Meanwhile, the brother-and-sister founders of a vegan butcher shop in Michigan use Facebook to post funny GIFs promoting their merch (and ultimately source 95% of their online sales from the social network).
In total, more than 50 million businesses use Facebook Pages to list information about their company.
They also contribute a large chunk of the company’s advertising revenue.
Although the number of small and mid-size businesses using Facebook has more than tripled since 2013, the company still has a lot of work to do to spread awareness about how it can be a good partner, as demonstrated by an amusing anecdote that Facebook’s small business exec told Business Insider.
For several years, Facebook has held educational “Boost Your Business” events for SMBs to teach them more about its advertising products. This year, it organised over 114 events taking place in 19 countries with more than 40,000 people attending total.
The goal, Facebook’s Dan Levy explains, is to “bring a face to Facebook.” That may sound like a marketing term but he means it literally.
“When you travel to one of these events and stand behind the Facebook booth, one of the most common things people do is come up and touch you lightly on the shoulder and say, ‘Good. I just wanted to make sure that you’re a real person at Facebook,” Levy says.
“You laugh,” he adds (because I really did), “But you could talk to 20 people on my team and every single one of them would tell you the exact same thing, because it has happened to everyone. It means we still have a lot of work to do.”
A panel at one of Facebook’s Boost Your Business events
“Likes” don’t ring the cash register
Getting some face-to-face time is important for Facebook because the social network has had a relatively a rocky history with small businesses.
Back in the early days of Pages, Facebook emphasised the importance of racking up “Likes,” and whenever a business posted something new on their Page, most of their fans would see it. When the organic reach of those posts dropped off a cliff and FB started encouraging people to pay to “sponsor” their posts, many business owners felt deceived. They had put significant time, effort, and money into cultivating something that was no longer as effective.
Levy says that a lack of trust from businesses has indeed plagued the company, but that things are getting better.
“We heard that less this year than last year,” he says. “We do these events to really help businesses see that we’re real people and that we’re really there to support them and help them grow their business. ‘Likes’ don’t help ring the cash register.”
Because of the data Facebook has on its users and the specificity with which businesses can target their ads, Levy maintains that its advertising product is better than those from competitors like Google and Yelp.
“At the end of the day you have to run your business by growing sales and growing new customers,” he says. “Our goal is to be the best dollar and best minute that small businesses spend.”
Earlier this year, the company completely revamped Pages, adding new features, like allowing potential customers to do things like book appointments through them.
Facebook also let people and businesses start communicating via private messages. Facebook originally awarded a special badge to companies who responded to messages in five minutes or less a special badge. But then, after getting a lot of feedback from businesses, Facebook recently tweaked the feature to allow businesses to list custom response times that they could earn badges for.
Making money from messaging
Right now, using Messenger is completely free for businesses — no strings attached.
But eventually, Facebook plans to start making money from Messenger.
For example, the company is already testing “click to message” ads, where businesses pay when someone sees one and then sends them a note.
If Facebook moves too hard into monetizing Messenger and Pages, it could run the risk of alienating businesses yet again.
But the company has said several times that it plans to be very deliberate about how it rolls out Messenger monetisation.
Mari Smith, a “Facebook expert” who moderated panels during Boost Your Business and held one-on-ones to give advice to attendees, says that she’s seen a shift in how people think about Facebook and its advertising. She believes they’re more sympathetic than they were during the organic reach crisis of a few years ago.
“We had it so good for the longest time — we had a free ride, if you will,” Mari says. “We have to think of Facebook from a business perspective.”