(This article originally appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer)
Facebook has certainly been taking its lumps lately. Meta, its parent, announced recently that the social media powerhouse saw a drop in its active daily users for the first time in its history. The company continues to come under both congressional and public scrutiny for its actions following the damaging testimony of a whistleblower last fall. Its core app faces challenges from dozens of other social media competitors, such as TikTok, YouTube and Snapchat.
My small-business clients who use Facebook are aware of these issues. But I’ve found that many are shrugging them off. Why? Because, despite its challenges, Facebook remains a significant resource for them.
The platform still boasts almost three billion monthly active users and a thirdof the world’s population uses it monthly. Its marketplace has more than a billion monthly active users. There are 250 million Facebook shops worldwide. More than 90 million small businesses across the globe use the platform.
So, yes, Facebook has its challenges. But it’s also a very important marketing and service tool for many small companies.
In the Philadelphia area, countless small businesses use Facebook to attract new customers and engage existing ones. Entrepreneurs, independent contractors, start-ups and established businesses leverage Facebook’s business pages, run regular ads, upload multiple posts to their communities, and rely on apps and tools such as Canva, MobileMonkey, Sendinblue and Heyo as well as Facebook apps such as Polls, Messenger, Conversions and its Live video platform for conducting webinars and events in order to make sales and keep close to their communities.
Its value may vary, but there’s one thing I’ve noticed about my clients who have used Facebook with success over the years: They know their audience, they commit the right amount of resources, and they are genuine. And for most, all of this starts with the demographics.
“You need to know your audience and then craft content that speaks to them,” says Carly Markowitz, one of the co-owners of Tula Yoga in Northern Liberties. “You are competing with multiple social media channels and other things that can distract people from your messaging.”
Markowitz says her customers are a “slightly older, later-age group of millennials” as well as baby boomers who are interested in dipping their toes into working out. To attract these customers, she posts regular updates on physical fitness to her company’s Facebook page and stays active in the platform’s physical fitness groups.
Markowitz is a mother of two and her business partner recently had a baby so both know how important it is for young mothers to get physical exercise and practice wellness. “So when we have yoga classes for new parents, we put that right on the groups that cater to younger parents and the yoga community,” she says. “We look for ‘mom’ groups on Facebook.”
Megan Sanderson, a digital marketing specialist at the Association of Independent Mortgage Experts (AIME) in Center City, is in charge of her organization’s Facebook page and spends a great deal of her time moderating its 12,000-member Facebook group.
“We’ll post regular updates to the group on things that are happening in our industry,” Sanderson says. “To us, it’s an important digital community and our company’s lifeblood for getting out major updates and to talk about any pain points our members are having.”
Sanderson says that she uses her Facebook group to keep her members current on legislation and to “get the temperature” of anything that’s important. “It really is our conduit for all things directly to our members,” she says.
These local businesses understand that Facebook is useful only when they can engage with a community that share their same interests. But recognizing a potential community is only half the job. Building it takes resources, planning and continuous engagement.
Sanderson, for example, spends about 40 hours a week working on Facebook. She moderates conversations, responds to questions, posts news and updates, and leverages notifications to respond to requests quickly and regardless of the hour of the day.
Markowitz and her business partner have frequent planning sessions to discuss her yoga company’s future events and the messaging and promotion needed to support those events so that she can then translate those actions into social media content. Both pay very close attention to engagement. For them it’s quality over quantity.
“We’ve found that if you are getting 30% of the people who actually see a message and engage with it, that is much better than casting a larger net and only getting, 2½% to 5% of those people,” says Markowitz.
What about advertising? For most, it’s a matter of finding the right mix between sponsored and organic posts. An organic post, of course, costs nothing and depending on its content could reach the very people you’re trying to reach by paying. But Facebook makes its money from advertising and its targeting tools are very powerful. The trick is to find a balance.
“It doesn’t have to be super complicated or expensive, either, to run your first ad or boost your first post,” says Jennifer Leonard, vice president of brand strategy at AIME. “That could be as well as like $10 a day and it could be very useful if just to reach people from outside of your footprint.”
In the end, small businesses have found that focusing on the demographics, committing the time to engage and — just as important — being genuine and transparent are the true keys to succeeding on Facebook.
“You need to show your personality,” says Leonard. “People don’t want to be sold. They want to get to know you and build trust. And that’s how you build loyalty. It’s also how you build engagement. The more that I remember who you are, because you’ve shown some personality, the more likely I am to engage with that post or the next post that comes down through my feed.”
And let’s face it: The more likely it will be for that customer to buy your product or service, too.