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Facebook Wants to Be the Mobile Website for Small Businesses

New capabilities make a Facebook page a tool for much more than advertising.

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BY Jeff Bercovici - 09 Sep 2015

 

 

What's a better venue for commerce: a big, beautiful showroom on a little-trafficked side street or a bare-bones storefront on the main drag? That's the question a lot of small business owners wrestle with in trying to capture customers on mobile.

For the last few years, they've been told that a mobile-optimized website, or even a custom native app, is a must-have. At the same time, they've seen the data showing that mobile users spend virtually all of their screen time in just a handful of apps, Facebook chief among them. A recent study by Forrester found that Facebook's three main apps -- Instagram, Messenger and the eponymous one -- account for 13 percent of an average user's mobile minutes.

Seeking to resolve this dilemma, the social giant has been enhancing the capabilities of its pages so that businesses can use them just as they do their websites, for everything from booking appointments to handling complaints to e-commerce. That's a behavioral shift customers have already made, says Benji Shomair, head of the Pages team. "It's us responding to what people are doing on our platform," he says, noting that many companies report inbound Facebook messages have overtaken phone calls in volume.

To handle those inbound communications, Facebook rolled out a suite of new tools in August, including the ability to reply privately to a user's comment and badges that show page visitors what kind of response time to expect.

On Tuesday, the company supplemented those new tools with a handful of upgrades to pages making them more like true mobile websites. The new features include "Call to Action" buttons and sections where visitors can shop or browse a menu of services.

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and other executives have been doing aggressive outreach to small businesses over the past year, with notable results: More than 45 million businesses are now active there. Some, however, are still smarting over changes to the algorithm that governs Facebook's News Feed, changes that have decreased the organic reach of Page posts and forced businesses to boost them with paid advertising to maintain visibility.

Jon Czaja, director of Facebook's small business operations, says the organic-reach curtailment was a necessary measure to keep users' feeds from getting choked with marketing messages. The bad feelings are receding, however, as businesses come to see Facebook not just as a marketing channel but as a platform for doing much more. "It's less about Page likes," Czaja says. "That's the old Facebook."

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