Oh, to be a fly on the wall at

[fill-in-the-blank]! To be invisible at a client-vendor meeting. To be invisible at your in-laws! To be invisible in Donald Trump’s boardroom! (Oh, wait. We already get to see that one. “You’re fired!”)

One thing’s for sure: We’d all like to get a peek inside our competition’s boardroom (per se) without them knowing we were there, right? We’d like to check out their strategy, their skills, strengths and weaknesses and particularly their marketing strategies. But if we showed up, they’ve either clam right up or show us the door.

This action would seemingly be impossible on Facebook unless you typed in your competition’s page name or address on a regular basis. After all, if you Like them, they’ll know you see their content. Ditto if you comment or post to their page. (The latter you are prohibited doing if you are posting AS your page. This is to prevent malicious attacks on others with pages on Facebook. But you can post to their fan page as an individual.)

If you really want to be a fly on the wall, unseen and unheard, but you want to see what they are doing in their social media efforts, it can be done on Facebook. You can be the fly on your competitor’s Timeline!

Setting up Your Viewing Post

Facebook’s magic tool for this stealth observation is the Interest List. You can view content from individuals, places, groups and pages. It’s a terrific way to organize like – as in “similar” – content. This could be anything from a list of Book Sellers to a list of all the Restaurants in X town. Perhaps you’d like to organize the photography about a specific location in one list.

Lists can be organized in any way helpful to you. Furthermore, a well-curated list can be shared with just friends or with the whole world. It’s entirely your choice.
If you sell jewelry, and you’d like to know what’s popular now in buying trends, create an Interest List of all the Jewelry pages and jewelers (individuals) you’d like to group together. The content from all of those pages you’ve added to your list will then be displayed as a group in your newsfeed.

Look But Don’t Like

One feature of Interest Lists that is particularly appealing (if you’d like to get a look at what the competition is doing), is adding the page to your Interest List without actually Liking the competition’s page! (I’ll explain how to do this a bit later.) Now, I’m not suggesting you go steal their ideas, play copycat, or otherwise mimic your competition. What I am suggesting (particularly if your inner monologue is saying, “Yeah, but I don’t have the same business as Cornucopia Creations. I need to know what my direct competition is doing here on Facebook. I want to get some ideas about what’s working for them and what doesn’t”) is that you use this tool to get that fly-on-the-wall view.

Many small business owners I speak with echo similar conundrums: Perhaps you’ve heard you should be doing “content marketing.” Perhaps you understand that means prospective customers will be attracted to doing business with you if they can see powerful examples of the products and services you offer through various online mediums. But it still eludes you what kind of content is valuable to prospective customers. You may even have already viewed your competitor’s Fan Page and admired it but feel a bit sheepish revisiting it. If only you had that secret peek on what they were doing day in and day out!

My recommendation is that you search out a competitor (near or far geographically) and check out what is or isn’t working for him or her on Facebook. You may have even tried to do this already but stopped in your tracks when you realized you’d have to become known to the other party by Liking their page. Now you can add them to an Interest List instead to become the fly on their Facebook wall!

Research Your Options Before Committing

Non-Liking a page in Interest Lists isn’t the only tactic in using this tool. Another feature of Interest Lists of significant appeal to me is the ability to create lists of very specific topics or products that relate to one of my client’s services so that I have share-able material from which to choose for additional status updates.

Let me explain: Interest Lists are only available on Facebook for Individual Pages – not for business Fan Pages. (I’ll explain below how you generate traffic to your Fan Page when your Interest List is on your Personal Page.)

For example, I’m not the least bit personally interested in motorcycle engines, doo-dads, or accessories, but I know millions are interested in them. For a hypothetical motorcycle sales or supplier client, I might make a private (viewable only by me) Interest List filled with every competitor, supplier and ancillary business to gather raw material to post to my client’s Fan Page. Some of the Fan Pages and/or Individuals and Place Pages may also be Liked by my client’s page, but many may not be liked and still would be in the list. Conveniently Facebook will display the content of Lists altogether so you don’t have to scroll up and down all over your Newsfeed.

I watch these pages’ updates over a long period of time to see how valuable their content is and their relevancy to my client’s motorcycle Fan Page.

Some of the content in the list I Share to my client’s page when appropriate. In fact, I don’t even have to show the source of the shared Status Update if I wish to block it from view. (Use this with discretion as it is wise to give credit where it is due!)

This method allows me to review ancillary and related businesses to my client’s page on the fly (per se!) before committing to a Like. Some Fan Pages may appear worthy at first glance only to find out later the content isn’t well monitored by the administrator. I don’t wish to embarrass the client by having the ‘wrong’ material show up on their Timeline. So this research use of Interest Lists functions to give me a buffer, choosing if material is worthy before formalizing a relationship.

Create Your Interest List

In your personal Newsfeed, you’ll find Interests below Apps in the far left column of tabs. If you don’t have any Apps or don’t see Interests at all, try clicking on the More button. Now you should be able to click on Interests once the “More” content appears.

I have more than a dozen Interest Lists from animal causes to wildlife, history, local businesses, etc. (Nope, I don’t have a dachshund interest list!)

You can choose to create a list from here (see upper right button) or review existing ones that are public. You can also Subscribe to existing, public lists here.

Here’s one I just created on Sonoma businesses and community:

This is primarily for my own learning curve living in a new town and county, but I hope it will also unveil business opportunities.

When I created this list (1), Facebook first suggested a lot of Fan Pages I’d already Liked. That’s the only thing to remember. To kick off any Interest List, you need to populate it with at least a few Fan Pages (or Personal or Place pages) that you’ve already Liked. (If you wish, you can delete them from the list later.)

By the way, step-by-step tutorials are great. And I’d just make this newsletter much longer if I take you through each one. So I’ll redirect you to other great pages and posts that walk you through setup step-by-step.

One great resource is Facebook’s own Interest List help page for tips.

Add non-Liked Pages to your Interest List

Here are two methods to build your list:

  1. First, build your list with valuable content – pages and/or businesses you’re familiar with that produce content you want to see. Don’t just randomly Add pages to your list. By default, since my list was about “Sonoma….” Facebook pulled a list of suggestions (2 – lower right in photo above) in which “Sonoma” was in their Basic Info, such as location, address, name, etc. Simply click on pages in the “List Suggestions” (2) to populate your list quickly.
  2. Next, what about all those businesses that I haven’t Liked or want to Like? This is where you have to do a bit of homework prior to building your list. You must already know the name of the business’ Fan Page. For example, in the photo above, I hadn’t already Liked Preston Farm and Winery. In fact, I started by looking for Preston Vineyards or Preston Winery (3). I couldn’t remember. So it took a bit of searching to find the correct Fan Page name and site (as it is a full-fledged farm)! As you can see in the photo above (3), I typed in “Preston Farm and Winery.” What you can’t see (because the screen capture won’t show the pop-up box when my mouse left the form field) is that directly below the field Facebook displayed all the possible matching names until it got to the exact one. I clicked on “Preston Farm and Winery” and it was automatically added to my Interest List without me Liking their Fan page. (You’ll see the page count for the list increase when you add each new page next to Feature On This List – 4.)

I made a great Interest List and all I got was this lousy T-shirt

Perhaps you got really excited using this new tool. (Okay, it’s been around since March, but anyway…) Perhaps you built a highly curated, finely tuned Interest List about WWII memorabilia Fan or Community Pages that you know your customers would actually flip over but it’s stuck on your Personal Page. How do you share this wealth of knowledge with your customers on your Fan Page?

Look at the photo above. (I’ll wait while you scroll up.) There’s a Share button in the upper right (5). (Yea!) Simply click on the Share button, select your Fan page from the list of places you can post the list and share it out to your fan base. Here’s how I did it:

Sure you can keep one or more of your lists private on Facebook. But if your goal is business growth, then devise a strategy to show off your list masterpiece to the world. Share it to your Fan Page frequently. Be sure to include your own Fan Page on the list so you’ll be seen by the greatest numbers. And encourage your own fans to subscribe to your list and ask their fans to subscribe as well.

Here are some resources to help you learn more about Interest Lists:

Facebook’s own Interest Lists Help Page
Hubspot’s blog post with screen shots on setting up Interest Lists Great step-by-step tips
PC World’s Why You Should Be Interested in Facebook Interest Lists