Facebook responds to small firms’ claims of big business bias in advertising services

Christopher Goodfellow
Sift Media
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Facebook has sought to address the concerns of small businesses who say they are struggling to make sense and fully benefit from the company’s advertising services.

The number of businesses advertising on the website globally doubled to 1.5m over the past 12 months and the majority are SMEs, but many small businesses complain the products are too complicated and put bigger companies at an advantage.

The issue was raised at Facebook’s SME Bootcamp event in London on Monday where Ciaran Quilty, the social network’s SMB regional director for EMEA, told BusinessZone it is working on ensuring that companies of all sizes benefit from paying to advertise their products and services to its millions of users.

"The reason we’re here is that the community is building very fast," he said. "Like everything in Facebook we’re driven by customer feedback around how the platform is used. As more and more SMEs get involved we get the benefit of customer feedback and we take that feedback and act on it."

Facebook has begun heavily promoting its paid-for features over recent months and last year announced a change to the way unpaid content posted by businesses appears in users’ newsfeeds with posts considered too promotional not displayed.

Among those small businesses who are paying for Facebook advertising the main issues  have been around how complicated the products are, but Quilty said Facebook has spent time ensuring that marketing is "as easy as posting a photo". Measures include "lightweight interfaces" that prompt users, a feature that drove the vast majority of new advertisers in 2014.

But Mike Turner, co-founder of Tin Digital, who attended the event, told BusinessZone that while it is good that that the platform has democratised advertising by reducing costs, he believes the site has concentrated on larger businesses.

"The problem with Facebook over the last couple of years is you find out after the event," he explained. "It happens on a daily basis. One day you’re doing things one way and the next you go back to do it all over again and they’ve moved everything; it’s like walking into a house and finding out the furniture is in different rooms."

Janet Oganah, founder of Fashion Democracy and another event attendee, added: "For service-based industries like us it is harder to work out how to leverage Facebook. It can take longer to build a community and it would be helpful to have more specific ways of measuring engagement over and above website referrals."

There are three main elements to Facebook’s plans to make the platform more accessible to SMEs, according to Quilty: "First is investing in product. We need to continue to make products easy and simple to use and ultimately that’s the best way we can help SMEs. Second is help and education content. We’re producing lots more content, lots more best practice tips and continually improving our help centre. Third is more access to Facebook; we want to put more of a face to Facebook and [the event] is an example of us trying to do that."

The Facebook SME Bootcamp, attended by over 800 delegates, was the first of its kind in Europe, although similar events are run in the US.

Speaking on stage, Malcolm Bell, founder and CEO of sportswear brand Zaggora, advised delegates that testing is key to successful Facebook advertising.

"Keep on trying, testing and learning," he said. "The realisation that ‘this is going to take a lot of time’ is demoralising, but you get out what you put in. Finding an audience is an obsession and that’s what we try to do on Facebook. We built up 500,000 likes in 12 months. That’s how disruptive and exciting a time we’re living in."


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