At SMX Social Media Marketing, Red Roof Inn shared its tips for Facebook marketing success.

At the first session of today’s SMX Social Media Marketing conference, experts talked about free tactics to drive Facebook traffic and conversions. Kevin Scholl, social media manager for Red Roof Inn, offered seven tips for better social engagement, reminding marketers that content marketing is at the core of every form of engagement businesses can hope for.

“Content is what drives Facebook marketing,” he said. “It’s better to have 10,000 fans who share than 1 million disinterested fans.” He shared insight that focusing on fresh, timely social posts (in the style of news content marketing) helped his company generate hundreds of Likes, comments and shares in a single day – all helping the Red Roof Inn garner online visibility and drive site traffic during a prime travel season.

Here are seven principles Scholl follows with Facebook marketing that can help other businesses see similar success.

1. Talk is cheap. (Spend time developing content.)

A lot of businesses think they need to spend a fortune on social marketing. “You can engage your customers by simply investing one thing. TIME,” says Scholl.

Red Roof Inn spends time monitoring social mentions, responding to negative feedback within 24 hours and positive within 48. However, it also puts in the time to research the content that is interesting to its social audience.

“Engage your social community by showing them that you care about their feedback, opinions and what they care about. These are all things you are doing in person, now take it online.”

Red Roof Inn targeted Pages

The company realized people were talking about its pet-friendliness. It used this to create content that was specific to its pet policies, and ultimately, it created a dedicated Facebook Page for these fans to avoid alienating prospects who don’t have pets.

2. Seek Customer Created Content.

Brand advocates are one of the best things a business can have. For starters, Scholl says, they work for free! Additionally, they can help businesses get news feed exposure and tap the valuable “friends of fans” market. Brafton has reported that news feed exposure helps brands exponentially increase their reach.

To keep people interested in becoming advocates, Scholl said businesses should publicly reward these users – give a shout out, offer an exclusive deal, etc. This will help maintain engagement from them, and it could inspire others to become brand advocates to gain similar rewards.

3. Remember: Content is King.

As with search engine optimization, content is king for social! (This is a common theme touched on by all the session speakers – more to follow…) It’s important to think about optimizing content for the social trends around timely industry topics. Businesses succeed when they can create social content that will engage current conversations.

Red Roof Inn Veterans' Day

Scholl says that Red Roof Inn created a Facebook post specifically timed for Veterans’ Day (which, notably, is a long weekend when many people might also be looking for a place to stay). This led to hundreds of Likes, comments and shares – expanding the company’s reach during a prime season.

4. Ask “What Do You Think?”

Ask and you shall receive, suggests Scholl. By soliciting user-generated content through questions, you can achieve content creation and get valuable feedback.

It sounds simple, but it might work: Brafton has reported that Forrester says nearly one-quarter of social users are “creators” who look to give opinions and engage brands. The best way to garner comments may be to keep Facebook posts short and sweet – Brafton reported that posts with fewer than 80 characters that ask for direct responses see the highest engagement.

5. Think Outside the Box

Think outside the box when creating content for social media marketing, Scholl says. Sales and promotions aren’t the only type of content relevant to your brand.

He suggests marketers think about timely industry topics in the style of custom news marketing to come up with relevant and trending content ideas. While Red Roof Inn’s Veterans’ Day posts included a discount for the month of November, timely content  that will interest audiences and inspire sharing doesn’t require deals. Creating site content around industry developments and sharing these headlines can bring users back to a company’s website – and conversion optimization of this content can draw conversions.

6. Respond

Red Roof Inn engagement

Engagement is a two-way street. Businesses that want to receive feedback and sharing should do the same. With this in mind, Scholl reminds marketers to respond to posts (refer back to his note on where to invest time…). This is a suggestion marketers should take to hear: Brafton has reported that two-thirds of businesses miss social media marketing engagement opportunities because they neglect user feedback.

7. Partner

“Partner with causes your communities care about,” Scholl says. This makes clear that your company is human. It fosters positive brand reputations. It may be cynical to say that businesses should partake in corporate philanthropy purely for ROI (and it isn’t the No. 1 reason companies give, according to CBS). Still, makes an interesting case for returns on corporate philanthropy for those interested in learning more.

These strategies work for Red Roof Inn – Scholl says Facebook has become the No. 1 communication channel the company has with customers and prospects. Businesses might see similar success by focusing on engaging social content, and this should be a top priority for 2012. Social engagement is proven to drive conversions, and Facebook drives 77 percent of all ecommerce traffic generated from social.

Katherine Griwert is Brafton's Marketing Director. She's practiced content marketing, SEO and social marketing for over five years, and her enthusiasm for new media has even deeper roots. Katherine holds a degree in American Studies from Boston College, and her writing is featured in a number of web publications.