Facebook launches plan to help small businesses
New program will target entrepreneurs in 30 cities
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