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Under Cloudy Skies Facebook Makes Its Pitch To Small Business
Earlier today, I attended the FacebookFit small business bootcamp at the company’s Menlo Park headquarters. Informally, I was told there were about 350 business owners in the audience. It was the last of five such events held across the country as part of Facebook’s effort to reach out directly and educate business owners about best practices and advertising on the social site.
In total, the company said there were about 4,000 small business attendees over the course of the five events, all of which sold out. You can see photos and some of the coverage from the New York event here.
The event today opened, under cloudy skies, with Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and local Congresswoman Anna Eshoo talking about the importance of small businesses to the U.S. economy and recalling their families’ small business histories. Eshoo also celebrated Facebook’s job creation in her district.
Facebook Director of Small Business Dan Levy then got up and showcased a number of success stories and use cases. Perhaps the most powerful point he made was: “If you have a mobile phone, you have a mobile marketing strategy.” Accordingly Levy talked about how the Facebook Page is a cross-platform tool marketing tool automatically.
While no one explicitly said this, the day’s subtext was something like Facebook is the only channel you really need.
After Levy came a panel of business owners. It became pretty clear pretty quickly that these businesses were advanced in using the site and familiar with all of its tools and marketing options. That was most directly exemplified by the co-founder of Little Passports disclosing that her company spent $1 million on Facebook advertising in the first nine months of the year.
It turns out that these particular businesses were part of Facebook’s Small Business Council.
Across the country at the different events Facebook told me it recruited small businesses in different ways. The Menlo Park business owners, however, were clearly experts. One woman — a former Microsoft and Google employee who now runs Scuba Diver Life with a million followers on Facebook — discussed how she posts five times a day at very precise times (e.g., 2:20 am) based on her testing and optimization of her news feed.
Facebook Ads were discussed at various points, with varying levels of encouragement to try them. All attendees received a $50 credit to try Facebook Ads.
After the morning portion of the event I spoke to Levy about his observations and reflections from all five events. He told me he was surprised how far some people had traveled in a couple of cases: driving for hours or getting on planes to attend. He said that many of the attendees were very eager to learn from one another but they wanted to see the human beings behind the company.
Levy added that attendees were very diverse in terms of both their industries and their sophistication about Facebook marketing and advertising. Interestingly he said he was surprised by how many agencies showed up as well. In some cases there were individual entrepreneurs who recognized an opportunity to help other business owners, seeking to start their own agencies.
While Facebook wouldn’t share any specific data with me there was a sense that these events were a success in connecting with customers and prospects. There was no specific mention of similar future events but pretty clearly Facebook wants to keep reaching out to small businesses around the country.
There’s intense interest among business owners in turning Facebook into an effective marketing and/or sales channel. The know-how is what most people lack (perhaps even more than time). Facebook wants to facilitate ways for experienced businesses owners that posses this expertise to teach it to others. It will be interesting to see what comes of that.
I was assured that Facebook’s commitment to the local or small business market is long term and that the company is making a sustained effort to help businesses achieve social marketing success. That’s no simple task. However, the company seems to be making incremental progress.
During its previous earnings release Facebook said that it now has “more than 30 million” small businesses with active Pages on the site and 1.5 million advertisers — most of which are small businesses as well.