How to Build (and Maintain) a Successful Facebook Page Without Spending Money

NOTE: This will be the one and only non-Office centered post you will ever see on our site.

So you want to build a successful Facebook fan empire, eh? Whether your intent is to rally fans around something you also love just for fun, or promote your brand, business or blog, Facebook is the best place to do so.  With over a billion active users (as of January 2015) Facebook remains the most popular social media outlet in spite of constant faux news threats that Twitter, Instagram and Google Plus will soon knock it off its throne.

Sorry, Googs.  The public has spoken.
First off, my credentials: 

I currently manage a total of 16 Facebook pages, all ranging in popularity and activity with a total of over half a million followers combined. And I have never spent a dime (or encouraged my colleagues to do so) on marketing.  I have built pages from the ground up entirely alone, with the help of others, and have come in as an assistant to grow and revamp existing pages. I admin pages that are fangirl related (such as The Office-isms and our other TV Show fan page projects), general humor, blog/business promotion and political.  While most offer me no additional income since most of my projects are just for fun, a few give me a small source of extra cash for acting as a virtual assistant/social media manager.  I've been in the Facebook fan page "business" since before Timeline, or 2010.  And with every change in interface and algorithm, there have been new challenges.

Age test: Remember when Facebook looked
like this and MySpace was still top dog?
Just me?
Do your parents know you're online right now?
Onward to the tips... (Scroll down to the bottom of this post for a short tip list if you don't have time to dive into the depths of this article)

Creating a Page

There are dozens of articles available to teach you the basics of page creation, so I won't waste space on a how-to.  Instead, I will offer you tips from the perspective of someone who's been in the trenches and has learned some pitfalls to avoid.

Naming Your Page

Keep in mind that Facebook makes it difficult to change your page name after you've hit the 100 fan milestone. For pages larger than 100 fans, you will have to request a  name change and justify it with proof such as a business financial statement that the name of your business was misspelled or has changed.  So it's very important that you choose a name off the bat that you plan to stick with.  Make sure you not only proofread your page name yourself, but run it by someone else.  You might not notice a minor misspelling or realize that your name conjures an image you hadn't realized.

Not even just the one letter?
You'll want to avoid special characters in your page name (!,%,&,-,@, etc).  Yes, I realize The Office-isms has a dash in it, and if I could easily change that I would.  Special characters make it difficult to tag your page in posts using the "@" function on FB.  When you do this with a friend or page, a drop down menu pops up with the suggested person or page.  When there are a lot of other pages like yours or with similar titles and you try to type the special character, the drop down menu sometimes, but not always, disappears, making it impossible to tag your page in that handy blue link text.

Make sure your name is also one that isn't limiting your demographic too much.  Avoid such names as "Freebies for Females" or "Men Who Love The Walking Dead" because it will immediately limit your audience.  Also avoid names that will date your page such as "Better Call Saul Season One Fans" or "Hello Kitty Fans 2015" unless you plan to stop using the pages when those periods of time expire.

It's also a good idea to choose a handy Facebook URL for your page that is exactly the same as your page name if it's available.  If it's not, make your URL easily identifiable as your page, and keep it short.  URL's for pages on Facebook are a great way to watermark any original images you create with shortlinks, if you don't have a website.  For instance, The Office-isms FB page's URL can be converted into a shortlink: which is both easy to type and short enough to fit into any image we might create.  (In our case we watermark our images with our web address, but it's all the same) This can help bring new traffic to your page if your image gets spread around the web and anyone notices the watermark with a short easy URL, they're more likely to type it out in their address bar to see what else you have to offer.

Profile Pictures and Timeline Cover Photos

Choose a profile picture you plan to stick with.  More than the name of your page, your existing fans will identify your posts by the small profile icon they see next to your posts in their feeds.  If you change it a lot, it will confuse fans and might cost you likes. A brand logo is great for this, so if you've already designed one, use that.  It's not a good idea to include much informative text in these small images as most fans won't take the time to do the extra clicks it takes to read them.  Profile pics are identifiers, but will otherwise be largely ignored by your fan base.  

Timeline Cover Photos, however, are excellent for promotion.  I'm a huge fan of changing these frequently and using them to market theme weeks and viewing parties on our TV show pages, and giveaways, coupons, infographics and contests on business pages.

i.e. this is what we used the day of The Office's series finale

The best size ratio to use for these when designing them yourself is 851x315.  Keep informative text in the middle of the image and away from the edges (especially the lower left hand corner) as it might get covered up by Facebook's buttons and your own page's profile image.

Post Content

The number one rule of post content is: Cater to your audience.  If you're a TV Show fan page, don't post random jokes that aren't related to the show you're affiliated with.  They'll be mostly ignored and will cost you in the long run.  Business and blog based pages have a lot more leeway in this regard, and using jokes and memes that are somewhat related to your page, but mostly used just to generate activity, will likely end up becoming your bread and butter for growth.  Just make sure it's all staying within your target demographic.  If you're a homeschool blogger, posting a vulgar joke meme will probably cost you fans.  If you're a business page for a bar, posting a bible verse meme isn't likely to bring people to your happy hour special. (More on this in the Marketing & Networking section below)

If you're thinking of using Facebook for your business or blog, it should go without saying that it's important to keep your content and your manner of addressing the fans, professional. But even if you're only looking to use social media to create a fan group as a hobby, your size and success depends on your ability to appear business-like. Proofreading of any text or image should be done to avoid embarrassing corrections from your fans which could impact their opinion of your product and your ability to present it.

Comment wars between yourself and fans will not just cause you to lose the likes of the people you battled with, but any other spectators who could be turned off by your demeanor and decide to unlike your page.  If you feel like a user has violated your standards, remove them. If you simply disagree with their opinion of something, it's generally not a good idea to express that unless it is respectful and constructive.  

Also pay close attention to the feedback you get from fans, and satisfy any desires they have if possible. If they take the time to comment on your timeline, thank them or like their post so they know you noticed.  It encourages them to come back.  And share their posts, with credit, if you feel the post fits your brand.  A busy timeline full of posts by other fans will also inspire other users to post more which will increase your reach. (More on this later)  If a fan criticizes you or your post, try not to take it personal.  If it is a valid criticism, thank them and correct the problem.  (i.e. a spelling mistake on an image caption can easily be edited without having to repost)  If their criticism is trolling, toward you or another user, you have a few options.  You can decide if you feel the offense was bad enough to warrant banning them permanently.  You can also "Hide" their comment which removes it from your sight but also every other fan's except the person who posted it.  This option is especially useful in responding to trolls who are really just seeking a reaction, their inflammatory post going ignored tends to make them lose interest in your page all together.

Images are king on Facebook due to the layout.  And it's important you understand this.  Long texty status updates will only generate interest if they are infrequent and important.  Simple words in a status update the size of a tweet also won't generate as much interest as a plain image containing the same text. Think about how you use Facebook and what catches your eye.  Most fans tend to ignore links without preview images, and so do I as a user on my personal account.  Even if all there is to a particular image in my feed is some inspirational text or quote I would otherwise scroll past, I linger.  I read it.  I notice it.  It's likely that the same is true for yourself. The most successful pages on Facebook all post mainly images or image previewed links, because they know what we users respond to.  You are your own page's first fan.  Think about how you relate to other pages you like and what catches your interest, and use that as a blueprint for how you should be posting.

Pay attention to pop culture, big news stories, current trends, and holidays.  Facebook users respond to pages that keep up with what everyone else is discussing that day on Facebook.  Wish celebrities related to your page a Happy Birthday, post things that are related to Halloween during the month of October, or convert an already popular meme into something that's specific to your brand.  

Take my wife please, for example.
But unless you're planning on having an opinion based page (political, religious, etc) in general it is best to remain as neutral about hot button issues as possible.  If humor based, you might have a little leeway with poking fun at current events, but tread lightly.  A devil-may-care attitude about what your fans agree or disagree with because you're the boss of your page, so there! will, in the end, cost you likes and reach.  A 10,000 page fan base means nothing if you've successfully pissed off enough fans to only reach 200 of your existing likes. (Details on this soon)

Building a Fan Base

"10,000 likes? I'd just like to break 500." You might say if you've been treading the Facebook waters for a short while.  I can assure you, you are not alone. The single most difficult thing to do, by far, is build your initial fan base.  It takes tenacity, a determination to make it popular, and consistent effort.  And as cliche as it might sound, the adage that this is an endurance race, not a sprint, rings true. In my experience, without larger page connections (we'll discuss these soon), it will likely take you at least a year to build a page to the fan size of 2,000 likes or more.  Growth can be very slow.  You might get lucky and hit pay dirt early on, but don't go into it expecting that. And there are pitfalls to rapid growth as we'll discuss later.

Marketing & Networking

Initially, it's likely your core base will be your own friends and relatives.  These connections won't likely help you much unless you all have very similar interests.  And if you want your product to grow, you're going to need to reach more than just your own social circle.  You don't want to end up the Facebook Page equivalent of Amway do you? (Folks born in 1990 and later, look it up)  If you don't already have a blog or website to advertise your Facebook page with, you're going to have to get creative to reach new fans and potential customers.  The rules are a little different for local businesses, but the rule that demographics are key applies to all page endeavors.  Decide who you're going to market to, and stick to it.  If your product or business only applies to a small demographic or location, that's OK.  But don't expect large fan base numbers more than a few thousand.  If you're looking to expand your product, blog or hobby globally or nationally, it is still important to figure out what group you might appeal to.  These groups can be large or small, and might change with time.  

For instance, my target group with The Office-isms was The Office fans. I don't care what country fans might be from, what gender they are, or how old they are.  All I care about is that they're interested in what I'm going to post, things about The Office.  When I created a general humor page, I knew that I needed to narrow the demographic based on what content I intended to post: Adult, intelligent, witty humor that would appeal to those who had left leaning politics. This meant my target audience was aged approximately 25-35, and considered themselves liberal.  For a homemaker blog I assist with by managing their social media, my target group is mostly women, aged 25 and up.  The more narrow your demographic, the smaller your fan base will be.  But know that the reach to likes ratio is truly key.  Large like numbers with small reach will do you no good. Understanding your demographic, and using that understanding to cater to it, is what will grow your reach.  (More on this in the Maintaining Your Page section below)

In the beginning, the most important thing about understanding your target audience is using that knowledge to seek out other similar projects to your own.  It's highly unlikely that anything you're doing will be that absolute first time anyone's done anything remotely similar, or the last.  There are, roughly, a bajillion other Office pages on Facebook, give or take a few.  It doesn't mean you won't still be able to take a piece of that Facebook pie, it's actually good news.  These other pages that do what you do, or are somewhat related to what you do demographically, will be the single most helpful tool at your initial growth disposal.  

The ideal is to make contact with the admin of a larger existing page and create a relationship in which you'll mutually share each other's posts with your respective fan bases.  But this can be hard to accomplish when you're first getting started.  Admins like myself who own larger pages get a lot of these types of inquiries.  And 9 times out of 10, those pages are clearly not something I would subject our fans to, or they're upstart pages that aren't satisfied with less than 100 likes for more than a few days and give up.  We larger page owners know it takes determination and consistency to be successful and to remain so long term.  I personally resent new page owners who clearly haven't put in the time to make their page successful and expect me to shower them with fans.  Understand this going into it, be humble, persistent and understanding if you don't get the answer you'd hoped for.  Continue to approach new prospects with the same level of enthusiasm you did the first time if it wasn't successful.   

Worst case scenario and you can't get another page owner to assist your growth, you're not up the creek without a paddle.  Begin to use Facebook as your page, frequently.  Comment with your content and a suggestion to like your tagged page on posts that might contain your target audience in the comment thread. Post your content to other page walls, and do this every time you have a free moment.  Try to keep variety and refrain from copy and pasting the same text over and over or the Facebook gods might suspect you as spam and hide your content.  If this happens (it's a tightrope, believe me) just start using your personal Facebook for the same purpose while promoting links to your page.  But again, be careful about being too spammy.

Speaking of spam, it's generally considered a faux pas among FB users to inundate your existing fan base with marketing for a page that they've already liked.  Such as suggestions for them to share your posts with their friends.  While fans doing so with your regular content is by far the largest source of growth later on, they tend to ignore a page that consistently asks them to help advertise it.  They liked you for the content you promised, not to be suckered into executing your marketing campaign. And if your existing content isn't generating activity (collectively defined as likes, comments and shares) from your fan base, you need to adjust your content to what they respond to.

Using these methods, you should be able to grow your page to the hard fought and oh so rewarding milestone of 500 and possibly even 1000 fans. (Depending of course on the scope of your demographic)

Maintaining Your Page
(And creating self-generating growth)
Once you reach a base of approximately 1000+ fans, marketing your page in the previous method via comment threads and other page walls, won't likely be necessary.  Although networking with other similar pages is always a useful tool and remains ideal.  But FB pages tend to grow themselves after they've reached quadruple digits. How you might ask? Content, content, content. And, consistency.

As I've touched on a little before, it's crucial you pay attention to what your fan base is responding to via their activity. FB's insights are very helpful in this regard.  These insights have taught me that by far, The Office fans' top three quotes are: 



Because Insights have told me these are the posts that fans respond to the most, I save them for when I'm looking for a boost in reach or likes.  For instance when we were approaching 10,000 likes on Office-isms, I posted them to boost our growth.  They don't go up all the time though, as they would lose their appeal (and their effectiveness) if I posted them too frequently. I've also used them when I know we're going to be promoting an upcoming article on the website, and I would like our reach to be a little larger to generate more web traffic here.  

This article discusses Insights in depth, and how you can use them to your advantage by giving you a clearer picture of your target audience and their demand. The handy visual graphing tools available to every page owner free of charge are incredible for figuring out what posts in the past have bombed, and which have taken off. (A simple visual of likes, shares and reach on a single post can help, but Insights are helpful in showing you trends over time among all your content.)  Based on past posts, you can figure out what your "money makers" are, like those I showed above for future reposts.  Or you can figure out what about them made people so active.  Was it a joke? Post more of them.  Was it asking for fans input on a particular subject? If so, engage with your audience more.  And if a post flops, try to figure out why.  Was it outside your demographic? Do you notice a trend in what's flopping, such as video posts, links, etc? On our Office-isms page, very few of our fan base respond to video posts.  So we limit them to only our own exclusive videos and don't post clips from other sources from YouTube because they largely get ignored. Cater to your audience and you can't go wrong!

Thank your fans and kiss their butts, frequently.  Especially when you're in the early growing stages.  Post status updates that show them you appreciate their being your fans.  Post suggestion threads asking for their feedback and input. Make content appropriate images that include them.  Run contests, trivia threads and make up games specific to your content to engage their interest (and by extension your reach).  Remember that they're your "customers" regardless of your intent to turn a profit.  Treat them as if they are welcomed guests, make them happy, and show them a good time. (That's what she said.) 

Best. Fans. Ever.

Demographic specific content becomes even more important as you grow larger.  I've commented here a few times that large like numbers mean nothing when your post reach is low. It's a very common thing for pages to "top out" at a certain number of fans, and then lose the ability to grow at the same rate they'd enjoyed before.  This is generally caused by a shift in FB's algorithms.

Facebook Algorithms & Reach

I'm not even going to pretend to understand the science behind the brainchild of Mark Zuckerburg's genius.  I've tried to understand it many times, only to remember I'm neither a resident of Palo Alto, nor a twenty-something billionaire.  But I know this in terms of Facebook algorithms: If your page is large, and you don't generate enough activity, the algorithm faeries decide your content is a waste of homefeed space and prevent even the most loyal of your fans from seeing your posts. This is why "Reach" is so crucial.

I watched with glee a year or so ago when that aforementioned general humor page climbed to 10,000 followers in a matter of months (with the assistance of huge affiliated pages).  But then felt like crawling in a hole the moment I realized our posts were only reaching maybe, if we were lucky, 200 of those fans.  So let's get into the basics of how Reach works so you can understand why such a thing can happen.  You might assume if you have a page that has let's say 1,000 likes, that each and every one of those 1,000 beautiful faces are going to be basking at your content in their feeds.

More like F*ckerberg.

If only.  Remember how we talked about FB having over a BILLION active users?  Let's say on average every one of those users has about 200 friends.  And have also liked about 70 fan pages.  And each of those friends and pages average 2 posts a day.  If Facebook showed you every single post, the average user would have to scroll through more than 500 posts a day. So in order to keep feeds tidy and free of clutter, Zuck uses algorithms to decide what you see and what you don't based on your own activity.

But it's so fun!

In truth, the algorithm faeries only show your page's posts to a small percentage of your existing fans.  In the case of a page the size of 1,000 likes, let's make up numbers and say your content is shown to 5% of your base, or 50 fans.  If any one of those 50 fans interacts with your post via a like, comment, share or click, the faeries will reward that glittering accomplishment by showing it to say 25% of your base, and then the same rule applies.  The more people who are shown your post and then interact with it, the more your post reach will increase.  There's a handy tool now visible to every page owner on every post that says "### People Reached"  and you can watch as (hopefully) that number increases throughout the day. 

In short, it is crucial to future growth and activity maintenance that you continue to generate the same kinds of activity you did when you got a boost in growth.

Sudden rapid boosts in growth typically come from either your post being shared by an enormous affiliated page (most likely to come from networking with the admin, and not just dumb luck) or from one of your posts going viral.  This is good, but it can be very bad if you don't adjust.  Good obviously, because you've grown and have a larger fan base to connect with.  Bad however, because you now have a large group of fans that haven't been privy to your content style consistently and might not respond to more than just the post that brought them to your page.  In the long run, if you don't adjust your style to include these new fans and pay attention to how your target audience might have changed, your Reach will suffer.

In my case, I learned this the hard way with that general humor page.  At the time we got a huge growth of about 1000 fans in one day due to one of our more political memes being shared with it's 100,000+ followers. But ours was not a political humor page. The majority of our content was actually adult, somewhat offensive, humor.  Our whole style was in effect, anti-politically correct humor. And soon we realized that this style wasn't appealing to the new more sensitive surge of fans we got from that enormous liberal politics page.  After weeks of fighting against the demand of our new fans and insisting on maintaining our style, we eventually realized our Reach had all but died.  And soon, the page died with it.  It's still there, not deleted, but none of the admins (including myself) spend much time on it anymore because it would take months to build up to the reach we had previous to that share.  Since it's not offering any of us income to do so, I prefer to spend my efforts where they'll be rewarded elsewhere.  But learn from my mistake.  Don't let your page die like mine did simply because you're too rigid or stubborn to evolve with your fans.

On The Office-isms, however, I noticed about a year or so ago that while our fans had previously responded well to simple text only quotes, that suddenly those types of posts weren't getting the same attention they used to.  I changed gears.  We stopped making those the majority of our content and switched instead to posting mostly memes.  Our Reach and Growth have both been steadily increasing ever since.  With 12,000+ fans on The Office-isms as of the time of this article's posting, we're enjoying a post reach of more than 100,000 Facebook users.

How can that be?

Sources of Growth for Large Pages
(5,000 followers or more)

By far, the largest source of growth for larger pages comes from fans sharing your posts with their friends or on their own walls.  You're likely to enjoy roughly 50-100 new fans a week from these, as long as you're keeping your content relevant to your brand and what the fans are demanding. The best way to ensure your posts are being shared (mostly images) is to keep your commentary on image captions short.  You might also consider adding "Like @Your Page" to the caption which will add a handy tag link to your post even when it's shared. I tend to view those as spammy though, so be careful to continue to interact with your existing fans if you use these so they don't get the impression you're only after new fans and could give a damn about your current followers.

Another source of growth comes from "friend tagging." You might yourself, or have noticed that others, comment on posts from pages tagging a friend's name and nothing more.  As an admin, you might find this annoying when you see what appears to be an active comment thread only to see a list of random people's names and no actual post commentary.  Annoying? Maybe. But they serve your purpose so please, just let it go.  Not only do these innocuous comments increase your reach by generating comment activity for the algorithm faeries, they also bring attention to your page from new fans who didn't know you were there, which of course turns into new followers.

The newest source of growth handed down to us by the Twitter Facebook gods, are hashtags. If you don't know what they are or how they work, check out this article. In short, they are trending topics that when clicked on, will show users other posts containing that hashtag.  This obviously increases your visibility among users. For growth, it's best to keep them as general as possible.  Use things that users who aren't already attached to your page might search for, or see trending in their feeds and click on.  Such as #Oscars2015 for our Office-isms page when Steve Carell was up for Best Actor, or #SavingMoney on the homemaker blog I assist.  The whole point of hashtags for growth is to tap into the public masses and get trending along with others who are posting the same hashtags and will see yours. But I also like to use them as humor devices on my more comedy centered projects for extra laughs.  Such as #RyanSucks on a recent Office-isms post featuring that character saying something particularly douchey.  These don't generate growth, but they do increase activity if it's able to make one of our existing fans laugh.

Utilizing all three of these ways to promote growth and maximizing their impact will help you sustain your Reach over the long term.

Tip List

The information above will give you more details on all of the following tips if you don't have time to read everything, but here's a handy guide as a summary if you did.

1) Consider the "business" of running a Facebook page a job, regardless of your content and intention.  Be professional with your fans, be consistent with your enthusiasm for your project, and know that hard work pays off with time and effort.

2) Decide on your target audience early, and cater your content to that demographic.  But be willing to adjust and evolve with your fan base as it grows.

3) When building your initial fan base, look to other Facebook pages similar to your own as the best sources of marketing your new page.  Try to make contact with larger page admins and build a networking relationship with them that will encourage them to share your fledgling page with their large following. If you can't break through the early stages of growth this way, post as your page all over Facebook, gathering one fan at a time if necessary.

4) Use Insights to figure out what content is working, and what isn't, and adjust your future posts accordingly.

5) Interact with your existing fans and don't get so caught up in growth and trying to attract new followers that you forget about your current fans. Kiss their butts, thank them for being your followers and take their suggestions for improvement.

6) Images are KING on Facebook.  Memes, memes, memes and links with preview images.  These are the bread and butter of every current successful page.

7) Sustain your growth by paying close attention to your Reach. Remember that shares, hashtags and friend tagging are your largest sources of growth after breaking into the four-digit level of followers.  Encourage and use them as best you can to maximize and maintain your success.

8) Gain a basic knowledge and understanding of Facebook's algorithms and how they work.  This is crucial to your success.

I hope these tips will help you build your Facebook fan empire into everything you want it to be.  If you have any specific questions or would like feedback for your current projects, please feel free to contact me. If you don't get a quick response from me, you can also reach me by messaging The Office-isms directly on Facebook.

-Co-Admin Christine