How Facebook Helps Small Businesses Stay Relevant on Mobile

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“There’s a new billboard in town, and it’s in your pocket.”

So began a presentation about mobile advertising from Facebook’s product manager for local ads, Joe Devoy, at Street Fight’s LOCALCON conference in London on Thursday. Devoy took the stage to share insight into how Facebook thinks about serving small businesses. The company’s SMB approach reflects Facebook’s broader strategy: build so many everyday functions into the Facebook mobile app that no one ever really has to leave it.

Devoy showed a picture of an enormous digital billboard advertisement at Piccadilly Circus, followed by an image of that same ad scaled down to fit smartphone screen. Now, with Facebook’s multiple local advertising tools, small businesses have more options that allow them to bring the power of a billboard ad to potential customers.

In another photo was a spread of flyers on a doormat, a sampling of a given area’s local business landscape at the doorstep of those most likely to be customers. “Behind each piece of paper is someone who put a lot of effort into marketing their business,” Devoy said, but the rules have changed, and those papers are likely to get tossed aside without a second look. Can their content and purpose survive by being effectively translated to mobile? And if so, will people engage with those ads within the boundaries of a social media app?

According to Devoy, three critical components of mobile for SMBs and local marketers to keep in mind are time, discovery, and path to purchase. First and foremost, local marketers have to reach people where they spend the most time — in apps. He laid out some impressive stats: an average of three hours per day is spent on mobile devices; 52 percent of that is spent in apps, and 88 percent of that time is dedicated to a user’s top five apps (two of which are often Facebook and Instagram).

Knowing how to reach customers on mobile is followed by the need to turn discovery into actual transactions, which can be done a number of different ways through Facebook. Personalized marketing is key for initiating path-to-purchase, said Devoy. Among the newer examples he presented were Dynamic Local Ads, which creates advertising for companies with multiple locations by rendering ad copy unique to individual brick-and-mortar spots, and store locator ads in Carousel, which generate maps of nearby locations. He also cited Local Awareness ads, “the first GPS-enabled targeting that was ever available on Facebook.”

The final element to winning in a mobile world, Devoy said, is accurately measuring path to purchase and following the real-world impact of ads with conversion data. Facebook provides offline conversion lift testing of advertising campaigns; Location Insights, which surfaces data about nearby audiences, is another example of Facebook’s focus on offline objectives.

An implicit theme of Devoy’s presentation was Facebook’s ability to detect changes in consumer behavior, like the shift from making phone calls to messaging that has led to the latter becoming the most buzzed-about form of communication in a long time. This is Facebook’s competitive advantage, the foundation of the network’s advertising capabilities.

Time will tell if Facebook evolves into a consistently dependable resource for small business owners and local marketers, but the simplicity of the company’s pitch is certainly appealing — its app is where people are, and, to quote Devoy, “At the end of the day, businesses are people, too.”

Annie Melton is Street Fight’s news editor.