Business Technology

Why Facebook is treating British SME market like a military operation

7 min read

29 January 2015

Former deputy editor

The Facebook SME Bootcamp came to London on 26 January, marking the first event of its kind for Europe. The idea is to teach companies how the social network can be used not just for selfies, status updates and spying on old school friends, but as a legitimate business-growing channel that can produce impressive revenues and customer awareness.

During the event, Real Business had some one-to-one time with Ciaran Quilty, SMB regional director at Facebook, and found out where the focus on entrepreneurs has come from, why companies should be adopting the platform and what the social giant has planned for the future.

What’s the purpose of the SME Bootcamp?

More and more SMEs are using Facebook to grow their business – we’re very aware of that and the community is building all the time. Some 30m SMEs globally are using Facebook, over 18m of which are now using our Page Manager mobile app to manage their presence, and over 1.5m are investing on ads with us.

The SME market is like so many parts of our business at Facebook, in that we listen to customer feedback, test, learn and reiterate. Part of the feedback we’d hear is that we need to make products a lot simpler so that’s what we did with things like lightweight interfaces, which essentially makes advertising as easy as posting a photo. If you have a page and post something, Facebook alerts you if it is performing well and asks if you’d like to reach more people, then from there you can amplify your post. That innovation is how the vast majority of advertisers over the last year got started on Facebook.

We want to share SME success stories and how businesses have found customers on Facebook to help educate how we can be used, which products and when, and listen to what we need to do better.

When did it become clear that SMEs had become key users of Facebook?

Like everything with Facebook, there wasn’t a eureka moment – everything at Facebook starts small and we just iterate, then things build and build. I would say the same happened with the SME sector and it starts when people sign up for Facebook – invariably some are entrepreneurs and they see what’s going on, then it doesn’t take too long for the entrepreneurial mind to see the potential value for their business through Facebook. 

Is there a trend in the strategy they usually follow when getting started?

They’ll start a page, which gives them their presence, mobile strategy, customer messaging, and option to share the product and company story, then usually they’ll scale up. Most start with those lightweight interfaces and then as they start to invest more money because Facebook is driving more results, they graduate on to more sophisticated ad tools – that could be ad create flow or using audience retargeting.

Hawkers from Spain is a great example. Four buddies decided to sell sunglasses and within six months they’d sold over 25,000 sunglasses through Facebook and then grown to 30 staff, serving 80 markets. They started with a €30 coupon and graduated to spend serious money with us daily.

For me that’s the real democratisation of marketing, people really do start with a fiver or tenner and start to build and test. The other thing is that it’s not solely about scaling up – there are lots of businesses out there that spend £50 or £100 a day because that’s the right budget for them, but they should all consider how much to invest.

Find out what else Facebook is planning to do to support UK SMEs on the next page.

How lucrative are SMEs as a customer base for Facebook? What’s the difference between pages and groups, and which should an SME look to use?

Pages are definitely where to start. It’s your presence and it gives you an instant mobile strategy that means you’re discoverable on any device irrespective of the operating system, whether that’s iPad, iPhone, Samsung or tablet. One simple message from that page reaches all of those devices and that’s incredibly valuable for businesses.

Groups have a different use case, but we do see lots of SME growth in groups. Sometimes you have public open groups for people coming together around a common interest, and then other times SMEs choose to create a group to communicate and share.

How lucrative are SMEs as a customer base for Facebook?

We don’t distinguish our results by segment, but what I can say is that they’re incredibly important – as are all our clients. Our philosophy and what we’re really focused on right now is value. The clear message we want to send to every business is that no matter how small you are, we do want our tools available for all, and we want them to measure us to drive real business results, whether that’s a lead, website traffic, foot traffic or lifting brand sentiment.

We want to drive hard business results and I think if we focus on that, it’s the right relationship. Facebook will get timely, interesting, valuable content that’s natural, and conversely businesses grow as users on Facebook grow.

What is Facebook doing as a business to retain and grow SME customers?

We need to focus on the simplicity of our tools, grow better measurement capabilities to prove value and advertise results for businesses. If we can focus on those three things, I think more people will join Facebook, and more SMEs will test ads and get results. Some will scale up and some will stay at the level appropriate for their business. That’s how we’ve grown so far and that’s what we want to stay focused on.