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Facebook working to engage small businesses

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More than 90 percent of businesses in San Diego are considered small, and 1,100 of them showed up for Facebook’s "Boost Your Business San Diego" program Thursday to learn how the social media tool can be used to help them grow.

Most of the 1,100 attendees were from San Diego, but some small-business heads from Canada and even Switzerland made the trip to hear from Facebook’s director of small business and four local companies who have used Facebook (Nasdaq: FB) as an integral part of their marketing and growth.

Johnathan Czaja, director of small business at Facebook, said there are 40 million active small business Facebook accounts, 2 million of which use the site for advertising.

“A lot has changed on Facebook over the years, but the power of Facebook to help small businesses grow is stronger than ever, and I firmly believe that if you get to understand our products, you will see this power as well,” Czaja said.

He outlined five lessons to help small business take advantage of these tools.

• First, be authentic.

“Have your own authentic voice and consistently use that voice to communicate to your customers, because authenticity is what works well on Facebook,” he said.

“You have to remember your post, your ad, is showing up between a picture of my son and a picture of my wife, and so that’s a private space and you want to treat that with respect and be authentic.”

• Second, it’s easy to begin targeting customers on Facebook, and the simplest way of doing so is through boosting posts. That means paying a dollar amount of your choice to select the exact audience that you want to view a certain post.

• Third, focus on reaching the people that matter to your business.

“The beauty of Facebook is not only can you reach a large number of people if you wanted to, but more importantly, you can reach the exact people you want to reach — the people that matter to you,” Czaja said.

“The key here is when you advertise on Facebook, we don’t want you to waste your money showing ads to people who don’t care about the products and services you’re selling.”

Businesses can target ads in the form of specific demographic characteristics of their audience — such as age, gender, income and marital status — as well as their geographic location.

The recently added call-to-action buttons that show up in Facebook posts with commands like “Get Directions” or “Call” or “Buy” can also help businesses narrow their targeted search by analyzing who is viewing their posts and acting on them.

Czaja said Facebook plans to roll out more call-to-action buttons this year.

• Fourth, take advantage of Facebook’s advanced targeting capabilities. Market to customers’ look-a-likes, who have similar demographics.

• Fifth, measure results to ensure investment through Facebook is working and driving enough business to your site. Businesses can now track purchases on their websites to see which and how many came directly from Facebook posts.

Local businessman Kevin Koskella, founder of Tri Swim Coach, did measure his results, and found that Facebook was driving 75 percent of his sales — but that wasn’t always the case.

“I started with Google AdWords years ago when it was really easy to do and there wasn’t a lot of thought going into it,” Koskella said.

“But what happened was Google AdWords became really expensive and really hard to do, and Facebook came along at just the perfect time. You can target down to just a specific person.”

Sven-Anders Alwerud, co-founder of Jelly Skateboards, another San Diego-based small business, said his company has spent between $3,000 and $4,000 on Facebook ads in the past two weeks since they launched an IndieGoGo campaign, and have been driving much of the traffic to the campaign from the social media site.

Alwerud said Facebook is great, but its portfolio company Instagram — acquired in 2012 — is even more useful in connecting the company to the children who want Jelly skateboards.

“Instagram has been insanely, insanely successful for us because we have seen a huge demographic shift with Facebook,” Alwerud said.

“The younger demographic seems to be going toward Instagram because their mom and grandparents are on Facebook.”

The photo-centric social media site recently announced it will add call-to-action buttons to posts in July, Alwerud said.

Facebook’s 250-person small business team is also continuing to innovate its products, such as the roll-out of video in posts about a year and a half ago, and increasing options for small business support.

“We realize this can be complicated and folks need help, so we’re providing that online,” Czaja said. “Live one-on-one support — this is something I personally am very passionate about because for the longest time if you had an issue or question, the only way to get hold of Facebook was by email …

“We just recently launched live chat in the U.S., so you can create a one-on-one chat session with a Facebook marketing expert, and can do cool things like share your screen if you have issues or are confused.”

Czaja said Facebook is testing phone support.

San Diego was one of four cities chosen for the Facebook Boost Your Business tour, along with Minneapolis, Nashville and Boston.

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