NEW YORK — Facebook kicked off its Facebook Fit tour in New York City Tuesday as it aimed to court small business owners, swap best practices and grab more of the advertising pie with tools that find potential customers like the ones already in the fold.
The official goal of the event was to highlight Facebook's tools for small businesses so they can grow and offer training sessions from the social network and partners like Intuit and Square. The most prominent tool was one called Lookalike Audiences, which allows companies to upload customer information and Facebook will go find similar people.
Facebook has more than 30 million small businesses with an active page. More than 19 million of those small businesses are also active on mobile.
Dan Levy, director of small business at Facebook, said:
Today is a pivotal moment. It's the first big event we've done with small business owners. We've learned that if we're going to help all the small businesses in the world, we're going to have to get beyond online. We'll continue to invest in all the things online, but we want to put a face on Facebook.
As for the unofficial aim, Facebook's move to court small businesses is a grassroots effort to take advertising away from Google, which has been an SMB staple for years. If Facebook can connect better with SMBs via case studies, face-to-face interactions, tools and returns it can take pieces of the mobile and desktop ad pie from Google.
Of course, Google wasn't mentioned by name. Search advertising didn't even come up. But it wasn't hard to connect the dots between Facebook's marketing and master plan. Generally speaking, Google has a larger slice of the advertising pie, but Facebook has a faster growth rate — especially on mobile.
If Facebook can grow its base of 1 million SMBs advertising on the site it can fuel growth for years to come. "The 1 million number is impressive, but beyond the 1 million are real businesses and stories choosing to invest with Facebook," said Levy. He added that Facebook is focusing on telling the SMB stories to generate word of mouth.
Lookalikes, tools Facebook's secret sauce?
Levy walked through content approaches including target demographics, authenticity in content and tools like custom and Lookalike Audiences. Levy also talked a lot about conversion measurements. "Lots of folks are seeing ads but not clicking right away," said Levy, who touted a tool that can track sell through off of Facebook.
Custom audiences would be deployed when an SMB uploaded a set of customers to market to directly. Lookalike audiences refers to the ability of an SMB to upload customer sets and Facebook will find a larger audience with the same characteristics. "These are the tools we are investing in," said Levy. "Before you leave, you can set these things up."
For what it's worth, I've heard in the field that the Lookalike Audience tool from Facebook is generating strong returns relative to keyword targeting. The examples are largely anecdotal, but rest assured that Facebook will be talking about returns on lookalike audience generation on future earnings calls.
Based on a show of hands, few SMBs knew of Facebook's lookalike audience tools. Levy didn't have data on lookalike audience usage since the tools are relatively new.
Levy also touted Facebook's mobile capabilities and an app dubbed Page Manager, which allows customers to track engagement and launch campaigns from a mobile device. "If you can reach a smartphone you have a mobile marketing strategy," said Levy. "We've also started to put our most powerful tools on mobile devices too and turn a post into an ad immediately. We think these will be one of the most powerful tools for small business owners. These things are working today."
What needs to shift is the perception that tools such as Lookalike Audiences are primary used by large enterprises.
Facebook's Google ground game
SMBs merely represent one aspect of Facebook's ad battle with Google, which will increasingly play out on the mobile front.
Levy said Facebook is trying to pivot to be more proactive with SMBs about telling customers about tools and giving them analytics before they know they're needed. He added that Facebook will be more aggressive in investing in mobile ad tools.
Fairway Market's marketing chief Jacqueline Donovan said directionally that Google represented a larger slice of the New York City grocer's $12 million annual marketing budget, but Facebook is making headway. "Facebook has been very nimble with its tools for businesses and analytics," said Donovan. "I can get 4,000 employees to support me on Facebook, but can't do that with Google."
Meanwhile, Tavy Ronen, owner of The Yarn Company, has been experimenting with Lookalike Audiences on Facebook. She uploaded to Facebook the 9,000 people on her mailing list and the social site found similar potential customers.
"We've only started using lookalikes three weeks ago, but it has been successful and increased the numbers of likes and fans," she said.
Bottom line: Facebook's bet is that mobile, analytics, and easy-to-use tools land SMB marketing spend as well as large enterprises.