Bill Phelan and Natalie Weer got a rare face-to-face with Facebook during a business trip to the social network’s headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif.
This was Phelan’s second trip to their headquarters after originally being invited in 2015 to take part in a small business council as owner of Silver Fox event hall in Streator.
The council gathered again in February and founder Mark Zuckerberg stopped by to hear from the group.
Phelan said the council gave Facebook employees feedback and told them how they were using the service. They also were given insights into the company’s future focus and tips of the trade when it comes to using the service from a business standpoint.
“We see how important it is not just for this business but for what’s going on in Streator and with the downtown resurgence,” Phelan said. “A lot of new businesses are using Facebook really well and that’s how word is getting out.”
Using Facebook as a business
Silver Fox, the only wedding venue at the event, was identified as a business that had utilized Facebook to grow in reach, and Phelan was identified after serving on a panel about Facebook in Chicago.
Phelan said the wedding venue would not have been able to reach as many people as it had or grown as fast as it did without the use of Facebook.
The venue tends to pull a number of guests from Chicago and the surrounding suburbs with the social network being instrumental in tapping into that base.
Weer, manager, handles the business’ social media accounts and agrees small businesses need to not only use Facebook but also know how to use it effectively.
“That sort of business model is changing and if your business isn’t changing with it then you’re going to be behind,” Weer said.
Zuckerberg talked briefly about the social network’s desire to refocus to user pages rather than business owners, but Phelan said this just means businesses need to reassess how they use the social network.
Phelan said the social network is looking to make their users’ feeds more personal, which will lead to repeat visitors.
“(Businesses) shouldn’t look at (Facebook) as just a way to sell their product. It’s a way to build relationships with your community or customers or guests or whatever your business is,” Phelan said. “Because that’s what it’s really about. It’s not about just putting ads out there and selling because people don’t want to see that. That’s not why they’re on there.”
He added it was important businesses create “authentic” content that is more similar to the type of photos and videos being shared by general users.
Weer said the business sees around 80 percent of its traffic from mobile viewers and admits as well that when looking up a business she’ll find their Facebook page rather than a website. She’ll look up menus for restaurants on their page or clothing selections for apparel stores and her viewing habits have helped shape Silver Fox’s page.
The business has identified a majority of its social media market as being young women and as such has upped its usage of the Facebook-owned, photo-sharing site Instagram. The business has increased its video content, which they were told will likely become up to 80 percent of the content on Facebook by 2020.
“The trend now is videos, because when you’re scrolling through your feed a video catches the viewer’s eye,” Weer said.
Despite the refocusing, Phelan said the business has actually seen its engagement and reach grow online due in part to some of its recent efforts.
Facebook understands commitment to small businesses and communities
Weer added people like stories and they’ve also found success in sharing the story of Streator. Phelan said he always shares with community members the city is within two hours of 10 million people and the change of environment from Streator and the larger cities is a breath of fresh air for many.
The page routinely shares photos of relics of the building’s prior use as a former Masonic temple and has noted the public’s interest in the area when visiting.
“A lot of people are coming from Chicago and the suburbs and like to hear the story of Streator, the building and the business,” Phelan said. “Everybody loves a comeback story and I think that’s a big thing Streator has going for it right now.”
Zuckerberg explained to the group that a sense of community is important online, which will hopefully grow to a sense of connection with businesses and people in their physical communities.
Phelan said it was clear the employees took their role in small communities seriously and took feedback to heart.
“I think it’s important to see there’s a lot of people there that really care about how people are being affected by Facebook and how people are using Facebook,” Phelan said. “I think they’re very conscious of what they’re doing and what their role in the community is.”
Facebook has faced some criticism in recent weeks given controversies regarding the data it retains on users and Zuckerberg recently went before the Senate Commerce and Judiciary committees as a result.
Phelan said most of the questions felt basic regarding how users use the service and revealed “out of touch” officials with little understanding of the service. He’s worried any additional regulation would only hinder the service further, and he questioned how different the social network’s data retention was compared to those of government agencies such as the NSA.
“There’s so much data collection out there that Facebook is the least of my concerns,” Phelan said. “I tend to have more trust in the accountability of a business and their need to maintain the trust of their customers.”
Continue open dialogue
While the developers parted ways at the end of the visit, the communication won’t end there.
Phelan said the group will remain active in a discussion group on Facebook.
He added the businesses routinely interact and share tips and stories and help each other out when they can.
Facebook officials also routinely pop in with some advice and to keep the small businesses in the loop with recent developments.
Phelan said it’s a clear sign the company is invested in their success and vice versa.
“They’re so helpful,” Phelan said. “Everybody there is so helpful and that’s one of the cool things. To be able to put a face on Facebook.”
You can view their Facebook page at fb.com/silverfoxstreator.