Think back, for a moment, to the relatively tech-starved days of 2012. Whispers of a nascent “mobile revolution” were growing louder as the online world began to wonder how it would ever be able to fit into the increasingly valuable real estate of the consumer’s hand. This chatter didn’t reach small businesses immediately, but when it did, it was intimidating. Some of them still didn’t have websites, and now there was another burgeoning, complex medium to take into consideration. Their advertising toolkits were already fractured by the separate needs of physical and digital; here was something else demanding attention and money they didn’t have.
In 2012, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg called small business advertising the “holy grail.” By this point, the company was already a small part of the aforementioned SMB toolkits (“social media,” more generally, was only a slightly larger part). Facebook was very different four years ago, but the ambition to dive deeply into the local business economy was already there, and the looming mobile revolution would be the key to doing so successfully.
Now, the revolution has come and gone. Facebook has embraced its abilities as an advertising solution, and the social network made a number of important announcements in 2015 aimed at SMB users. Small businesses still have a special place in Facebook’s heart; earlier this month, Sandberg said that SMB advertising remains one of its “biggest opportunities.” And the solution to attaining the so-called holy grail? Pages.
A handful of new features for Pages were announced last September, and combined with the launch of a local services search engine two months later, Facebook appears to be locking down the initial stages of path-to-purchase. The company’s mindset is this: apps are favored over the mobile web (80 of smartphone usage to 20 percent); consumers are incredibly picky and only spend time in a few apps; Facebook is one of those few (in the U.S., one out of five minutes that users spend on mobile is spent in Facebook). It follows that Facebook can serve as the mobile online presence for SMBs. Why bother with the costs related to developing a mobile-optimized website, or an app that people probably won’t download, when you can use Facebook, where a majority of consumers already are?
The insights of Dan Levy and Benji Shomair, from Facebook’s Small Business and Pages departments, respectively, are important in understanding just how much attention the company is paying to every detail of business accessibility and consumer discovery. The SMB and Pages teams are creating something with weighty implications for Facebook’s dominance of mobile activity.
These developments are a big focus in the U.S., and Facebook has big plans to put a stronger SMB strategy in place in Europe, too. In April, Joe Devoy, Facebook’s product marketing manager for SMB marketing, will talk about these plans at Street Fight and SIINDA’s LOCALCON conference in London.
“Small businesses are an important part of what we feel is our job to make the world more open and connected,” said Levy. “More than 70 percent of people on Facebook are connected to a local business. It’s a really important grounding point to the mission of the company.”
Facebook’s abundance of personal information on users makes its audience targeting tool a natural priority, but that’s just one piece of the company’s strategy. Of the 50 million small businesses using Pages, only about 2.5 million are active advertisers; with the new features, the rest won’t be left in the dust. In studying consumer behavior, the SMB team noticed a rising interest in messaging, and Pages has been modified accordingly. Contacting businesses, whether to ask basic questions or follow up on a purchase, can now be done entirely within the walls of Facebook. Over time, more of the fundamental elements of an online presence will be built directly into Pages.
“Can your Facebook Page be a holistic representation of your business? If you’re a restaurant, can you show your menu? If you;re a shop, can you show your catalog? These are the types of features we’re trying to build,” Levy said. “On the communication side, messaging is where we’re going to continue to invest.”
Shomair, the director of product marketing for Pages, noted that messaging has been particularly useful for responding to pre-sale inquiries: “It’s becoming a really powerful lead channel,” he said. “Some organizations say they’re receiving more inbounds via Facebook than phone or email.”
One of the more interesting new Pages features is the ability for businesses to upload a catalog or list of their products and services. According to Facebook’s September announcement, “The new Shop section helps retail businesses bring their products to the forefront of their Page, while the new Services section enables professional services businesses to showcase a list of their offerings at the top of their Page.”
When asked if this could lead into the addition of transactional capabilities and throw Facebook into ecommerce, Shomair said the company is only just “inching our way into” product catalogs. It’s a reminder that Facebook is still in the early stages of shaping Pages into the all-in-one mobile tool the company is aiming for. Communication is Facebook’s bread-and-butter, but it’s only one part of the formula for SMBs.
Still, communication is the first step to recognizing what businesses and consumers need, and Facebook is in an unparalleled position to recognize, cater to, and progress from those needs. “On mobile, you have fewer pixels to work with, and you have to be more focused and prioritized in what you want to get across,” Shomair said. “We’re just trying to help manage expectations for more productive, meaningful interactions.”
Over the last few years, countless attempts have been made at leveraging social media platforms into effective marketing and advertising methods, with varying outcomes. Google’s and Foursquare’s forays into social have had mixed results at best, and Twitter’s advertising products have done little to grow its user base. But Facebook, with its mobile savvy and prescient recognition of the power within the SMB advertising market, could be the singular success story.
“We realize small businesses require a level of support that we’re not providing,” Jonathan Czaja, the company’s former head of small business for North America, told Street Fight last year. “Like a lot of tech companies, service is something that trails in our priorities. But we realize that we need investment, and you’re going to see a big push by us to reestablish that connection.”
And here it is.
Annie Melton is Street Fight’s news editor.
Hear more from Facebook’s Joe Devoy at our upcoming conference at the Chelsea Football Stadium in London. Click below for tickets!