Interviews

Insider interview: Facebook plans to be your de facto mobile presence

12 min read

06 October 2015

Former editor

To provide you with the inside scoop on what Facebook is planning in the way of business services, we took a trip to the social media company’s London base to speak with SMB director for EMEA Ciaran Quilty about Pages, advertising and the exploding medium of video.

Over the last year, we’ve covered the topic of Facebook in a variety of different ways. Looking at how it has built a “dislike” button, developed “Facebook at Work” and added an increasing number of SMEs to its platform, it’s fair to say there has been a lot to write about.

But what we hadn’t done in all that time was go to the source itself – specifically quiz Facebook about how it plans to help small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) attract and retain customers.

Visiting Facebook’s biggest London office, based in a new development by Warren Street underground station, is as insightful as you’d imagine. Arriving at reception, you are greeted by staff not wearing a shirt and tie, but the traditional blue Facebook t-shirts. Flanked by scooters on one side allowing staff to complete errands in record time, I was asked to check-in by alerting my host though Facebook itself.

A quick glass elevator ride up to the 8th floor and I’d arrived at the nerve centre of British Facebook. The business has three floors to itself, all connected internally by both stairs and escalators. As you might imagine, it is awash with colour and populated by food stands, photo booths and the traditional array of ping-pong tables, beanbags and widescreen TVs.

Greeted by Quilty, we make our way to a private meeting room two floors below, passing staff working in quiet zones.

The first question I had for Quilty was how the relationship between Facebook and SMEs has changed over the last five years. Quick to partially correct me, he indicated that businesses have always been a vital component of what Facebook is all about. What has changed, he urged, is mobile.

Mobile is behind the growth of Facebook and is the “kernel” of the business problems it is attempting to solve. Citing figures from venture capitalist Mary Meeker, which said that it took 60-odd years for TV to reach a billion people, while it only took five for smartphones, Quilty explained that this surge actually creates a problem for businesses.

Facebook overhauls offering for SMEs to suit mobile – and here's how

“Any entrepreneur you speak to knows what’s going on. But they’re wondering: ‘How do I get my mobile strategy?’ That is the fuel around what is driving the massive avalanche of businesses coming on Facebook to grow.”

The shift Facebook has made, when it comes to businesses and specifically SMEs, is to focus on business outcomes rather than social metrics. What this means is that initial engagement with companies, and the entrepreneurs behind each, is about ascertaining what key deliverable is being saught. It may be lead generation, booking a table, clicking on a website or increasing brand awareness, but Quilty believes this has driven better results for Facebook.

For business owners and managers who know they need to be social, I posed the query of whether enough were coming to the marketing medium with enough of a plan.

“Think about investment in mobile and Facebook the same as you’d think about TV,” he said. “There is no way anyone would just go out and buy a 30-second spot – and the same must be said with Facebook.”

Not really answering the question, but suggesting the best initial thoughts towards a plan, he added: “The crux is who are your customers and how do you want to reach them. Think not about what you want to say to them, but what they want to hear.”

With Facebook being an incredibly competitive space – companies compete for a user’s time alongside posts from friends, family and favoured celebrities – businesses and brands are still in direct line of sight within the palm of someone’s hand.

Read more about Facebook:

Dividing it out

So what are the stages of engaging with Facebook, and how much can you expect to gain from it without spending money and simply utilising free tools?

Quilty explained that it all starts with Pages – a “simple and easy to use” service. It provides an instant mobile presence – making it the only company in the world to do so. Content shared is “perfectly rendered” and “instantly accessible”.

“It also gives you the ability to communicate. Mobile is not only a story, but is also enabling the next two waves of transformative shifts in combinations. One is video. There are already billions of views a day,” he added.

“We see the future of news as sight, sound and motion. The next thing coming is closing the circle in communications with messaging. Mobile means people are always on, and we’ve seen an an insane amount of messaging with Facebook.

These free and simple tools form the bedrock of what 45m SMEs are using on a daily basis. It provides a way for effective communication with happy or aggrieved consumers, and is an easy way to launch new products, advertise promotions or simply be a voice.

The next step up from that are the two million investing regularly in advertising. These range from companies committing small amounts of money such as £5 or £10 a week targeting local customers, to those thinking international export and dropping thousands of pounds a month.

Case in point

Looking globally, Quilty used the example of Lost My Name as a business which has successfully engaged with Facebook to produce new customers. Having decided to start selling in the US, the London-based firm came into difficulty when it simply regurgitated its messaging across the pond.

Its offering involves a bespoke book which integrates the names of people’s children to “create magical, personalised experiences for kids”.

“They thought the proposition was targeting parents, but insight from data on Facebook showed that it was actually people buying it as a gift for parents and their kids,” Quilty explained.

“The company changed its targeting, going for friends of parents, altered the creative and like that CPA come down and sales went up. The founder credits 50 per cent of his sales to Facebook and says he gets 40x ROI.”

So it begs the questions, for businesses like Lost My Name, is Facebook trying to create the definitive online presence – one better than a company’s personal website could ever be?

Quilty didn’t go quite that far, but did say that for mobile that is definitely the case. And with more time on digital than any other media, mobile is what is underneath powering that growth.

“Look at it more carefully. About 85 per cent of time is spent in apps – so even having a mobile-optimised website the max you can get of the market is 15 per cent,” he explained.

“People are on mobile, but within apps – and a huge proportion of that time is in apps like Facebook. Pages are your instantly available mobile strategy, and we are addressing the problem if you have, or don’t have, a website.”

Why Facebook is treating British SME market like a military operation

Quilty and his SME team are on a mission to get more businesses engaging with Facebook. They plan to do this by shedding more light on tools such as Blueprint, which takes the form of more than 30 e-learning models to help you pick up the skills needed to move your business forward, and more events such as the Facebook SME Bootcamp Real Business attended back in January.

For those still less than at ease with marketing on Facebook, Quilty said it is just all about having a little bit of a plan. Think about who the customers you trying to reach are. Then create a Page to give you a mobile strategy. At this point Facebook will ask you for one primary call to action which will form the backbone of whatever creative comes out the other side. For advertising, he recommends starting small, testing in context and then scaling up big as it works.

“We want to be the very best dollar, or pound, or euro, or yen that any business chooses to invest and make the very most of what they invest with us,” he went on to say.

“You’ll see continued investment in our ad products in terms of relevance, ease to buy and relevance of results.”

The future

I came away from my afternoon at Facebook feeling more plugged in to its business tools agenda. There is no doubt that significant investment is going into the space, but it appears one of its biggest challenges comes on the education front – one Quilty freely admitted to.

To build on the 45m SMEs that are engaged with Facebook, and bolster the two million paying money to advertise, more must feel comfortable with the medium by doing exactly what I did – speak with the source itself.

Though its tutorial videos and bootcamps, plans are afoot to do this. Maybe then there will be enough critical mass for Facebook to become the most valuable platform out there for mobile engagement with consumers.