(Photo above: Seminar attendees visiting the Instagram Learning Bar during Facebook’s Redmond Community Boost | by Bill Mintiens)
Goal is to Train One Million Small Businesses by 2020
Facebook, with its huge and growing data center presence in Prineville, is committed to helping small and medium size businesses grow and prosper by training them how to use its platforms, Facebook and Instagram, effectively.
On October 23 and 24 Facebook’s “small business engagement team” conducted over 27 training seminars at the Deschutes County Fair & Expo Center in Redmond. Topics ranged from Finding New Customers with Facebook to Instagram 101: A Beginner’s Guide for Business.
Over 247 people signed up for the free two-day classes.
“We made the commitment to train one million small businesses by 2020,” Matt Baker, Facebook’s director of small and medium businesses in North America said. “This year we’re investing $1 billion in small business related programs, Boost being one of them.”
Facebook’s efforts to train small companies really kicked into gear this year.
“This year we’ll do 50 (Boosts) and a couple of dozen others in cities around the world,” Baker said.
Baker oversees a team of several hundred people around the country who are responsible for engaging with small businesses in a service capacity (tech services) and in more of a consultive sales capacity — finding the right audience and connecting with them.
Facebook’s very first Boost event was in October 2011 in Spokane, Washington. “It was very small but, over time, we’ve learned what communities need, what small businesses want,” Baker said. “And our platforms have evolved into what we have today.”
Using survey data to find out where the largest needs are, Facebook is targeting those areas of the country where small businesses make up a large percentage of the local economy. Recent Boosts have taken place in Ashland, North Carolina; Helena, Montana; Houston, Texas and now Redmond.
Oregon survey data-wise, it’s no wonder Facebook wants to train small businesses to be successful.
“Sixty percent of Oregon business owners surveyed report that Facebook is considered essential to their business,” Baker said. “Given that statistic we think there’s a huge opportunity to continue to invest in and help more small businesses — and that’s why we’re here in Redmond.”
Small Business Challenges
Facebook cites three challenges that small businesses consistently cited in surveys. Finding new customers and engaging with those customers, finding and hiring the right talent and expanding skills in the new technology-driven environment.
“We also hear from small businesses that more than seven out of ten of you know that hiring people with digital skills is even more important than what school folks went to,” Baker told the audience during the welcoming session October 23.
“We’re targeting both small business owners and job seekers,” Baker said. “We’ve committed to train one million small businesses and job seekers specifically in digital skills.”
Training job seekers is also central to Facebook’s Community Boosts. Facebook understands, however, that two days of seminars is not enough to prepare job seekers for the digital world.
Part of Baker’s Small Business Engagement Team’s mission is to connect with organizations within the targeted communities to help both employees and companies.
“We’re making connections with local partners in our Boost communities like Chambers of Commerce and Community Colleges so that, when this event is over we’ll continue to have impact on the community through those organizations.”
Facebook believes their efforts are paying off in Oregon. The company claims, again through surveys, that eight out of ten companies use Facebook to reach new customers. And reaching more customers means being able to hire more employees.
“We know that, through surveys, that half of you are able to hire more people because of the business growth you’ve been able to drive by using Facebook,” Baker told the audience.
Training More than Small Businesses
Facebook not only wants to train small and medium-size businesses, it wants to help nonprofits as well. One of Redmond’s seminars was Growing Your Nonprofit with Facebook.
Yvette Bourcicot, Policy Communications Manager with Facebook in Washington D.C., gave an example of Facebook’s training value in disaster-prone areas of the country. “In community Boosts like Houston, we talked about disaster relief, about how Facebook was used in a great way to link people up who had boats to rescue people.”
“We have courses for fund raisers, philanthropic organizations, job seekers and of course small and medium size businesses,” added Matt Baker.
Success Stories — Local Companies
Facebook introduced two local companies during the welcoming session on October 23. Both companies have grown their business by using Facebook’s platforms.
Patrick Calavan, director of marketing and eCommerce with Stand on Liquid, a paddleboard retailer/manufacturer founded in 2010 and based in Bend, wishes he had started using the platforms sooner.
“We didn’t really start using Facebook and Instagram until 2016 — which is when we started to see 30 percent growth year-over-year,” Calavan said.
Paddleboarding, like skiing or snowboarding, is the kind of activity that lends itself to visual imagery using video and photos of people paddleboarding in beautiful places. And, with good demographic targeting using Facebook — sales naturally follow.
“We use Facebook globally to connect to people about our love for paddle boarding, races, big sale events and waterway clean-ups. We also use it to grow our sales using Facebook ads targeting our demographics,” Calavan told the audience.
Small businesses new to Facebook frequently want to know what to post content-wise.
Calavan explained that, for his company, it’s a combination of in-house and customer content. “Content-wise we’re finding that using user-generated content (pictures, videos, stories) really helped create more interest from new followers and customers. It’s grown our Instagram account by 500 percent this year.”
Taking Facebook Ads to the Next Level was a popular seminar during the two-day Boost in Redmond. Frequently, new small businesses shy away from newspaper and television advertising, concerned that it’s unaffordable.
Facebook “boost” advertising makes online advertising affordable, letting the user control the spending level and targeting as well as analyzing the daily results.
“Usually I’ll start with a $10 or $20 ad budget for one or two days. I watch the organic reach versus paid reach carefully. I’ll see what kind of outcome that produces and, from there, I’ll potentially start putting more (money) into it,” Calavan told the audience.
Brennan Morrow, owner of Solar Light and Christmas Lights R Us LLC in Bend, also spoke of his company’s successes using the Facebook platform.
Solar Light’s main product, the Solatube, is a “daylighting” device that channels sunlight from a small dome on a home’s roof through a reflective tube that terminates at a ceiling fixture. It evenly distributes the sunlight throughout a room and the device uses passive solar light, does not work at night and it doesn’t use solar panels.
With 13 years of installing solar lighting in local area homes Morrow enthusiastically encourages businesses to use Facebook advertising. “We’ve had huge success using Facebook in our advertising,” Morrow said.
“In reviewing our data, I noticed that, by the end of 2017, we had a 61.2 percent return referral rate and a 72.8 percent close rate. This is absurd for our industry,” Morrow said. “This told me that our target marketing was working.”
Solar lighting products are not as self-explanatory, or as sexy, as stand-up paddleboards so Morrow found the best way to educate and engage with customers.
“We did this through a lot of videos that simply explained our product,” Morrow told the audience. “They both educate and promote our business. We have some of the highest hitting (views) videos for our industry.”
Facebook estimates there are now about 20,000 Facebook “Groups” around the world. Solar Light uses Groups as a way to stay abreast of what’s happening in their industry.
“We use Facebook Groups to connect with other solar tube and Christmas light dealers around the country, sharing ideas, problems, challenges and solutions,” Morrow said.
Both Morrow and Calavan strongly emphasized the advantage of being able to target an audience using Facebook advertising.
“Targeting is key. I don’t want to present stuff to you if you don’t want to see it,” Morrow said. “In our in-home service business there is no better way to serve folks — because those are the people you need to talk with.”