Does Facebook Actually Work for Promoting a Small Business or Non-Profit?


One last comment on Facebook and then we’ll move on to more pressing problems like growing tomatoes and keeping the squirrels off the peaches. My favorite podcaster, who goes by the initials KMO, interviewed contrarian journalist and advertising consultant B.J. Mendelson for episode 524 of the C-Realm podcast. In the interview Mendelson addresses one of the concerns that many of us face in our relationship with Facebook, namely that we have to be on it in order to promote our business or non-profit. Mendelson reminds us that Facebook is selling an advertising medium and that Mark Zuckerberg and other social media moguls might just be exaggerating its actual effectiveness.

Any of you who administrate a Facebook page for a business or non-profit will know that unless you pay, Facebook’s algorithm will bury your posts. Some other points Mendelson makes in the interview:

  • A 1% click through rate on a paid post is often as good as it gets.
  • Eighty percent of Facebook users are outside of the U.S. If you’re a local business, like say a plant nursery, what good is paying to reach someone in Latvia?
  • Bots equal 60% of internet traffic (something to think about when looking at your stats).
  • What happens if you rely on Facebook as a platform for your business and, like so many other internet companies of the past, Facebook goes out of business?

To illustrate how social media companies exaggerate their advertising power Mendelson offers a personal example. He has 700,000 Twitter followers. When he sent out a tweet about his new book he sold, not hundreds or thousands of copies, but exactly 28. A tweet to his 700,000 Twitter followers asking for a donation to a breast cancer charity netted just $1. While acknowledging that social media can, occasionally, be an effective advertising medium, for most of us it’s probably a big waste of time.

If you listen to the end of KMO’s interview you’ll get a code to download a free copy of Mendelson’s book, Social Media is Bullshit.

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14 Comments

  1. So this whole social media thing turns out to be a scam? What a surprise.

    The only people who still don’t realize this are probably the same ones who send money to Nigerian princes.

  2. I don’t dispute any of the above info, especially about paid posts on Facebook. However, I can say that Facebook has greatly helped grow the small local non profit group I am a part of and Social Media has been key to broadening our exposure and increasing real life engagement.

    The Mt Wilson Bicycling Association is a volunteer group of mainly mountain bikers that does monthly trail work in the Angeles National Forest. The group started in 1986 and in the last 5-10 years has had a resurgence. The public Facebook group for MWBA has been key to engaging the local mountain bike community and has offered a place for people to share trail conditions, problems, successes, etc.

    We currently use Facebook Events to share information about our trail work days and “boosting” those has helped increase turn out. Whether or not that is worth the funds spent is debatable. Personally, I’m not 100% happy with how Facebook Events work and have been looking into other platforms like EventBrite, MemberLeap, etc. However, other platforms for engaging membership are cost significantly more than what we currently spend on “boosting” Facebook events. Especially once you consider email management, member sign up services. etc.

    Instagram has been another massive boost to community exposure for MWBA. It truly has grown our numbers on volunteer work days and reaches a separate community than Facebook. Having engagement from Instagram supporters with large followings has helped the responses to our posts. Local bike shops appreciate the positive posts we make about their support and in turn help spread the word about our trail work.

    Social media has also helped our group network with other like trail work non profits around the country. Through posts we see how others are doing things and inspire each other.

    Despite all of this, I am not a massive fan of social media on many levels. I don’t like the amount of time I end up spending managing these platforms but my responsibility of advertising, promotion, and communication for MWBA includes this. And seeing the big change in our organization over the past 5 years is proof that the time spent on social media engagement has been beneficial.

    MWBA is also a very small non profit. I am sure as things scale up to large non profits and small businesses the returns are very different.

    I think that social media pros/cons are very dependent on the mission of a business/group. Since the main focus of MWBA is volunteer trail work, the goal for social media is community engagement, spreading the word, and getting more people to show up and help make forest trails more sustainable. Social media is definitely benefiting MWBA because of how closely it works with our mission. If we get a few new faces at each month’s trail work, that is success.

    As a small business owner, I think social media for small business is a completely different ball game than for non profits. For my particular business, there is very little return for time spent on social media. That is because my business mission and purpose has little need for “engagement” online. New business is generated by referrals of those who have worked with us and recommend our services to co workers. Repeat business is common due to our high level of customer service. Our industry is focused on in person experience that never really translates to social media.

    So again, I think social media can be a massive benefit to a group/business if its mission would benefit from the engagement and possibility of viral sharing. Return on actual time and financial investment should be evaluated just like every other important business decision.

  3. Here’s some small business data to add to the discussion:

    An instagram friend with 50K followers sang our praises, and that turned into about $1,000 of sales.

    A newsletter I sent to 310 subscribers announcing a sale also turned into about $1,000 in sales.

    In this particular case, the newsletter was 161 times more effective.

    • Yep–just what I’ve noticed too. I’ve noticed that I often buy something because of a newsletter. I don’t think I’ve ever purchased anything because of social media.

  4. I am particularly perturbed When the only way I can engage with a business like Kraft is by joining them on fb consequently losing the coupon or freebie or entry into a sweepstakes. But, I refuse to be lured into whatever they want. If fb does not benefit small business, does it benefit corporations?

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  8. B.J. Mendelson is showing some ignorance here. You can target ads, at least on Facebook. No one in Latvia will see your ad unless you target Latvia. You can also target your ads to friends of people who already like your page, or you can target it to people with similar interests to people who like your page. You can get very specific with the targeting if you want to take the time. I have spent very small sums for Facebook ads and had great response. On the other hand, I get almost no response front print ads or articles. My B&B was on the cover of Texas Highways magazine and I got maybe 2 or 3 bookings from it.

    Good targeting also means not being an annoying advertiser. No one should see your ad unless it something they’re already interested in.

    I have also found Instagram very useful without spending a dime. Posting pretty pictures of my business and then liking other people’s photos with hashtags related to my area has brought me clients.

    • I hope I’m not misrepresenting Mendelson here. At the risk of putting words in his mouth I suspect that he’s thinking about the overall investment of time and money a business might put into Facebook over, say, a well crafted email newsletter.

    • Perhaps he is saying that, and I am only going by your take on it as I haven’t listened to the podcast. The single glaring error of thinking that you can’t target your ads to only your country, let alone a specific region down to a one mile radius (as you can with Facebook) tells me that he has no idea what he’s talking about on that front. I’m not sure what good an email newsletter would be for getting new clients. Most people are not big on receiving unsolicited emails, but they are used to seeing sponsored Facebook posts. If you target friends of people who like your page, they will just see it on their newsfeed with “Sponsored – [Your Friend] likes [Page]” and it’s not obnoxious. My response rates have been way better than 1%, sometimes as high as 20% for post engagement.

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