Entries for Facebook Big Break for Small Business contest due by Friday

American Express OPEN and Facebook have teamed for a nationwide contest designed to help transform the way small businesses use Facebook to connect and engage with customers.

The five small business owners who win the contest −Facebook Big Break for Small Business− will receive an all-expense paid trip to Facebook’s Headquarters in Palo Alto, Calif. for a two-day, one-on-one business makeover and a $20,000 cash prize to drive their social media strategy.

“Using Facebook, a business can find new customers, let their customers recommend and share information about their business, and create loyalty by hosting an ongoing two-way conversation,” says Adele Cooper, director of global customer marketing and communications at Facebook.

The winners will be tutored on how to maximize Facebook to better market their businesses, products and services to their existing customer base, and how to target new customer segments. They also will learn about best practices for using Facebook pages, ads and social plugins, and receive a consultation about the way they currently use Facebook. (Ten runners-up will receive $2,500 in Facebook advertising to help them target and acquire new potential customers.)

The Facebook training sessions will be documented and appear on OPEN’s Facebook Page and OPEN Forum, American Express’s online resource and networking site for small business owners. Content also will include how-to videos in which Facebook answers questions from small business owner about effective marketing on the social network.

Nearly half the small businesses surveyed for the 2011 American Express OPEN Small Business Monitor said they use social networking sites to communicate with customers and market their products, representing a considerable increase from 2009, when only one in 10 respondents reported actively using social networking sites.

“Small business owners are experts at customer engagement, but the tools and techniques for finding and engaging customers are quickly evolving,” says Julie Fajgenbaum, vice president of brand and customer marketing at American Express OPEN, adding that it’s critical for business owners to understand those new channels and platforms.

To enter the Facebook Big Break for Small Business, business owners must visit Facebook.com/OPEN and complete a short questionnaire about how they would use the competition’s winnings to better their business.

Each business owner will be judged on their commitment to the business and growth, overall social media need (especially where Facebook could improve the business), and energy and enthusiasm for small business.

Finalists will then compete in a final round of judging where OPEN Facebook fans will be asked to vote for their five favorite small businesses to win the trip to Facebook and $20,000 prize.

The finalists will be selected by a panel of judges that includes Laura Fink of American Express, Adele Cooper of Facebook, Guy Kawasaki of Alltop, and John Battelle of Federated Media.

Submissions are being accepted through Friday.