Many small business owners watched recent revelations about Facebook with mixed emotions. Like most Americans, they were surprised to discover how much information the social media collects on its users. Even more worrisome was learning that 87 million Americans had their data exploited by Cambridge Analytica, a firm with ties to Donald Trump’s campaign, to manipulate the outcome of the 2016 Presidential election. But there’s another side to Facebook when it comes to small business: Facebook is a transformative advertising platform for small businesses, not easy to replace.
Let’s say you own a small seafood restaurant, and Tuesday nights are dollar oyster nights. Traditional advertising methods cost a lot, must be planned long in advance, and it’s hit-or-miss as to whether you actually get in front of oyster eaters. With Facebook, on Tuesday morning, with a few clicks, you can target Facebook users in your zip code who love oysters and eating out (and are over 21, so they can buy drinks, which is why you have dollar oyster nights). And you can do this for as little as $20.
In my work with small businesses for over 25 years, I’ve never seen a more effective method of micro-targeting prospects.
“As an African-American bookstore, our niche is multi-cultural children’s literature,” said Jeffrey Blair, co-owner of Eyeseeme African American Children’s Bookstore in University City, MO. “In order to find individuals that would be interested in our books, we use Facebook ads to target certain demographics and attributes. We really try to visualize the customer that would find value in the products we offer and mirror that in our ads, which we have found to be very successful in helping us grow our business and reach a larger audience.”
In addition to choosing an ad’s audience with a few clicks, Facebook has other tools for small businesses to connect with prospects. Two in particular are effective:
- Custom audiences – in which a business can upload their own list, perhaps their email newsletter list, and Facebook will serve that company’s ads to those users. This enables a small company to stay in front of their customers.
- Lookalike audiences – in which a business can upload their list and ask Facebook to find users who have the same attributes as those on the company’s list. This enables a small business to target highly likely prospects.
Now just because Facebook is an effective tool for small business advertising does not justify their collecting vast amounts of data or for allowing users’ data to be invaded.
“When we learned about Cambridge Analytica our primary concern was people’s experience on Facebook,” said Dan Levy, Facebook’s Vice President, Small Business. “Our teams have also been speaking to small businesses and they want to make sure we’re addressing the situation, and we are. We take their feedback to heart, because small businesses are teaching us every day on how to make Facebook a better place to grow their companies. We want to be the platform they can count on.”
One concern small businesses want Facebook to address is protecting their uploaded lists. No one wants their customers’ information misused or accessed by others, especially competitors.
Facebook spokesperson Joe Bennarroch elaborated on how the data a small business uploads is used. He said: “The process is all private—and we don’t do anything with data from non-Facebook users. We never tell advertisers which customers have been shown ads on Facebook, and we never append a person’s profile based on what businesses upload via a custom audience. People are only matched if they have given Facebook their email or phone number. Furthermore, people can manage which advertisers are running custom audience campaigns using their information. Ads Preferences gives people the option to prevent certain advertisers from running ads on Facebook using their information.”
Small business owners are rightfully concerned about our own privacy and the privacy of our customers. We don’t want Facebook to know everything about us, and we don’t want our customer list to be available to others.
Facebook needs to be more vigilant. And transparent. In particular, we want uploaded customer lists to be protected.
But small businesses don’t want to lose this effective advertising medium either. Most Facebook ads are not invasive or offensive. And many recipients may actually benefit from receiving highly targeted ads—after all, those oyster-lovers liked learning about Tuesday night dollar oyster night.
Copyright, Rhonda Abrams, 2018
This article originally ran in USA Today on May 2, 2018