the most popular other Groups in your topic or industry by doing a Facebook search and scanning through the results in the "Groups" section of the search results. Given the size of Facebook (400 million-plus users) there are no doubt already some related or similar Groups. You want to join these other Groups, the more users the better, and get engaged in the Discussions. Some Group Administrators (that's the person that started the Group, like you) will allow Wall posts and Discussion comments to mention other Groups and, when you find a large Group with those rules, you are in business.

You should genuinely get involved in the discussions in other Groups, but also occasionally mention your Group, and you will find that people interested in your industry or topic will also join your Group. Over time, if you are active for a couple of months every day or every other day, you will see your Group start to pick up momentum and your membership will grow. You are now in a great position as a business owner, because you have respect as an Admin of the Group and the position of authority. What you have really done, when you strip it all away, is found good, targeted prospects and then built a personal relationship with them using Facebook Groups. Now, when they need the product or service that your company offers, they will naturally think of you, because of the online relationship that you have built with them. It's the same "know, like and trust" philosophy of traditional marketing, just applied inside the world of Facebook!