Can Anyone Compete With Facebook and Google for Small-Business Advertisers?

‘You only have time for one or two platforms’

Between its ease of use and target capabilities, small and midsized businesses flock to Facebook to advertise. Getty Images

The Nuyorican Poets Cafe, a small performance venue in New York, needed a better way than print to advertise its shows. Daniel Gallant, the cafe’s executive director, said he was spending too much money on print without verifiable results, and he couldn’t make last-minute changes.

Facebook, even before it catered to small and midsize businesses (SMB), solved his problem. He began using Facebook organically before his business could even buy ads. Now, the tools are so comprehensive that it’s “far and away the most effective and powerful means of connecting content with spectators that will benefit from it,” Gallant said. “We can sell out a show with a single post if it’s targeted correctly.”

Gallant is just one of the 6 million advertisers on Facebook. Take away the Fortune 1000, and most of the 5.999 million that remain are small and midsize businesses. And Google has enjoyed similar dominance in the search sector.

Those platforms do two things exceedingly well for SMBs that lack manpower and time: They’re extremely effective at reaching target audiences, and they’re convenient. “If you’re only spending $1,000 per month and you don’t monitor and optimize, you only have time for one or two platforms,” said Brian Wieser, senior analyst at Pivotal Research Group.

“Facebook provides an unprecedented number of tools to make using its ad platform easy to navigate for even the most novice business or advertiser."
Chris Ruberg, senior social media specialist at independent media agency Empower.

Twitter and Snapchat have begun building tools to attract SMBs, but they are still in the early stages of gaining traction.

Snapchat introduced its Snap Accelerate initiative last October to entice a specific type of SMB—venture capital-backed startups, incubators and accelerator programs—with access to marketing benefits and services.

Snap Inc. chief strategy officer Imran Khan said earlier this month that revenue growth for its SMB business was up 30 percent compared with the fourth quarter of 2017, but the company would not provide specific numbers, only saying, “Many of these [SMBs] have joined through the Accelerate program.”

Last November, Twitter launched Promote Mode, a self-serve advertising subscription that enables SMBs to pay a flat fee of $99 per month to promote their profiles and individual tweets. Twitter declined to provide specifics on the number of SMBs adopting Promote Mode, only saying, “Early results have been positive, with significantly better retention among Twitter Promote Mode subscribers.”

Facebook reigns supreme despite those efforts, and the social network’s robust targeting capabilities were a common theme among small businesses who use Facebook.

“Advertisers can reach incredibly granularly targeted audiences,” said Mari Smith, a small-business and Facebook-marketing expert. “In fact, with the amount of data Facebook has from users and third parties, the platform offers the most targeted traffic your advertising dollars can buy.”

Jen Henson, founder of Jen Henson ACT Prep, said that because ACT test dates are staggered in certain states, she can use geotargeting to make sure the few ad dollars she spends don’t go to waste.

Other advantages Facebook possesses include ease of use and comprehensive metrics enabling brands to analyze their efforts.

Twitter provides analytics for tweets (views, retweets, likes and replies) and followers (interests, best times to tweet). Snapchat, meanwhile, offers data such as Story views, time spent viewing, reach, average view time, Story view percentage and popular regions.

But Facebook goes even further with its ability to track the purchase journey via multiple devices, even when those transactions occur outside of Facebook. With its look-alike audiences, which use aggregated, anonymous data to target users with similar traits to those who have already engaged with pages, Facebook can seek out users who are most likely to convert.

“Facebook provides an unprecedented number of tools to make using its ad platform easy to navigate for even the most novice business or advertiser,” said Chris Ruberg, senior social media specialist at independent media agency Empower.

“Facebook is very scalable. The results and metrics are gathered immediately, and you can act on them immediately,” Gallant added. “The interactivity of the platform is immensely powerful.”

If small and midsize businesses aren’t using Facebook to advertise, they’re probably tapping into Google.

“While it may be more expensive to advertise on Google, Google is more worth it in our eyes because you gain more visibility and, therefore, higher ad value,” said Joseph Crea, marketing manager of Dumbo Moving and Storage in Brooklyn, N.Y., when explaining why he chooses Google over Bing or Yahoo.

Sam Eitzen, co-founder of photo experience company The SnapBar, favored Google, as well, saying, “If we do a premium listing on The Knot or Wedding Wire, we appear next to all sorts of other competitors, and it becomes a race to the bottom for pricing. We never wanted to pitch our service as the cheapest Groupon special. We wanted to command more premium pricing.”

He said The SnapBar spent about $2,500 on a current Google Ads campaign that has been running for three weeks, and that it generated $27,000 in leads, adding, “If we choose our keywords more carefully, bid higher and retarget better, we at least have a step up.”

This story first appeared in the May 14, 2018, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe. David Cohen is editor of Adweek's Social Pro Daily.