Facebook gives SMBs hit hardest by the pandemic new ways to connect with customers

Akvile DeFazio
August 11th, 2020
Akvile DeFazio

The pandemic has severely impacted small businesses across the globe, with shelter in place policies putting many at risk of permanently closing if they haven’t already. According to Facebook’s most recent Global State of Small Business Report, more than 25% of the 30,000 SMBs surveyed said they had closed between January and May of this year. Nearly two-thirds of those still in operation reported sales were down “significantly so” compared to last year.

Restaurants, local shops, salons and gyms have watched their foot traffic drop to near non-existent levels. The tourism and hospitality industry continue to reel from the drop in personal and business travel during the last five months. And even as shelter in place policies are lifting, breweries and wineries, art galleries, museums and music venues continue to struggle with large-group gatherings prohibited in many states.

The global management consulting firm McKinsey & Company estimates as many as 36% of SMBs may have to shut their doors as a result of the economic impact caused by COVID-19.

“The sectors most affected by the coronavirus and the least financially resilient include 1.7 million small businesses, employ 20 million workers, and earn 12 percent of U.S. business revenue,” writes McKinsey partners André Dua, Kweilin Elingrud, Deepa Mahajan and McKinsey consultant Jake Silberg, “A long-lasting COVID-19 crisis could continue to affect these sectors disproportionately and make more of their firms vulnerable to permanent closure.”

SMBs: The heartbeat of Facebook’s advertising community

Facebook calls its SMB advertisers “the heartbeat” of its community, with more than 160 million small businesses using the company’s family of apps (Facebook, Instagram, Messenger and WhatsApp) to promote services and products.

With so many SMBs relying on its platforms to connect with customers, Facebook is acutely aware of how hard these businesses have been hit by the pandemic. During an interview in April, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg told Yahoo! Finance’s editor in chief that Facebook was in the business of small businesses.

“The majority of our customers are small businesses, so we’re very close to them,” said Sandberg, “We’re training people in how to use our tools and others so that they can migrate their businesses online, and try to keep the lights on, keep businesses up and running through this period.”

(Many of the business leaders that participated in Facebook’s survey reported they had adapted to the pandemic by setting up an online website. In fact, in 15 of the countries Facebook surveyed, more than half of the SMBs were earning, at least, 25% of their sales online.)

Facebook announced earlier this year, it was giving $100 million in grants to small businesses across the globe – and, has since, gone on to launch new tools designed specifically for SMBs on its platforms.

Facebook pushes open the ecommerce door for SMBs

In May, Facebook rolled out Facebook Shops, a free feature that allows businesses to easily set up an ecommerce store that can be accessed via Facebook or Instagram. According to Facebook it fast-tracked the development of Facebook Shops in light of current economic conditions caused by the pandemic.

“Right now many small businesses are struggling, and with stores closing, more are looking to bring their business online,” wrote Facebook in its announcement for Facebook Shops, “Our goal is to make shopping seamless and empower anyone from a small business owner to a global brand to use our apps to connect with customers.”

More recently the company rolled out a new QR Code feature on WhatsApp, making it easy for businesses to quickly start conversations with customers via the app.

“Scanning a QR code will open a chat with an optional pre-populated message created by the business to start the conversation,” explained Facebook, “With the app’s messaging tools, businesses can quickly send information such as their catalog to get the conversation going.”

A report from the online publication “Restaurant Business” highlighted how restaurants in particular have found success with QR Codes on a number of fronts recently, theorizing that the pandemic could potentially cause a shift toward cashless payments powered by QR technology.

“In short, the codes offer a number of benefits at a relatively low cost to the restaurant. And yet until recently, they hadn’t found a foothold in the U.S. the way they had in other countries,” writes Joe Guszkowski for Restaurant Business.

Tips for Service-Oriented SMBs on Facebook

For the service-oriented SMBs that do not necessarily have products to sell via a Facebook Shop, Facebook’s various ad options are still a powerful way to connect with customers. Business owners wanting to keep their customers engaged during slow periods may want to invest in awareness ad campaigns to expand their reach at a low cost.

Engagement campaigns are good to drive specific interactions with a targeted audience, using “awareness” as a secondary goal.

If you run a restaurant that is currently promoting take-out orders, consider putting your ad spend toward a website traffic campaign that leads customers to your site, using your online menu as a landing page. Even if the people who visit your site via a website traffic campaign do not convert, you can use those visits for future retargeting campaigns, reengaging previous visitors to your site with new messaging, creative or discount offers.

As far as creative, service-oriented businesses should use a mix of single image ads, video ads, and Carousel Ad formats, testing to see which perform better for their intended audience. If you are a restaurant, be sure to showcase your most mouth-watering dishes and cocktails. Salons that are still able to take hair appointments should use images within their ads that highlight safety precautions being made – staff wearing masks and customers keeping a safe social distance with other customers.

Retargeting campaigns can help spur activity as businesses look to reopen

A retargeting campaign, that allows you to connect with Facebook users who have previously showed interest in your company, offers an effective pathway to reengage those users as you reopen your business. By running a retargeting campaign using a website traffic objective, you can lead customers directly to a landing page where they can make an order or take a digital action.

Another effective advertising option for businesses that are reopening: Run an awareness campaign targeting users that have visited your website in the last 90 days or longer. Also, try testing warmer audiences by uploading customer and lead email lists, running a Custom Audience campaign simply to inform them that your SMB is back in business and alert them to any changes, i.e. new customer policies to maintain safety precautions.

Facebook’s “Click-to-Call” ads are a terrific opportunity for business owners aiming to get more people to call the business directly – restaurants that can take orders over the phone, salons able to set appointments or local boutique shops offering curbside order pick-ups.

More than 75% of SMBs are still hopeful

To say it has been a tough year for SMBs may be the understatement of the century. Small and mid-sized businesses have taken the brunt of the economic impact created by the pandemic. As Facebook’s Global State of Small Business Report points out, SMBs are more reliant on current revenues and have fewer resources to fall back on during economic downturns – a condition that has rendered them highly vulnerable during this time.

The Global State of Small Business Report did offer a small ray of hope. According to the survey, nearly 75% of the businesses that had closed by May of this year said they expected to reopen again as restrictions lifted.

“Entrepreneurs are resilient people,” writes Sandberg, “These are tough times for businesses all over the world, but Facebook is determined to do all we can to help them make it through.”

To keep lines of communication open with customers, SMBs should put renewed focus on their Facebook Pages, keeping their hours of operation updated and alerting followers to any new customer policies. Post updates frequently and don’t shy away from using Facebook’s other platforms to speak directly with customers – whether via Messenger or WhatsApp. If you take the time to meet your customers where they are, you’ll have a better chance of keeping them engaged for the long haul.

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