Facebook’s Ad Platform for SMBs Has Come a Long Way, But Still Has Room to Grow

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More and more local businesses are turning to Facebook to launch hyperlocal ad campaigns. And for good reason — Facebook has around 1.5 billion monthly active users, and over the past year alone, has greatly enhanced its SMB ad offerings including the launch of Local Awareness Ads last October. As a relatively young ad medium, though, Facebook hasn’t really mastered the game yet, and it’s crucial to understand where the platform is succeeding — and where it must improve.

One area in which Facebook ads appear to be victorious, is in geo-targeting. Bob Bentz, president of mobile ad agency PURPLEgator finds that via geo-targeting, Facebook ads can actually beat out traditional ad mediums for local businesses.

“If your business is in a large city, and you are buying traditional advertising, you are likely wasting a lot of those dollars on people that simply won’t travel that far to your brick and mortar store,” Bentz says. “With Facebook, there’s no waste in that you can target just your trading area and not the entire city.”

You can also target a particular age and gender group with Facebook, which has been a major perk for local businesses. Terry Whalen, founder of the ad firm, Sum Digital, finds that Facebook’s custom audience tool has been incredibly powerful and has come to exist as an alternative to Google Adwords.

“For many small businesses, the Google AdWords paid search ad platform has traditionally been the primary ad channel for acquiring new customers, and paid search works great if prospects are searching for what you offer,” Whalen says. “But before Facebook Ads came on the scene, if users didn’t search for what you offered, there were few effective ways to get products and services in front of the right audiences. Facebook – with its deep and rich audience targeting capabilities – changed that. Now, small advertisers that can’t leverage search advertising have another way to get in front of new prospects.”

And then there are the various case studies that suggest pretty impressive ROI — indicating that, all around, Facebook is effectively getting a local business’s message out.

“We did advertising on Facebook and other in-app advertising for a national grocery store chain that used it for talent acquisition,” Bentz says. “In the past, the grocer used radio advertising. The result when they went digital was a 97% increase in attendance at their job fairs.”

Brian Carter, a digital marketing consultant, points to another, even more stupendous example: “The best ROI we’ve seen [using Facebook] is 2200 percent for a pizza delivery chain,” Carter says.

Surely there are plenty more inspiring case studies where these came from, but every ad digital ad medium has its share of “awesome” metrics and never do they indicate a flawless platform. Part of the reason advertising on Facebook is relatively cheap is because it requires a decent amount of work from the person running the campaign, according to Carter.

“The time and savvy requirement for digital marketing and advertising [on Facebook] is pretty high,” says Carter. “Most people over 45 have trouble with the learning curve. Digital natives fare better, but it still requires training and a lot of trial and error.”

Facebook could benefit from offering more beginner-friendly tutorials to advertisers. This means not just training first timers, but also long-time users as changes come about. This is Facebook, after all, changes are happening all the time and seldom are they clearly announced let alone explained.

“There needs to be a better way to educate small businesses about best practices and changes,” says Jen Salamandick, at digital marketing agency Kick Point.

“The Facebook help sections right now do not always set companies up to spend economically and that frustrates small businesses and they write the platform off.”

Similar to Google AdWords, users have to test the waters before they can gracefully swim. The issue with Facebook’s pay to play model is the more problematic one. Once upon a time, local businesses were able to reach users for free. It wasn’t a guaranteed ad solution, but it was a great way to connect with existing and prospective customers.

“Years ago, when Facebook was really ramping up its targeting to small
businesses, they were generous with promotion,” says Leeyen Rogers, VP of Marketing at JotForm. “Companies were working hard to build up their “likes” on their business page, as this was a sure way to reach more people and increase sales. However, that has been changing with a series of algorithm changes that now make it more and more difficult for companies to reach their followers for free.”

Now, Rogers notes, in order for a post to be shown to one’s page followers, the advertising company needs to pay to promote their posts.

“To put it into perspective, I managed a Facebook page that had over 35,000 ‘likes,’ and individual, non-paid posts frequently only reached around 100 people,” Rogers says. “Facebook became unwilling to provide businesses with the opportunity of reaching engaged potential customers for free.”

Re-allowing the opportunity for free exposure would help Facebook become more accessible to more local businesses. Someone is much more likely to try something out for free first than to just dive right in with their credit card out.

There are other, more technical areas where Facebook’s ad platform could use some refinement. For instance, as Jason Parks, owner of the Media Captain notes, the platform doesn’t support flash ads.

“[You can use] either a static image or a video,” Parks says. “It would be nice if there was an in-between.”

These are the kinds of little but important things that Facebook is probably already thinking about as it continues to blossom as an advertising medium. In the mean time, thoughtful educational materials and a free version could make it even better.

Nicole Spector is a contributor to Street Fight.