Here’s How Small Businesses Can Harness Facebook’s Enormous Reach

May 4, 2016, 12:00 PM UTC
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By now, Facebook (FB) has established itself as the towering juggernaut in digital advertising. Consider the company’s recent earning s report — amidst a sea of underperforming Silicon Valley contemporaries, Facebook crushed it. Almost exclusively, this was thanks to its ability to monetize users.

Meanwhile, the social giant has long been in the business of advertising itself as the marketing solution for small and medium-sized businesses. It’s not a hard sell. While the company continues to churn out new, easy to navigate features for small businesses, including the “show now” button and canvas ads for mobile, its essential value lies in its specificity. Facebook knows a large number of details, some highly personal, about its 1.6 billion active monthly users, which it then translates into a dizzying number of ways small businesses can target potential customers. Particularly for small businesses operating in a specific location, it’s an incredibly valuable tool.

Bess Yount, who heads up Facebook’s small and medium-sized business engagement team, offers advice for creating compelling content on the platform.

Determine your target demographic. When small-business owners tell Yount they’ve been advertising with Facebook, but haven’t noticed a difference, she can usually diagnose the problem on the spot.

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“When we dig in and find out what they’ve actually been doing with their ads, 9 out of 10 times they’re taking a general message and trying to reach out to a mass audience.”

Facebook isn’t television — its power lies not in reaching a large number of people at once, but instead in its ability to reach a small but highly curated audience. To get their money’s worth, businesses must take full advantage this immense targeting power. Or, as Yount puts it, “tell the right story to the right audience.”

This means businesses need to decide who they’re trying to reach before crafting an ad. Often, it helps to start by ruling out irrelevant users. For example, an Oakland, Calif-based jewelry store that doesn’t offer shipping shouldn’t advertise to customers located in other cities if they don’t offer shipping. Instead, Yount recommends refining an ad’s reach by targeting specific, overlapping demographics: in the jewelry store’s case, perhaps fathers within a 10-mile radius around Oakland.

Much of this will be trial and error. For owners unsure about their target demographic, Yount recommends using Facebook’s audience and page insights tools, which compiles profiles of the types of users who are following your page, visiting your page or belong to a specific Facebook group.

Don’t be afraid to experiment. “Show, don’t tell” is a concept that should be heeded by most businesses (i.e. – instead of saying your product is made of high-quality materials, make a video that shows the material in your products), but other messaging techniques need to be played with.


Yount advises owners to play around with individual posts to pinpoint what works for their audience. And because boosting a post can cost as little as $5, taking risks doesn’t have to be expensive. Experimenting with boosting individual posts also allows owners to familiarize themselves with Facebook’s suite of targeting options, which include location, gender, relationship status, interests and Pages they’ve liked on Facebook, to name just a few.

Create your own benchmarks. To help determine a post’s performance, Yount recommends using Facebook’s suite of tools, which includes Facebook Pixel (to track conversions), Page Insights (to find demographic data about your audience, as well as how they’re discovering your content) and Ad Reporting (for ad metrics). That said, she also recommends small-business owners create their own, individualized tests.

Yount points to an owner of a local diner in Philadelphia who, in order to drive sales of new pies, boosted posts about them on Facebook, targeting users walking within a mile of the shop. She judged the posts’ success by how quickly promoted pies sold out on a given day.

Develop a strategy for mobile. By now, this really shouldn’t come as a surprise. Consumers are increasingly accessing the social network from their smartphones, and mobile represented 80% of Facebook’s advertising revenue last quarter.

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The platform presents its own challenges, of course, starting with smaller screens. Not only that, “competition for attention is fierce,” says Yount, which is why she recommends using video. That said, mobile is not a good place for the slow build — lead with the something visually arresting, as videos on Facebook and Instagram initially play without sound. “The first few seconds are crucial as people decide whether to continue watching.”