Mari Smith on How Small Businesses Can Use Facebook

Did you know that your Facebook updates are never going to be seen by 100% of your fans in your newsfeed? Instead, only 2% to 48% will see them.  Yet, Mari Smith, who has been called the Queen of Facebook, still says Facebook has value for small businesses. She offers several highly specific tips in this interview about Facebook for small businesses.

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facebook for small businesses

Small Business Trends:  Can you tell us a bit about your background and how you got to be what a lot of people call the ‘Queen of Facebook?’

Mari Smith: Throughout my entire career, I’ve had a deep passion for people and technology. Since 1999, I’ve been deeply immersed in the world of eCommerce, Internet marketing. I was an online marketing consultant for a long number of years. Then, in 2007, Facebook just fell into my lap. I was chosen to be on the data team of an app. It was really a defining moment in my life. I just fell in love with Facebook. Within weeks I became an evangelist.

Small Business Trends:  When did you know Facebook was going to be important for small businesses?  

Mari Smith: From a small business marketing standpoint, to me, it’s all about relationships. One of my blogs is called The New Relationship Marketing. Relationship marketing is about fostering those relationships which you can start through social media, through Facebook, through Twitter, and then ultimately – you might meet people in person.

It’s really a matter of strategically thinking through what content you are posting through your personal profile and your public fan page in a manner that people are – top of mind. They may think, ‘Gosh, I really need to go and buy a new dress or a wedding cake or whatever different people do.’  You are top of their mind because they have built this relationship with you and you’re in their news feed, sharing valuable content and sparking interest with little personal goodies.

Small Business Trends: Can you rate, on a scale of one to ten, how successful small businesses have been when it comes to leveraging the power of Facebook to help grow their business?

Mari Smith: I would say the vast majority of small businesses are probably somewhere around a three or a four on that scale, unfortunately. I think the main reason is that Facebook is in a ‘pay to play’ mode. They have to make money; that’s just the way it is. It’s just the algorithm that’s at play. You might buy ads in order to build a fan base, which is a terrific use of your advertising dollars, but then people are like, ‘Well, we’re only going to display and post to a percentage of fans.’ Your posts are never going to be seen by 100% of your fans in your newsfeed. It could be anywhere from 2% to 48%. I think at one time years ago, it was at 16%.

One thing to keep in mind as a small business owner is that just because you have 1,000 fans, all 1,000 of those people are not seeing your posts. It could be a fraction of those. You have promoted posts and there are sponsored posts. There are just a lot of complex features in there that you can buy. But unless you know what you’re doing, you might be wasting your money. You might not be getting a good ROI – return on investment.

I think where people struggle is that there’s these complex features and there’s a lot of change. Facebook is always changing their features. If we can back up a second and take complexity out of the picture and look at the fundamentals of small business success, you see that a lot of it comes with not really knowing, ‘Why am I on Facebook in the first place?’  What am I trying to do here? Am I trying to just generate fans and get better sentiment for my brand or actually sell product or improve customer service or just get visibility?’

I would recommend that most small businesses approach Facebook marketing from the standpoint of generating email leads and gently guiding people to cross into your funnel, your e-mail list, your blog, your website and looking into your offers.

Small Business Trends:  What percentage of small businesses are actually able to do direct commerce on Facebook? Is that even in the equation for most businesses?

Mari Smith: It is. In fact, there’s a whole factor of online commerce, called Facebook Commerce. There are new sites and there are services and platforms that are popping up all the time. I just came across a new one recently called Bionic and they have an app that you can add an IQ Offer. You can put up an offer that’s maybe 50% off for the next 24 hours. Then you can drive people there through an ad, for example. People can click on that and purchase right away through PayPal. So, for the small business owner, that’s a way to instantly monetize an offer.

Facebook actually has an offers feature. You click the button and you claim it. Just because somebody’s claimed it doesn’t mean that money has actually passed hands, not yet.

Commerce is still in its infancy. I think we’ve got another couple of years yet where people are really starting to feel more comfortable getting their credit card out. With PayPal, there’s a trust already existing there, which is great. Someone getting their credit card out and saying, ‘I feel happy to buy this right off of Facebook’ is in it’s early days yet.

Small Business Trends: Do you feel that small businesses are leveraging Facebook with the right expectations?

Mari Smith: A lot of people that I talk to, a lot of small business owners, come to Facebook as the Holy Grail. They think that they’ve got over a billion members and there are stories of people making millions of dollars through Facebook marketing. Many of them are spending money to make that money with ads, which is quite frankly the most incredible targeted demographics that your money can buy; far better than any other advertising product and I don’t have any agenda saying that. It’s just a fact.

One thing that small business owners could do with Facebook is build up their email list. Put up your email list with 1,000 people, and they’re from other sources, not necessarily through Facebook. You can take that database and upload it to Facebook using what’s called the Power Editor. Upload their own data base and Facebook is going to go and search their site and match profiles with your database. Maybe only half of them will match and that’s okay.

Now you have this set of almost 500 people and you can find out lots more information. You can actually segment your database and get a ton of information as a result of matching them. You can place ads. You can advertise to people on your own database. It’s called Custom Audience. Then you can do something that’s called Look Alike Audience, which means that Facebook will then gather up an audience of people that you can advertise to that would have never known about you, are not on your list, are not your fan, but they look similar to your current database. That’s cool, right?

Small Business Trends:  If you were a small business going on Facebook to build a list, what kind of content may work best when you’re trying to do it from that perspective?

Mari Smith: I have this rule, basically 80/20. So, talk to the fans with no agenda value, the 80%. When I say no agenda value, that means OPC – other people’s content. You’re sharing a mix of your content, articles, resources, tools and then 20% of the time, you’re going to ask for the sale. You’re going to ask for the lead.

One of my favorite ways is through a webinar. I gather my fans and drag them over to an option page, where I capture the email address and that’s where I’m going to periodically do that, I don’t do that all the time. I do it maybe once a quarter. I’ll do an initiative, where I’m gathering up, where I’m doing an offer. So, that’s just something to keep in mind is that you don’t have to be asking for the sale all the time. But you have to have it strategically mapped out in your marketing calendar for the year, as to when you are going to do offers and promotions and do them in spurts.

That will add tons of value on a regular basis; ideally once a day. Even if it’s just one post a day or maybe two posts a day on Facebook; on your fan page. That would be plenty; that would be sufficient.

Small Business Trends: You mentioned something about a webinar?

Mari Smith: It’s coming up on Tuesday, June 4th. It’s called Seven Steps to Facebook Success. It’s 90 minutes, a live stream webinar. I’m going to be on camera and broadcasting from a studio in San Diego, live and interactive. We will record it in case folks can’t make it and they can just find links to that at

This interview on Facebook for small businesses is part of the One on One interview series with thought-provoking entrepreneurs, authors and experts in business today. This transcript has been edited for publication.  

This is part of the One-on-One Interview series with thought leaders. The transcript has been edited for publication. If it's an audio or video interview, click on the embedded player above, or subscribe via iTunes or via Stitcher.

Brent Leary Brent Leary is the host of the Small Business Trends One-on-One interview series and co-founder of CRM Essentials LLC, an Atlanta-based CRM advisory firm covering tools and strategies for improving business relationships. Brent is a CRM industry analyst, advisor, author, speaker and award-winning blogger.