Face­book launches plan to help small busi­nesses

New pro­gram will tar­get en­trepreneurs in 30 cities

USA TODAY US Edition - - MONEY - Jes­sica Guynn

SAN FRAN­CISCO – Mark Zucker­berg says Face­book will para­chute into 30 cities across the coun­try, from Hous­ton to Des Moines, to help small busi­nesses, non-prof­its, aspir­ing en­trepreneurs and job seek­ers beef up their dig­i­tal and so­cial me­dia skills in the face of sweep­ing changes to the na­tion’s econ­omy.

Zucker­berg planned to make the an­nounce­ment while in St. Louis, where he took part in a round­table dis­cus­sion with small-busi­ness own­ers, dur­ing his fi­nal swing through the U.S. on his year­long tour of ev­ery state he had not yet vis­ited.

Face­book will spend tens of mil­lions of dol­lars on the new pro­gram called Face­book Com­mu­nity Boost. It’s a sig­nif­i­cant ex­pan­sion of a smaller pro­gram that has taught some 60,000 small busi­nesses how to use Face­book, Zucker­berg told USA TO­DAY.

The new pro­gram, launch­ing next year, marks a sig­nif­i­cant in­vest­ment in Face­book’s mar­ket­ing cam­paign to small busi­nesses. Face­book ag­gres­sively pro­motes it­self to small busi­nesses, pro­vid­ing them with free pages and ser­vices to man­age their dig­i­tal pres­ence in hopes of turn­ing them into paid ad­ver­tis­ers.

The fo­cus on small busi­nesses fur­thers Face­book’s goal of bring­ing com­mu­ni­ties to­gether while boost­ing the com­pany’s ad­ver­tis­ing busi­ness, Zucker­berg said in an in­ter­view.

“It’s im­por­tant for (Face­book’s) busi­ness. A lot of those folks end up ad­ver­tis­ing and be­ing a part of the busi­ness. But it’s also re­ally im­por­tant for the com­mu­nity, both on Face­book and off,” he said. “Small busi­nesses are re­ally a crit­i­cal part of strong lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties.”

They are also a large and grow­ing chunk of the so­cial me­dia gi­ant’s ad­ver­tis­ing busi­ness. Of the 6 mil­lion ad­ver­tis­ers on Face­book, the ma­jor­ity are small and mid­sized busi­nesses.

Zucker­berg de­clined to say how much ad­ver­tis­ing rev­enue those busi­nesses gen­er­ate for Face­book. Piv­otal Re­search an­a­lyst Brian Wieser es­ti­mates they bring in about about onequar­ter of the com­pany’s to­tal ad­ver­tis­ing rev­enue.

In the third quar­ter, Face­book rev­enue topped $10 bil­lion for the first time, in part pro­pelled by those ad sales. Face­book chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer Sh­eryl Sand­berg, who reg­u­larly hop­scotches the globe tout­ing the ben­e­fits of Face­book ads to boost small busi­nesses, said one of the strong­est driv­ers of rev­enue growth in the quar­ter came from small and mid­sized busi­nesses in Europe. That’s an in­di­ca­tion of just how large an op­por­tu­nity these busi­nesses rep­re­sent for Face­book.

There are some 30 mil­lion small busi­nesses in the U.S. and nearly 500 mil­lion around the world. Many of them don’t have much or any dig­i­tal pres­ence or dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing strat­egy. But 70 mil­lion of them have pages on Face- book. Face­book is try­ing to per­suade more of them to set up shop and then spend money there.

With the an­nounce­ment, Face­book’s also look­ing to change the na­tional con­ver­sa­tion after a bruis­ing year in which it has been buf­feted by sharp crit­i­cism, from rev­e­la­tions that Rus­sian agents used Face­book to spread in­flam­ma­tory mes­sages to med­dle with the U.S. elec­tion to the wave of mis­in­for­ma­tion and hoaxes that for months flowed unchecked on Face­book.

There have been blun­ders on the busi­ness front, too. On sev­eral oc­ca­sions, Face­book ad­mit­ted it un­der­stated or over­stated the met­rics it pro­vides to mar­keters to guide their de­ci­sions in buy­ing ad­ver­tis­ing.

Most pal­pa­ble is the grow­ing un­ease with the mas­sive power of the na­tion’s top tech­nol­ogy com­pa­nies as they grow wealthy off rapid ad­vances that are rad­i­cally re­shap­ing in­dus­tries and elim­i­nat­ing jobs. Google said last month that it would in­vest $1 bil­lion over the next five years in non-profit or­ga­ni­za­tions, in part to help peo­ple ad­just to the chang­ing na­ture of work.

Among the na­tion’s five largest tech com­pa­nies, Face­book had the low­est per­cent­age of peo­ple who liked its prod­ucts and ser­vices in a sur­vey con­ducted in Oc­to­ber by tech­nol­ogy news out­let The Verge.

Dur­ing his lis­ten­ing tour that ends this week in Kansas, Zucker­berg says he has met with a broad cross-sec­tion of the more than 200 mil­lion Amer­i­cans on Face­book.

In June, rec­og­niz­ing that more peo­ple were feel­ing left be­hind by glob­al­iza­tion as well as tech­no­log­i­cal changes, Zucker­berg changed Face­book’s mis­sion to fo­cus on build­ing com­mu­nity after a decade of pro­mot­ing Face­book as a ser­vice that con­nects small groups of friends and fam­ily. “There is no ques­tion that peo­ple have con­cerns about the di­rec­tion some things are go­ing in, and we feel a very deep re­spon­si­bil­ity to con­trib­ute pos­i­tively and to help build com­mu­nity,” Zucker­berg said. “That’s why we shifted the mis­sion to­ward this.”

“It’s im­por­tant for (Face­book’s) busi­ness. A lot of those folks end up ad­ver­tis­ing and be­ing a part of the busi­ness.” Mark Zucker­berg

Small busi­nesses rep­re­sent a huge growth op­por­tu­nity for Face­book. Face­book is try­ing to per­suade more of them to set up shop and, once they’re there, turn them into pay­ing ad­ver­tis­ers. TO­BIAS SCH­WARZ/AFP/GETTY IM­AGES

Face­book CEO Mark Zucker­berg is on a year­long tour of ev­ery state he had not yet vis­ited. MARTIN E. KLIMEK/USA TO­DAY

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