How small businesses can win on Facebook: Tips from the social media giant itself

In honor of Veteran's Day, Facebook visited Elizabethtown, Kentucky and provided free guidance on using the social media tool to boost small businesses.

Jeremy Lynch Facebook
Jeremy Lynch, Community Manager at Facebook, speaks to veterans in Elizabethtown, KY
Image: Hope Reese/TechRepublic

Joe Salisbury spent twenty years in the military. When he returned to his hometown of Elizabethtown, Kentucky, he needed to find something to do to stay active--so he started BadBoyz Performance, an automotive business. "If you retire altogether, if you don't keep yourself going, you'll end up going to the wayside," said Salisbury. "But if you can make your own business, you keep your mind sharp."

On Monday, Salisbury was one of 150 small business owners attending a free training session held by Facebook at a small community center in Elizabethtown, Kentucky--just 12 miles from the military base at Fort Knox. The Boost Your Business event, one of 41 trainings given by Facebook this year, was aimed at training military small business owners on how to best use the social media service to promote their companies. The event included Congressman Brett Guthrie (Kentucky, 2nd district), Facebook representatives, and a panel of local business owners partnering with Where Opportunity Knox--a local initiative to connect veterans to jobs.

Congressman Guthrie has both a military and small business background himself. He graduated in 1987 from the US Military Academy at West Point and later served as a Field Artillery Officer in the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell. Before entering politics, he joined a manufacturing business started by his father. "My father lost his job at Ford when I was in high school." said Guthrie. "He went from being a Ford employee to buying equipment and making a small foundry to sell parts to Ford. From not having a job to starting his own business."

With more than 45 million small businesses in the US using Facebook and four out of five Facebook users connected to a small business on the social network, many companies still fail to achieve successful results using the social media service. Boost Your Business, started in 2011, is an effort to help these businesses learn how to use the right tools to achieve the results they want. "A lot of people who worked in the military worked hard but want to do other things when they're done," said Congressman Guthrie. "A lot of people who are retiring are in the baby boomer generation--they want to learn how to share their idea, service, product to the world."

To help these veterans learn how, Jeremy Lynch, Facebook's Community Engagement manager, presented an hour-long session with specific tips for using Facebook's services. "The world is going mobile," said Lynch, "and they way we communicate has changed." Twenty percent of the time people spend on their mobile device, Lynch said, is on Facebook. "We have 132 million people access Facebook from their mobile phones each day."

Lynch's presentation included tips on creating engaging content, connecting with customers, amplifying reach, and measuring results. He explained how Facebook creates targeting marketing, the type of content that catches attention, and how to make sure your material is relevant to your audience. Here are three takeaways:

  1. Know your audience. In order to be make sure your posts reach the right people, you want to specify your audience. Do you own a flower shop? Then you may want to reach people who are recently engaged, or people who garden. If you run a gym, you might want to target people who recently moved. And if you're a nonprofit, you might want to reach those who have donated in the past. Facebook ads can help connect you with the right audience by connecting your preferences with profile information like interests, demographics, and behavior.
  2. Create compelling content. Posts with photos perform better than text-only posts. Post with videos do better than photo posts. Use visuals to enhance your message. And don't be afraid to make your material personal and fun.
  3. Measure results. Check the Facebook Insights page to see how your ads are doing. Who is engaging--liking, commenting on, and sharing--with them? What time of day are your posts getting the most traffic? You can break this down by demographics like age, gender, and location. Use this information to modify your material to get the greatest chance of engagement with your customers.

The session was followed by a panel of local small businesses, including Artistic Body Tattoo, fitness center CrossFit Hard Knox, specialty running and walking store Running Soles LLC and non-profit dedicated to military women and veterans Athena's Sisters--all run by former veterans, who shared their own tips about how Facebook has helped them out after their service ended.

For someone like Joe Salisbury, getting back into business after his time in the military was the key to staying sane. Facebook reached out to veterans like Salisbury knowing that this is a group particularly suited for new business ventures. "In the military," said Salisbury, "you're going 100 mph. When you get out, it stops."

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