Facebook is dedicating more resources to trying to stay in the good graces of small businesses, even after it has continually made changes to its News Feed algorithm over the past year and a half, which have largely been detrimental to them.
Do you think Facebook can still be a valuable asset to small businesses despite the organic reach issue? Let us know in the comments.
According to the company, there are 40 million small businesses using Facebook, and last year, it enabled $227 billion of economic impact and 4.5 million jobs globally.
Its latest small business efforts involve a new series of educational events and live chat support for advertisers.
"Boost Your Business"
First off, Facebook announced the 2015 Boost Your Business program, which is made up of a series of half-day and 2-hour pop up events, which will educate small businesses on best practices and the "latest marketing strategies and tools".
The company has partnered with famed Facebook marketing consultant Mari Smith, MailChimp, Shopify, Visa, and Zenefits to help with the events. Facebook's own director of small business Jonathan Czaja will also be in attendance.
The half-day events feature a small business panel and Q&A session moderated by Smith, a small business networking center in which attendees can speak with panelists, a "learn-how zone" with educational videos, Facebook/partner counters where attendees can speak with industry experts, two Facebook learning tracks (one on growing online sales and one on driving in-store sales), and partner sessions which attendees can choose from hosted by MailChimp, Shopify, and Visa. These events will also feature a keynote speech from Czaja.
The half-day events cost $25 per ticket, and include a $50 Facebook ad coupon on arrival.
The two-hour pop-up events include a network expo with small business organizations, the chance to meet business leaders and decision makers from the community, presentations of Facebook best practices, local small business panels, and the chance to win one of three $500 ad credit giveaways.
Facebook describes Mari Smith as "one of the worlds most influential and knowledgeable new media thought leaders and one of Facebook’s top marketing experts."
She recently spoke with WebProNews about how businesses can utilize some of Facebook's newer features in what could be a semi-preview of the types of things she'll discuss at the events.
In light of the organic reach blow Facebook has dealt to Facebook pages, we asked Smith at the time if she still sees Facebook as a viable platform for marketing a small business (especially one with a low marketing budget).
She said, “Yes – I would recommend that low budget be allocated to what are called ‘dark posts.’ That is, ads in the News Feed that look like a Page wall post, but don’t actually appear on the Page. With very granular targeting to reach the exact target market, small businesses can do exceptionally well using Facebook. In addition, making use of custom audiences is a must. This is where a business can upload its own email database, or segments thereof, and place ads in the News Feed to that target group. Plus, using website custom audiences helps a business to retarget its website visitors with Facebook ads.”
“Facebook recently introduced a new ad feature called ‘Conversion Lift Measurement’ to help advertisers track better ROI, especially offline sales,” she added. “Although the new metric is only available to select large advertisers, this is great news for small businesses when the feature eventually becomes available.”
More on Conversion Lift Management here.
“In addition, we’ll soon see the rollout of Facebook’s ‘Atlas’ advertising product that allows retargeting and tracking via mobile devices,” Smith said. “Retargeting typically works via cookies; however, cookies don’t work on mobile. The way Atlas works, is advertisers can then place ads to remarket to visitors whether they view on desktop, mobile or tablet. In other words, reaching the exact audience no matter what device they’re on.”
“Page owners may wish to try out the new organic Interest Targeting feature to see if that helps create a greater reach,” she continued. “Prior to publishing a piece of content, admins can pre-select subsets of their fanbase. Another recent change is the ability to create a Post End Date – this stops a post from showing in News Feed at the specific time/date that you wish. Handy for, as Facebook states, ‘a publisher can use this to remove yesterday’s weather report from News Feed.'”
We talked more about these features in an article here.
Smith will only be appearing at the four half-day events in San Diego, Minneapolis, Nashville, and Boston. She had this to say on her website with regards to the event series:
I’ve been a raving evangelist of the power of Facebook – specifically for business use – since I first joined the platform on May 4th, 2007. My 8th anniversary of being on Facebook (my ‘Faceversary’!) is coming up. This is truly the perfect timing for me to work directly with Facebook to support the deeper education of small and medium sized businesses – something I’m very passionate about, having lead numerous Facebook marketing live and virtual trainings for many years.
As you know, there’s been innumerable changes to Facebook’s business pages, ads and News Feed algorithm over the years. What works for businesses in today’s Facebook world is very different to what worked even last year.
I have long believed that the best antidote to lackluster results on Facebook is education. And, not just training on how to use the Facebook (ad) products; but a full-on integrated online marketing approach that includes optimized landing pages, lead generation, email marketing and customer relationship and retention strategies.
Boost Your Business isn't Facebook's only new effort to educate businesses about getting more out of Facebook. About a month ago, Facebook announced BluePrint, a program that trains marketers on how to create better campaigns that "drive business results".
It's kind of like a Khan Academy for Facebook marketing, and includes 40 learning paths/modules that can be accessed from desktop or mobile. They're available to anyone with a Facebook account. Here's a look at the different courses.
Online Chat Support
As mentioned earlier, Facebook is also launching online chat support for small business advertisers. They can access this by clicking "Get Help" on the Facebook for Business website. They can chat and screen share with a trained Ads Specialists and get "quick" answers to their Facebook advertising questions, according to the company.
The feature will roll out in the US, UK, and Ireland for now, and will be made available to additional countries later in the year. Facebook says it will also test mobile chat and phone support this year.
According to TechCrunch, Czaja says Facebook has "hundreds of reps" handling email and chat support, and that the company intends to grow that number "dramatically" in the coming years.
Facebook Wants Businesses To Do More
Facebook doesn't just want to educate businesses and give them more tools. They also want businesses to "make themselves useful" as the Wall Street Journal reports. From that:
Now, Facebook wants businesses to beef up their offerings, said vice president of small business Dan Levy. That could mean helping users book flights, get directions or schedule an appointment with a plumber. “We’re in the process of making a lot of updates to pages,” Levy said. “Increasingly the utility of pages for people and businesses is something that’s really important.”
Some big businesses use their Facebook pages this way. Southwest Airlines LUV -3.47%, for example, has a “book now” button on its Facebook page that sends users to its website. Retailer J. Crew’s page links to its ecommerce site.
Facebook is certainly forcing businesses and marketers to get more creative.
"For brands who have put all their efforts into developing and growing a community on Facebook, the decline of organic reach feels like being denied access to their own fans. Brands now have to work harder to reach their target audiences, or, they simply have to cough up the money,” Moment.me CEO Dovev Goldstein recently told WebProNews. “For big brands with deep pockets, this might be less of a problem, but for small to medium businesses, this new development can seem to pose a big barrier to making social media work for them.”
“While it might seem unfair to brands who have spent time and money growing their likes on Facebook, for social media marketers themselves, this development simply forces them to get more creative and clever in how they use the social medium as a way to promote their brand’s story," he said. "Yes, the decline in organic reach does mean that social media marketing will have to be conducted differently, but it can also be looked at as a new opportunity to redefine how brands communicate in this space. Small businesses in particular have an opportunity to shine here. They can use their relatively small size to be hyper-targeted in their outreach, going after individual users as opposed to posting a promotional post designed to pull in more quantity over quality.”
Is Video the Answer?
Is video the answer to all of small businesses' Facebook problems? Probably not, but all signs point to it being a pretty big help.
The company has been constantly pushing video all year since its January announcement that video posts per person has increased 75% globally and 94% in the US. Numerous studies have since surfaced finding Facebook video to be a large focus of marketers and an effective tool. Video has trumped photos as the post format of choice for the best organic reach.
"I think all marketers have the opportunity to do video, and that’s pretty exciting, including SMBs who would never be able to hire a film crew and buy a TV ad," said Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg during the company's earnings call last week. "We’re seeing those put videos in. Over 1 million SMBs have posted videos and done really small ad buys around them. And that’s pretty cool because I don’t think there are probably 1 million advertisers who have bought TV ads in that same period of time."
A study from Visible Measures found that Facebook is more effective than YouTube for driving immediate growth in video viewership, though YouTube still dominates as the video's life goes on.
Organic Reach Picture Worsens, But Ad Effectiveness Gets Better
In terms of organic reach in general, Facebook is still making algorithm changes that are most likely unfavorable for Pages. As recently as last week, Facebook announced yet more changes, one of which will show some people more content from their friends and less from Pages.
On the paid side of things, however, the effectiveness of Facebook ads appears to only be getting better. We recently looked at a report from Nanigans, which found that click-through rates increased 17% quarter-over-quarter and about 260% year-over-year as advertisers have embraced different types of ad formats like video and multi-product ads.
We also looked at a report fro Kinetic Social finding click-through rates to be up 266% year-over-year with the average CTR across all Facebook campaigns continuing to rise. Here’s what CTR looked like by ad type, placement and vertical:
Facebook is Giving Businesses More Tools
You can hate on Facebook for the organic reach thing all you want, but there's no question that the company has released a multitude of new tools that businesses can potentially take advantage of. This includes a lot of ad tools, but also other things.
On the ad side, there's the Ads Manager app, which helps businesses manage their ad campaigns from their mobile devices. It also launched the Audience Network, its mobile ad network, which lets mobile apps monetize through Facebook's active advertisers. Other semi-new ad-related offerings include local awareness ads, conversion lift measurement, and of course product ads.
A couple months ago, Facebook announced that it reached 2 million active advertisers. At the time, we ran through many of the company's latest ad offerings including, but not limited to these things.
In January, Facebook launched Place Tips, which appear at the top of users' News Feeds to give them information about the places they're at.
At the same time, the company announced that it's testing Bluetooth beacons with select businesses that allow them to tap into this functionality. For brick-and-mortar businesses, this is a major area to keep an eye on as time goes on.
Facebook has made numerous moves, which point to the social network becoming a better place for businesses and individuals to sell products. In addition to the multi-product ads, Facebook acquired shopping search engine TheFind to incorporate its technology into the Facebook ad ecosystem.
Facebook also has a Buy button, which is still only available on a limited basis, but it did give advertisers call-to-action buttons in December, which include a “shop now” option. The company has also added new buying and selling features to Groups.
Another recently launched a tool that has the potential to benefit small businesses is a new standalone Android app called Hello, which serves as a caller ID app, but also as a provider of local business search and information.
Opportunities with Messenger
It also added peer-to-peer payments to Messenger, not entirely unlike Square's Square Cash offering, which that company recently turned into a small business marketing vehicle with $Cashtags.
And speaking of Messenger, in addition to turning the product into its own developer platform (which could provide some business opportunities itself), Facebook announced last month that it is readying some business-specific features for it. Businesses will be able to connect with customers directly through this intimate messaging platform, potentially replacing email as a communication channel for some customers.
As a business, you can enable your customers to connect with you via Messenger. If they elect to do so, you’ll be able to send them personalized updates and talk to them in real time.
You can use custom layouts for order confirmation, shopping updates, etc. As the company says, “This lets your customers keep all their order info in one place and reach out to you if they need to change anything.”
Facebook is hoping businesses will use this to improve their customer support experiences, which as studies have shown, are not particularly great when it comes to social media.
Budget and Time are Obstacles
Besides the reduction of organic reach on Facebook, small businesses' biggest obstacles are their budgets and their time/resources for marketing.
A study from BrightLocal found that 34% of small businesses allocate less than 10% of their marketing budgets to online channels, while 50% allocate less than 30% and only 29% allocate over 70%.
“I found this figure a little perplexing when you consider the other responses SMBs gave," CEO Myles Anderson told WebProNews. "75% said online was effective at bringing in new customers & 3 of top 4 most effective marketing channels are ‘digital’. Yet SMBs allocate a disproportionately low % of their marketing budgets online. I believe the reason is a combination of a few factors.”
“Many business owners handle it themselves so don’t assign a monetary budget to online marketing,” he said. “The survey showed that 64% of business owners handle their internet marketing themselves. Online marketing isn’t applicable or doesn’t work for some businesses so they don’t invest. Some businesses rely solely on Word of Mouth to bring in new customers so don’t invest in online. Budgets are too low to play in the online arena.”
The study found a direct correlation between the number of employees the business has and the monthly marketing budget.
30% of those running the business on their own said online marketing was simply ‘not effective’. When you have to do everything, it’s not hard to understand why that might be. The fewer people a business has, the harder it is to do marketing right.
According to another report from Thrive Analytics, 77% of small and medium-sized businesses don’t think they have the time or knowledge to manage their digital media efforts effectively, while 70% wish they could take advantage of digital media to help them expand their businesses and reach.
That study did find that just after company websites (and we're talking a one percentage point difference here), Facebook and/or social media sites are the biggest area of focus for budget growth planned by SMBs over the next twelve months.
However, other research finds that small businesses haven't increased their social presences at all over the past year:
"When you think about our marketer growth, I think we have an ability to grow both the number of advertisers who use our platform, but also the percentage of their business that we get," said Sandberg on the earnings call. "So 30 million small business pages continuing to grow [again, now 40 million]. We have an opportunity to turn those businesses into advertisers and marketers, and that’s what we’ve done successfully and we’re going to continue to focus on that. And we do that by building very simple ad products."
"There are some who spend a large portion of their budget on Facebook, but that’s actually very unusual," she told investors. "For most people, even when they start spending with us, we’re a small portion of their budget. And when you look at the consumer time we get, we are not getting the equivalent amount of time or resources from our marketers really of any size, and therein lies our opportunity to grow."
Yes, Facebook wants you to advertise. The free ride to the News Feed is a thing of the past, but that doesn't necessarily mean that Facebook isn't small business-friendly. The advertising opportunities are only improving, but even beyond that, the company is putting out a lot of interesting tools and features that businesses may be able to take advantage of.
Either way, Facebook is clearly dedicated to trying to win over the minds of distraught small businesses. How do you think it's doing? Discuss.
Images via Facebook, Socialbakers, Nanigans, Kinetic Social, BrightLocal, Thrive Analytics, eMarketer