Interviews

EXCLUSIVE: Facebook hits landmark business use level and launches new communication tools

6 min read

08 December 2015

Former editor

In an exclusive interview with Real Business, Facebook’s Benji Shomair, director of Pages, revealed how use of the platform by businesses has grown and what new applications have been introduced to improve communication between brands and consumers.

When Real Business last spoke to Facebook, the social media platform set up by Mark Zuckerberg in 2004, it had 45m businesses around the world using its services to converse with customers, display products, target new buyers and deal with complaints.

Now, however, after being granted exclusive access to Shomair, we can reveal that Facebook has now reached the half century of “active” business Pages – classified as those that have had activity in the last 28 days.

Facebook’s Pages are a dedicated offering to business users and take the form of a kind of shop front. The platform itself describes Pages as a way for businesses, brands and organisations to “share stories and connect with people”.

Having added a little over a million business Pages per month since its last update, Facebook has largely been driving uptake by focusing on mobile use. Research from a variety of sources has pointed to the fact that the majority of time spent on the internet is done through some kind of smartphone or tablet.

“It’s all about the shift to mobile,” Shomair explained. “The world has gone mobile and that is something that’s accepted as the dominant media. However, through no fault of businesses, the shift to mobile consumption has created a problem – it’s quite hard to reach people with traditional tools in the mobile world.”

Shomair harked back to the last major technological change we encountered when it came to digesting information as a case in point – the rise of the world wide web. Back then, to engage with customers there businesses simply built a website.

Nowadays, with people gravitating towards mobile consumption, logically the first step might be to build a mobile website. But Shomair was quick to point out that 85 per cent of time spent on mobile devices is done so through apps and not a brand’s mobile-ready website.

“There are a core set of apps for most people, which makes it that much harder for businesses to be where customers are spending time,” he went on to say.

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As part of our exclusive chat with Shomair, he put into context what Facebook is doing in the mobile space by announcing a suite of new Pages tools. It is these tools that the platform believes sets the offering apart from what a business could feasibly do though building a mobile-ready website or app.

As an extension to a “badge” introduced in September, allowing businesses to openly display what kind of response time an existing or prospective customer could expect, the feature will now be available to all Pages users. Previously it had only been released to business Pages that had responded to 90 per cent of messages within five minutes.

“Now, when someone comes to a Page they have confidence that a response will come. Page owners can set the average response time they want – to manage customers’ expectations,” Shomair said.

He also added: “Businesses aren’t open all day, and a highly-requested feature was to have away messaging. This provides an ability, if you are a small business open say 9am-6pm, to set a message on your Page that you’ll be away.”

The final customer-focussed tool to be introduced in this latest wave of Facebook updates is instant replies. In a similar way to the new away message feature, instant replies will allow companies to relay that appreciation for a message and inform customers of an expected reply timescale.

“It is powerful in helping with communication and message. These small elements increase trust in communications and allow businesses to grow.”

The two final new tools to be unveiled by Facebook relate to making things easier for businesses to makes a Page. The first is a redesigned inbox for messages, ordering them in a more efficient way, and the other helps reply to comments on a Page.

With 79 per cent of people on Facebook in the UK connected with some kind of small or medium-sized business, it is impossible to ignore how relevant consumers deem the platform. 

Facebook wants more business owners handling their day-to-day communications, marketing and promotions through the platform, urging users that alongside the likes of Twitter, YouTube and Instagram it is one of those core apps where people spend most of their time.

It remains to be seen whether it can continue adding one million new business users each month, but 50m is quite the community.

If you’re not one of the 50m businesses which has a presence on Facebook then we’d love to hear why. Get in contact with us at editors@realbusiness.co.uk and explain what is holding you back.

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