Advertising for customer-facing SMEs

Customer-facing SMEs — shops, bars, restaurants, florists, window-cleaners, child-minders — need no lessons on the importance of advertising. A few lucky ones might be able to rely on word-of-mouth, or existing customers, but most need to actively seek out potential new clients.

For many businesses, advertising is what makes or breaks them. There are few more dispiriting sights than a flower shop full of wilting flowers, and empty of customers, or a new café owner wiping down vacant tables in echoing premises for the hundredth time, just to look busy.

Letting local people know about your local business has always been the sine qua non for any SME anywhere, but the Internet has been a game-changer. Digital Marketing’ has been added to the long list of requirements for an SME. The online world has presented new opportunities as well as challenges, and many SMEs struggle to master online advertising along with all the other demands of running a small business.

That’s why free advertising via proven channels is a key incentive offered by the See Through Carbon pilot.

A brief SME advertising primer

Before the Internet, advertising options were relatively limited. You could distribute leaflets and other forms of direct marketing, or pay to lodge an ad in your local newspaper.

In today’s online world, leafletting is expensive and scattergun, and local newspapers are moribund. Smudgy columns of dense classified ads have long been superceded by online advertising.

Almost everyone knows the biggest platform is Facebook, but not everyone has yet understood the most effective way to advertise on Facebook is not to pay Facebook to boost your ads via your Facebook Page, but to use its Groups.

The Facebook Groups trick

For those not yet in the know, here’s how to reach more local customers for free than paying your local paper for an online ad:

  • join a local community Notice Board Group that links local customers and local businesses, the bigger the better
  • post your ad as a Group member
  • hope the Group’s Moderator will approve your post

Not all Notice Board groups permit business ads, some even charge to approve them, but the key point is that if you post an ad via your Page, Facebook organically’ shows it to a tiny percentage of that Page’s Followers.

For example, if your local newspaper’s Page has 30,000 Followers and they post your ad in their feed, that doesn’t mean it gets seen by 30,000. Facebook only shows your ad to around 2 – 5% of them, unless your local paper pays them to boost’ it. If you’ve already paid the local paper, they have no reason to boost it, so it will only be seen by low hundreds of local customers.

Post your ad directly into a Group, however, and your ad could appear on the timeline of every single member. If the Group is Public, it can even be shared outside the Group, so the potential reach can be higher than even the Group membership.

Many SMEs have worked this out, and post regularly in popular community Notice Board Groups. This is why our pilot is taking place in Salisbury and Chippenham, a small city and medium-size town in the county of Wiltshire, South West England.

These two places have particularly popular, active and engaged Notice Board Facebook Groups. Salisbury Notice Boards membership is more than 30% of the entire population and rising fast. Chippenham Notice Boards membership is already past 40% of the total local population, and growing even faster.

Both happen to be part of the See Through News social media network, and See Through News is one of the key volunteers behind See Through Carbon.

See Through News volunteer Moderators in these two groups decide whether to Approve or Decline posts posted by its members, which include most of their local customer-facing SMEs.

And to help incentivise SMEs to sign up to See Through Carbon, these Moderators are changing the rules on SMEs advertising in these popular Notice Board Groups.

New pilot, new rules

Instead of approving all SME ads, Moderators in these pilot groups will implement a new system, based on four categories. Ads will remain free, but will be restricted to a maximum number of free ads per calendar year, to be deployed at the SME’s discretion.

The category is determined by Relative Score, based on the See Through Carbon Trust’s grade boundaries .

  • Green: Relative score 70 – 100: 50 free ads per year
  • Amber: Relative score 30 – 69: 20 free ads per year
  • Red: Relative score 0 – 29: 10 free ads per year
  • Beige: Haven’t signed up to See Through Carbon: 5 free ads per year

The See Through Carbon pilot offers many incentives to SMEs, but for any customer-facing business, free advertising may be the most immediate and important reason to sign up.