With much of the madness caused by the pandemic now behind us, small businesses across the country are eager to capitalize on the holiday rush, with spending patterns and customer behaviors once again approaching normalcy (real normal, not the “new normal”). With economic recovery underway and people finally out buying products and doing the things they love, American SMBs have an immense opportunity on their hands. Meta (Facebook) seems to be fully aware of this.

As part of a concerted push to empower small businesses, they just rolled out new tools that help small businesses address obstacles in reaching their customers and communicating with them. There’s a relatively large number of tools to cover here, and they cover other Meta platforms too, like Whatsapp and Instagram. This piece will review the new SMB tools and how small businesses can leverage them to drive holiday business growth. 


Video And Audio Calling From The Business Inbox

Facebook now allows certain SMB users to make and receive video and audio calls straight from the Business Inbox. It’s important to note here that this feature isn’t universal – only certain SMBs will be trialing it out. The video and audio call features aren’t substantively different from standard video and audio calling through Facebook Messenger, and the key difference is that businesses have access to it. This opens up many possibilities for small businesses, including:

  • Seamlessly getting to audio calls from a Facebook storefront 
  • Offering personalized video-based services 
  • Providing better remote support

Let’s take a look at how small businesses can utilize these functions in practice. 


Audio Calls Straight From The Shopfront

Facebook storefront owners can list their contact numbers on their Facebook pages. Customers can then dial the number to contact the store, but they’ll be taken offsite to the dialer. 

This isn’t a deal-breaker in most cases, of course, but it does add a bit of friction to the shopping experience. Sometimes, shoppers might want to call a store but don’t have the number saved. In this case, they’d have to log in to Facebook, copy the number, then call from the dialer. Again, we’re not talking about a tremendous amount of user friction, but every additional step that makes the buying experience less than seamless will result in some degree of user dropoff, which could translate into thousands of dollars worth of lost sales. 

By allowing select SMBs to make and receive audio calls straight from Facebook Messenger, additional UI friction is taken out of the picture, making it easier for customers to reach out to your brand. 


Personalized Video Services

Again, this is mostly a matter of taking the friction out of the user experience and integrating more business processes into the Facebook platform. Many service providers have a Facebook presence and store listing for everything from video poker to language learning to tuition. However, the service itself might be offered through a different platform, such as iTalki or Skype. 

Let’s take online language learning as an example. With language learning, the use of multiple platforms has a significant impact on user experience and pricing. Third-party platforms like iTalki charge a substantial amount for language tutors to list themselves and schedule lessons through the platform, and third-party video calling apps might not offer security or consistent voice and picture quality. By combining video calling with Facebook’s appointment feature (which has also been rolled out to all SMBs), the entire process can take place through a single platform, from booking a lesson to having a video tuition session. 

This could make it easier for students and tutors to work together and potentially help lower pricing, with third-party providers out of the way. 


Providing Better Remote Support

Product-based businesses often need to provide after-sales support to their clients. In pre-pandemic times, this usually meant direct home or office visits. Now, though, support often takes place through voice and video calls or remote access on computers for software product issues. 

Fragmentation and the use of multiple platforms again hinder the user experience here. Suppose a user wants video support to install a RAM module in their computer, for instance. In that case, video calling the local computer store could be inconvenient and require the user to install a video calling app they might not use, and just setting that up could involve a phone call or Whatsapp/iMessaging. 

SMBs with Facebook video calling can make the support process more seamless and pain-free for their users. If a user needs help through a video call, they can make that call straight from Messenger to the business or wait for the company to do so from the Business Inbox. By taking third-party software out of the picture, users can have a more consistent support experience powered by Facebook. 

Live Audio Rooms For Business

Facebook’s Live Audio Rooms feature was clearly inspired by Clubhouse and its runaway success. However, until now, Live Audio Rooms have been limited to regular, non-business users. By expanding Live Audio Rooms feature to small businesses, Facebook is offering dynamic SMB owners an opportunity to turn into strong advocates and evangelists for their brand and their products to a group of peers and prospects interested and tuned into what they have to say. 

Small businesses can think outside the box when it comes to Live Audio Rooms. Beyond the “TED-Talk experience” that might generate trust and social proof, special Live Audio Room get-togethers could help connect brands with loyal customers and help product owners connect. Let’s take a look at a practical example. 

An artisan bakery could hold regular Live Audio Room meetings to engage with local at-home bakers or just people who want to know more about the art. Highly engaged customers could use the Live Audio Room events to offer special discounts or exclusive sales. The idea here is to leverage Live Audio Rooms to better engage the community around your brand or product and build relationships with audiences that connect most closely. 


Universal Appointment Syncing

For a while now, Facebook has offered certain businesses the ability to use its appointment syncing toolset. Appointment syncing, until now, has been a work in progress, but with the new feature rollout, all small businesses will have access to it. Appointment booking allows companies to offer their customers a schedule to book appointments for a service or in-store shopping. These appointments will then be synced via Google Calendar on both sides.

The news here is that all stores will now have access to this feature. Appointment booking is essential for service providers on Facebook (fitness trainers, for instance). The approach until now involved the customer calling up the store and setting up an appointment manually, a process that could see customer dropoff. By offering a Calendly-like interface to make store appointments, Facebook’s taking away yet another point of friction between brands and their customers. 


SMB-Supportive Prompts

In today’s post-COVID world, supporting small businesses is often something of a moral imperative. Small businesses owners are regular people, and their day-to-day livelihoods depend on consistent business growth. Unlike big companies, SMBs have limited rainy day capital: they need local community support to survive in our post-pandemic environment. The new SMB-oriented prompts that Facebook users will now start seeing indicate that Facebook has understood just how important this is. But what exactly are the prompts, and how do they impact the user experience? 

Whenever a Facebook user reacts with a like or “love” emoji to a Facebook ad by a small business, they’ll receive a prompt on their timeline that explains why it’s a good idea to support small businesses and how the user’s Facebook engagement helps support SMBs in their local communities. 

SMBs don’t exactly have control over these prompts. However, their existence could incentivize greater ad spend on Facebook over other platforms – every engagement will be augmented by Facebook’s unique SMB prompt, which could drive higher conversion rates. 


Whatsapp Catalog Collections

Catalog Collections on Whatsapp is an entirely new feature, as opposed to some of the other items we’ve talked about here, which were rolled out universally. Catalog Collections takes Whatsapp for Business one step closer to parity with purpose-built eCommerce sites and apps. With Catalog Collections, small businesses now have the option to sort their products into specific category collections. 

Previously, users just got one long list of products available for purchase. This could make navigating Whatsapp storefronts something of a nightmare, especially with more extensive catalogs with dozens or even hundreds of items. With Catalog Collections, the user experience improves substantially, with individual collections helping customers find exactly what they’re looking for. 


New Ad Creation Tools in the Business Suite

The last set of features we’re looking at highlights some relative niche use cases but empower Facebook marketers to do more with the resources on hand. 

Facebook Business Suite now offers marketers the ability to make Insta-only ads for desktop users. Business users will also get some new desktop-specific metrics and insights.

Apart from this, the Facebook Ads Manager is receiving a minor touchup that consolidates campaign goals, making it easier to plan campaigns and assess progress. 

These are very niche situations considering that most Insta users are on iPhone or Android. However, with the increasing popularity of ultrathin notebooks like the M1-powered MacBook and the rising uptake of tablets with desktop browsers, desktop users are gradually increasing in market share vis-a-vis mobile. That means it makes sense for Instagram marketers and small businesses to have more desktop Insta. 


Final Thoughts: More Power to Small Businesses Ahead of the Holidays

With the holidays coming up, small businesses across the country are eager to get back on track after a year that’s been anything but ordinary. Facebook’s new business functionality is aimed squarely at small business owners, empowering them to do more outreach and consolidate their marketing strategies across Facebook (Meta)-owned platforms like Instagram and Whatsapp. It also reduces friction at every step of the customer journey by integrating new functionality into Facebook, Whatsapp, and Instagram storefronts.

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