Last week, I discussed how theaters can use Twitter to promote themselves. This week, I tackle a trickier subject: Facebook. The social media titan has far more users than Twitter and a variety of ways it can be used for promotions, but Facebook also has a some pitfalls.

First, let’s discuss the details. Twittter had about 190 million users, while Facebook has 500 million. A wider variety of people use Facebook -- there’s a good chance your older relatives and younger relatives alike use it, while Twitter users tend to be in their 30s. If you use Twitter regularly, there is a good chance a large number of your followers are people you don’t know, often businesses. Facebook, however, discourages this. Your Facebook followers are typically going to be real people, and they are going to be people you know, or at least have some identifiable social connection with.

And, unlike Twitter, Facebook has specific mechanism for businesses to reach out to potential audiences. Twitter doesn’t. Everybody on Twitter uses the same few mechanism: Follow somebody who may or may not follow you back, type 140-character entries, and occasionally respond to or retweet a comment. And Twitter is intolerant of spam -- if you direct a comment at somebody that’s purely promotional, there’s a very good chance they will flag you as a spammer and your account will be deleted.

Facebook, in the meanwhile, has two primary tools for businesses: Groups, and ads. Let’s start with groups.

Facebook groups

It is simple to start a page for your theater. And once you have done so, you can load up the page with information, an in-depth profile, online photo albums, and shared videos. Facebook also encourages feedback and discussions among the people who follow you. There are a few ways to gain fans of your page: You can contact people directly through Facebook who are friends, or may be interested, and you can promote your fan page in various other media, such as your website and on playbills you pass out at shows.

The nice thing about these Facebook pages is that it is impossible to add somebody who does not wish to be added. Marketing expert Seth Godin described this once as “permission marketing” -- people who have joined your group have tacitly given permission to be marketed to. If they don’t want to hear anything more, than can easily leave the group. Audiences tend to be a lot more receptive to marketing that they have agreed to receive, and Facebook makes it easy for them to offer their permission.

Facebook groups allow you to email your fans directly (“fans” is their term, by the way) with news and updates. It is also easy to create events through your Facebook page and invite audiences, which likewise goes directly to their email.

But, as with Twitter, which you must be careful not to abuse this permission. A monthly or, at most, bimonthly newsletter is a useful tool to get your followers up to date on current events, upcoming events, and any fun tidbits or milestones your theater has to share. But send out emails too often and you’ll soon have people leaving your group.

Facebook ads

You may choose to buy some ads on Facebook. This can be a relatively inexpensive way to drive traffic to your group, or promote an event, and Facebook has even built permission marketing into this. Firstly, it is easy to target your ads to potential audiences -- you can choose to have the ad only appear to users in a certain region, or in a certain age range, or who have specific interests.

Additionally, the users themselves can choose not to see your ad, or to promote the ad if they like its content, which will cause the ad to be seen by all of their followers. One thing that Facebook has proven to be especially good at is compiling their users’ information in such a way that they can effectively be marketed to, a fact that has been controversial in the past. But it’s worth knowing that those resources are available to you, if you choose to buy ads from Facebook.

Problems with Facebook, and solutions

There’s a downside to Facebook, though. Its very popularity sometimes works against it.

Everyone on Facebook, it seems, has something to promote at some point, and so the amount of invites people receive on a regular basis becomes overwhelming. There is a risk of getting lost in all this noise: people begin to ignore invites, or reflexively click the “maybe” RSVP option without really paying attention to the event. As a result of this, it’s worth remembering that responses to your Facebook invites aren’t always a good gauge when trying to estimate audience size for a particular show. But again, audiences for particular theaters can be unique, and you may find that this feature does reflect a legitimate correlation between Facebook RSVPs and actual turnout numbers.

One way to address this is to really cultivate your Facebook audience. As with Twitter, it works better when you interact with your followers, rather than simply broadcast PR at them. Offer special deals to them that are not available anywhere else. It is possible to use your Facebook page as a forum -- create discussion topics and encourage users to participate. Invite them to special events and encourage them to post photographs and videos from the event on your Facebook page.

More: Upload content that is only available on your Facebook page -- costume designs, for example, or video interviews with cast members. If your cast is up for it, or your director, or your playwright, encourage them to participate on the Facebook page as well. When you send out your monthly mailing to people in the group, let them know that all this is happening; they’ll be more likely to check in to your oage, and participate. And the advantage of that is as follows: Their participation shows up on the news feed of all of their friends, and may encourage other people to check out your Facebook page, and likewise become involved.

It’s helpful to think of your Facebook page as something other than just a free page to plug in promotional information. It will work best of you think of it as a place where you can create an online community for your audience, and that community should be cultivated and rewarded. This can be an awful lot of work, but, then, so can any worthwhile promotional undertaking. This has the advantage of, but for ads, costing nothing more than time.