Abrams: Facebook a mixed bag for small business

Rhonda Abrams
Special for Four Corners Business Journal
Facebook is an amazing tool small businesses can use to target clients, but there certainly are some concerns about data privacy.

Many small-business owners watched recent revelations about Facebook with mixed emotions. Like most Americans, they were surprised to discover how much information the social media giant collects on its users.

Even more worrisome was learning that 87 million Americans had their data exploited by Cambridge Analytica, a firm with ties to Donald Trump’s campaign, to influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential election.  But there’s another side to Facebook when it comes to small business: Facebook is a transformative advertising platform for small businesses, not easy to replace.  

Let’s say you own a small seafood restaurant, and Tuesday nights are $1 oyster nights.  Traditional advertising methods cost a lot, must be planned long in advance, and it’s hit-or-miss as to whether you actually get in front of oyster eaters. With Facebook, on Tuesday morning, with a few clicks, you can target Facebook users in your Zip code who love oysters and eating out (and are over age 21, so they can buy drinks, which is why you have $1 oyster nights). And you can do this for as little as $20.  

In my work with small businesses for more than 25 years, I’ve never seen a more effective method of micro-targeting prospects.  

In addition to choosing an ad’s audience with a few clicks, Facebook has other tools for small businesses to connect with prospects. Two, in particular are effective.  

• Custom audiences: A business can upload its own list, perhaps its email newsletter list, and Facebook will serve that company’s ads to those users. This enables a small company to stay in front of its customers.  

• Lookalike audiences: A business can upload its list and ask Facebook to find users who have the same attributes as those on the company’s list. This enables a small business to target highly likely prospects.  

Now, just because Facebook is an effective tool for small-business advertising does not justify the company collecting vast amounts of data or for allowing users’ data to be invaded.  

“When we learned about Cambridge Analytica, our primary concern was people’s experience on Facebook,” said Dan Levy, Facebook’s Vice President, Small Business. “Our teams have also been speaking to small businesses, and they want to make sure we’re addressing the situation, and we are."

One concern small businesses want Facebook to address is protecting their uploaded lists. No one wants their customers’ information misused or accessed by others, especially competitors.  

Facebook spokesperson Joe Benarroch elaborated on how the data a small business uploads is used. 

“The process is all private — and we don’t do anything with data from non-Facebook users," Benarroch said. "We never tell advertisers which customers have been shown ads on Facebook, and we never append a person's profile based on what businesses upload via a custom audience."

Small-business owners are rightfully concerned about privacy. We don’t want Facebook to know everything about us, and we don’t want our customer list to be available to others.  

Facebook needs to be more vigilant. And transparent. In particular, we want uploaded customer lists to be protected. 

But small businesses don’t want to lose this effective advertising medium, either. Most Facebook ads are not invasive or offensive. And many recipients may actually benefit from receiving highly targeted ads — after all, those oyster lovers liked learning about Tuesday night $1 oyster night. 

Rhonda Abrams is the author of Six-Week Start Up, just released in its fourth edition. Connect with her on Facebook, and Twitter through the handle @RhondaAbrams. Register for her free business tips newsletter at

The views and opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of The Farmington Daily Times.