Thursday, April 17, 2014 · 9:19 p.m.

Facebook announces plans to help small businesses

Local small business owners respond to Facebook plan, discuss social media use

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Social media website Facebook announced Monday that it is rolling out plans to support small businesses, in part, by giving away advertising — and local entrepreneurs “like” the idea.

“Any way to get your business’s name out there at no additional cost is great,” Zach Smith, co-owner of downtown frozen yogurt business Top It Off, said.

Officials made the announcement in a letter to small business owners on a page called Facebook Marketing Solutions — Business Boost, on the company’s own site.

“You are the backbone of the largest economy in the world, and at Facebook, we’re excited about helping you grow,” the letter said.

The message continues to say that Facebook can help small businesses gain more customers — since more than 800 million people use the site.

According to the Facebook page, over the next few months — in a partnership with the National Federation of Independent Businesses and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce — the company will be rolling out a nationwide program to invest in, educate and connect with small businesses.

Early next year, Facebook’s Small Business Boost will give away up to $10 million in free advertising.

Facebook will award each small business that qualifies at least $50 of free advertising. More details about that will be available soon, according to the page. 

Maggie Hodges, internet marketing analyst at Full Media, said the connection between Facebook and small business makes sense.

The social media site aims to connect people and small businesses, which are at the heart of all communities and have powerful networks of clientele, friends and families, she said.

“With our country continuing to recover from severe economic times, Facebook’s focus on engaging small businesses could play a vital role in connecting new people to the services they offer, in addition to helping communities rally together,” she said.

According to a 2011 study by Webtrends, ads on Facebook cost more but got fewer click-throughs in 2010 compared to 2009 and performed about half as well as traditional banner ads. 

Targeted marketing
Locals in the marketing and social media business said that the beauty of Facebook is two-fold for business owners.

If done well — capitalizing on a Facebook page to get free advertising can help small businesses, Rob Bettis, digital marketing director with Southside Creative Group, said.

But for that to work, small business owners need to understand how to use Facebook for promotion, they need to dedicate the appropriate amount of time and consistency and they need to have a big enough fan/friend base, he said.

Business owners who can’t dedicate time to a Facebook page can outsource work to a company like Bettis’ or they may benefit from a Facebook ad, he said.

The benefit of a Facebook ad is targeted marketing. Some ads also offer the option for advertisers to pay only if the ad is clicked on, which Bettis said can be cost effective.

“I think one of the advantages of doing those ads is just how targeted you can be with them,” he said. “If you are a restaurant and you are going to hold an event, you may want to target people that have expressed that they are interested in wine. You can really hone in on your target market.”

How the locals do it
Local business owners said they have had varying success using Facebook for marketing.

“Small businesses generally don’t have large amounts of money to spend on advertising,” Alisha Fox, owner of Foxy Events, a Chattanooga wedding and event planning business, said.

Most of her business comes from word-of-mouth and she doesn’t like spending to advertise, she said.

Michael Brooks, Jr., chief technology officer with LifeKraze, a local social media startup, said that if Facebook is giving away advertising, his company would definitely figure out how to best use utilize it.

But, so far, the business hasn’t been in a position to benefit from purchasing ad space, Brooks said.

Bledsoe County resident Ginger Moore, who has been running her own craft business since 2009, said she isn’t convinced that a Facebook ad would help her business.

She said that most the people she knows use the website for light-hearted transactions and keeping up with family and friends — not business.

To her, Facebook is like the sprinkles on the cake — it's nice. It's extra. 

“I don’t think (Facebook) is critical to my marketing plan,” she said. "I do not feel that any free third-party-owned medium should be your total package, just an addition to what is already a good thing.”

Others said they place more importance on Facebook marketing options, but also said they use it in conjunction with other outlets.

Smith said Facebook has helped his business grow a “loyal fan base.”

“Facebook is very important to our marketing plan,” he said. “While we definitely use other forms of advertising media, Facebook is a way for us to directly connect to our fans. It is also an excellent way for us to get feedback.”

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