Small Business Marketing Success Stories: Facebook

Since it’s Small Business Week, I thought it might be interesting/helpful/something to create a series of posts around the different ways that small businesses can use “this new marketing reality” to position themselves better. Whether you’re a fan of Thomas Friedman or not, chances are you embrace the idea that one of the best things about the Internet is that it leveled the playing field in terms of promotion/marketing/advertising, etc. TV is still the big thing in the room — the elephant, if you will — but before the Internet and social, it was much harder for an operation of 2-3 people to get the same outreach as a place like Proctor and Gamble, for example. In that sense, the playing field is completely different — and while Facebook’s organic reach is declining to the point of, well, zero, it’s still the true behemoth in this space with over 1 billion active users. So … in the interest of actually making money off social media, can we find some examples of best practices in terms of Facebook marketing for small businesses?

Let’s start with some Facebook-sponsored content around the idea of marketing. Here’s the story of Squishable:

Before production begins, the brand now asks more than a quarter of a million fans to vote on which animal—Platypus, Narwhal and Kiwi are among the latest—should become a new Squishable. Only the critters that are the top vote getters move ahead.

Once in the design phase, posts its sketches on Facebook, asking for fan feedback. All the key decisions—whether the Kiwi ends up being blue or purple, for example—are made by fans.’s social product innovation seems to be a hit for the toymaker. Products are back-ordered for months and the company’s fan base continues to grow. And there’s nothing squishy about those results.

That one would go towards the idea of “engaging your potential consumers in your product,” which is a radically different approach than even existed 10-15 years ago. There were “focus groups,” yes — consider Mad Men, or even the “Madigral” episode of Breaking Bad — but being able to put a sketch online and have even 400-500 people react to it (in the era of declining organic reach) is something fairly new. So … keep it an honest conversation.

Here’s a concept from Small Biz Trends, i.e. not from Facebook’s PR/content machine:

Smolkin launched his chain of restaurants in 2008 with what many would have considered a crazy idea at the time.

He had no marketing budget, but instead, spent five hours a night on Facebook sending invites to friends from his company’s account.

The strategy paid off. Friends came, told friends, and the company’s reputation grew. Today, Smolkin’s chain has 60 restaurants across Canada and projects $28 million in sales by the end of the year.

The key to Smolkin’s success continues to be what he chooses to post and share on social media. Though his Facebook and Twitter account clearly drive sales, they never seem to visibly sell.

Rather, he shares news and information he knows will be important to his community, including giving customers directions to his chain’s nearest location. What he won’t do is post coupons and offers, feeling they devalue his product.

That last one is important. A lot of brand people / marketers — especially old school guys and ladies who came up way before social — think that the only value of social in some ways is to post deals online. Hell, if you look at Amazon’s sponsored tweets, it’s all about deals; tons of other companies are like that. But this guy in Canada got to $28 million in sales by making it less about that — and remember, this is the same reason some companies like to stay off Groupon/LivingSocial — and more about legit information that consumers need. If you make it all about “Hey, like this if you want pizza for dinner” or “Hey, here’s a 20 percent off link,” you (a) might go down in the NewsFeed algorithm (seems spammy) and (b) that’s not necessarily of value to your consumers. So like with any business decision, finance/operations/marketing/et al, think about what would drive value to a customer. That’s how you ultimately make money, right?

Here’s a story from ReachLocal:

Most recently, Penn Oaks has created two different contests specifically for Facebook that require direct participation from fans, while still focusing on the business itself. Fans who have recently tied the knot at Penn Oaks were asked to submit their favorite photo taken at Penn Oaks during their wedding to be entered into a contest to win a gift card. These same newly married couples could also send in a brief bio of themselves with a photo that was featured in a monthly post called “Get to Know Us”. Both of these campaigns not only generated a ton of engagement from fans who were married at Penn Oaks, but more importantly, they provided the club with a plethora of user-generated images they can use to promote their wedding services.   

Remember, this is a golf club — the types of guys who traditionally are playing golf probably aren’t also on Facebook a lot — but it’s doing well, fostering engagement, and getting more people aware of the brand. By showcasing happiness in these wedding photos, they might close some sales for future weddings (and that can be big business for a country/golf club).

There’s also this idea of “dark posting:”

Unpublished dark posts offer the perfect balance between content and advertisements by combining traditional engagement marketing with the reach of paid advertising. Advertisers have a number of different options when it comes to creating unpublished page post ads. They can create a status update, a photo, a video, a question or even a shared link. Embedding links to external websites provide the perfect way for brands to direct traffic from Facebook to their own website.

Advertisers can use unpublished dark posts on Facebook to facilitate split testing. By creating two or more versions of the same advert, they can test them to see which audiences engage with the most.

The idea on that one is almost akin to A/B Testing — you want to see what content resonates, and you get to do so in a way that strikes that balance between traditional content (oooh) and advertisements (avoid).

This example is from 2010 — a bit outdated in terms of current algorithm — but it’s still notable for how a burger bar in Milwaukee grew massively in one year via social:

Sorge isn’t interested in one-way communication but instead praises the value he receives from input and feedback.  “Customers are becoming the business,” he says.  “We had no idea that the ‘Burger of the Month’ would be so popular and that we’d have to change it the ‘Burger of the Moment.'”  In fact, one of their most popular burgers was created by a customer, @KateBarrie; the Barrie Burger features peanut butter, bacon and cheese.

Another thing Sorge does not (and cannot) do is measure ROI.  He says he measures what he can–for example, he notes that FourSquare promotions have allowed AJ Bombers to increase sales 30% on select items–but that isn’t what Sorge sees as the true value of social media to his business.  “This is a restaurant built by social media.  This is the only way we know it.  We can’t say what it would be like without it.”

Now, as mentioned, the climate in May 2014 is a bit different in terms of organic vs. paid social. Small businesses have tighter margins on things like marketing, so creativity is at a bit more of a premium for them. Facebook itself is now rolling out a couple of “small business boot camps” — it’ll be called “Facebook Fit” — to teach small businesses how to market themselves and advertise on the platform:

Facebook also is creating small-business advertising products that Sandberg said will be affordable. For example, companies will be able to spend $10 to promote a post on other Facebook pages, something they were unable to do in the past. Facebook pages will remain free.

“We’re hoping they’ll want to become advertisers if we can help them just spend a few dollars to help them promote a product,” Sandberg said.

Facebook Fit will be in NYC, Miami, Chicago, Austin and Menlo Park this summer.

Bigger point? You can do this. You do need to start with a plan — and a plan tied to business objectives — but achieving small business marketing success is possible on Facebook, even with the limits of organic reach.


Ted Bauer