Social media is the common marketplace for just about everything these days, supplying forms of cultural and real world currency to billions of users. It's often a democratizing force for creators and businesses operating in highly competitive markets and systems which make it difficult to succeed.
That's especially the case for businesses started and run by women, which received only 1.9 percent of a $238.3 billion venture capital market in 2022 (Opens in a new tab). And entrepreneurs of color contend with additional barriers to entry (Opens in a new tab), contributing to vast underrepresentation in invested funding.
It's a difficult environment that funnels many small business owners into a DIY-esque system of cost-effective planning and social media-based marketing, which frequently relies on the benefits of online virality. But behind the scenes, business owners are doing much more on their social platforms than just praying that their next post hits the algorithmic lottery. They are utilizing a vast network of free resources developed by companies pushing for a marketplace where entrepreneurs are eager to monetize their own social posting as an alternative, or supplement, to traditional strategies.
That especially goes for tech giant Meta's platforms, Facebook and Instagram, which have long integrated business tools on their sites. Now the company hosts a Meta Business Suite (Opens in a new tab) for account holders looking to centralize their business operations across platforms, as well as a seamless shopping and checkout experience on both Facebook and Instagram. Meta's even made an effort to support women-led businesses and business owners of color through scholarship and skill-building opportunities, free advertising spots, and leadership avenues — creating a global online network of small business owners.
No matter the size or reach of your enterprise, there's probably a Meta resource that could help you out. Knowing just how much information is out there, though, Mashable spoke to entrepreneurs and the business-savvy team at Meta to get the best advice.
Monique Glover is the founder and CEO of natural skincare and beauty brand LaMonique Cosmetics (Opens in a new tab) and is pretty much as close to a Meta Business expert as you can get. The 47-year-old started her vitamineral aromatherapy brand in 2017, after becoming concerned about ingredients in many popular beauty products used by Black women in her community, and began advertising on social media in 2020. Since then, Glover has gotten her products into gift bags at the Oscars and in the hands of celebs, and she is on the fast track to exporting her products internationally.
"Between Facebook and Instagram, you can actually advertise all over the world without paying regular marketing prices," explained Glover. "You're able to reach a very large consumer base and create brand awareness, which is really important because you can have the greatest product, but if nobody knows that you have it, it's pretty much useless. Using social media has really been a turning point in my business and in my life."
She joins other business owners like Annette Njau, a lawyer by trade and the owner of socially-conscious fashion brand House of Takura (Opens in a new tab), who utilize the cross-platform tools to manage advertising and customer service for their brands. The 45-year-old started the full brand, named after her now college-aged son, in 2017 after designing a fashion line inspired by her home country of Sierra Leone.
"The reality of the matter is I'm not a business person. I don't know how to run a business. I just knew I liked a certain kind of look and I wanted everybody else out there to have the opportunity to have that look," she said. But, just like millions of others, Njau did know that when her fashion line started gathering attention she needed to do one thing: Start an Instagram page.
Before you can effectively use your social platforms, you have to handle some basics. According to both Glover and the Meta team that spoke to Mashable, the first thing every business owner needs to do is claim their business handles immediately. Creating a Facebook Business Page and claiming your business name on Instagram can go a long way in avoiding a conflict down the line.
Next, create a personalized business plan that breaks down just how much you want to spend on marketing, specifically allotting for social media spending, which can come in forms like paid advertising or boosting posts. Meta has a helpful breakdown (Opens in a new tab) of everything you need to consider, as well as a guided tool to building your own marketing plan (Opens in a new tab).
Njau says that an easy mistake business pages make is not enabling checkout on all platforms. Find out how to do that using Meta's Commerce Manager. (Opens in a new tab)
Glover also notes that enabling Meta Pay (Opens in a new tab), Meta's in-house payment platform, has really helped her sales. "It's kind of like their own version of PayPal. When people order from a website, they want to use something that they feel comfortable with and that's secure. If you're on Instagram, and you're shopping, you already trust the platform."
In the long term, you might need to factor in paying someone to manage your social media on your behalf, says Njau, who recently brought on a professional social media manager to help her take advantage of all of Meta's marketing opportunities. "Number one: It's got to be at a time where you can pay the person a living wage."
And try to be an early adopter to all of Meta's new launches, Njau says. "It almost feels like every time you early-adopt something, Meta keeps that in mind. When something new rolls out, you're seeing it first on your personal profile, before everybody else is seeing it."
Meta's essentially launching a new tool, course, or quick tips guide every week, but Meta told Mashable that business owners should pay attention to three main Meta resources:
Meta for Business, or the Meta Business Suite (Opens in a new tab), is the main page for all business and advertising needs across platforms, offering how-to guides, certifications, and marketing insights about online advertising.
"It's a great place to start," the Meta team explained. "It helps small businesses build a personalized marketing plan for step-by-step guidance on meeting specific needs and goals, [as well as find] inspiration from other businesses while providing industry insights and tools to track your progress, all in one place."
Check out Meta's guide to building brand awareness (Opens in a new tab) or its introduction to advertising (Opens in a new tab), with specifics for all platforms.
Meta Blueprint offers free, self-guided courses to help business owners build their marketing skills across Meta’s family of apps, like how to create digital gift cards for your business (Opens in a new tab) or host profitable online events.
The site also connects business owners to Meta's certification opportunities (Opens in a new tab) intended to establish and prove expertise in areas like Marketing Science (Opens in a new tab), Media Buying (Opens in a new tab), and Community Management (Opens in a new tab).
The Performance Hub is a Meta Business site which "offers a framework with five data-proven actions that small and medium-sized businesses can take to improve ad performance and maximize marketing budgets," Meta explained.
Here, entrepreneurs can find analytics-based advice and a system for using Meta's Conversions API and Pixel (Opens in a new tab), which connect your business' marketing data (from partner sites outside of Meta) to Meta's platforms to track reach and impact.
Glover credits a lot of her initial success to a free Meta advertising credit (Opens in a new tab), given to her by the company during the pandemic's stay-at-home orders. "I received this email from Meta with a $10 ad credit, and I was like, 'What am I going to do with this?' And then I finally figured it out. I did some research and I created this ad, and I said, 'Wow, with just this $10, I've made about $300,'" she said. Be on the lookout for free credit promotions like these, which can help expand your reach and boost your ads.
She also encourages business owners to check out other free classes offered on Coursera (Opens in a new tab), an online education platform which oversees the free Meta Social Media Marketing Professional Certificate (Opens in a new tab).
In addition, Njau suggests business owners consider applying to Meta's Leaders Network (Opens in a new tab), like she did. The network connects fellow small business owners with resources (like ad credits and networking), and marketing and press opportunities, as well as exclusive access to upcoming products and new policies.
Something that both Njau and Glover have had to adjust to is the success of video content over other forms of natural posting. Njau saw a marked difference when she started posting Reels that gave a behind-the-scenes look into her business process, including the production of her goods by her teams of makers in places like Kenya. "It gives people an insight, the behind-the-scenes look into your business. I think maybe IGTV and regular videos didn't do that as well before," she said, noting how Reels allows users much more editing and sharing flexibility than previous video options.
Njau is right, according to Meta. "In the last six months, reshares of Reels have more than doubled, making Reels a huge opportunity for small businesses to reach new customers," the company said.
That said, as trends and tools shift constantly, "it can be hard for small businesses to find time to master new creative formats," Meta acknowledged, "and video can be especially intimidating to get started."
To support the streamlining of that effort, Meta's Creator Studio lets users publish, schedule, and manage all content across Facebook and Instagram in a single place. This includes cross-posting, calendar management, bulk-uploads to accounts, and the ability to create content series on their pages. The studio's app lets you manage multiple Facebook pages at once, as well.
The company has also published more direct guides to starting a video-based page. "We have developed a number of resources to help small businesses take those first steps, like step-by-step guides (Opens in a new tab) or plug-and-play templates in the app, to make it easy to test out your own creativity with trending formats and audio. We encourage that when starting out with Reels, businesses brush up on best practices for mobile-first video (Opens in a new tab), capturing short (under 15 seconds) videos, on a mobile device in vertical format for mobile viewing to get the best results."
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Having been on the app for years, Njau explained she's witnessed a shift in the ethos of Meta platforms, from highly-curated, aspirational posting to more real, everyday posts. This has impacted how she builds brand loyalty online.
Meta says that's easily translatable into posting as a business. "Be intentional and think about what you are offering to your customers, what solution you’re providing, and focus your posts around that."
That goes for direct interactions with customers, as well. "Three-quarters of adults globally say they want to communicate with businesses via messaging in the same way they communicate with friends and family," Meta explained. "As a result, we’ve seen a major shift in the need for customers to connect directly to businesses online as they would in person." Meta Business platforms integrate messaging tools like Messenger, Instagram Direct, and even WhatsApp on behalf of business owners.
Glover says that the biggest success story in using Meta advertising tools isn't something that can be seen on the customer-facing side of her social pages. "It's not always about the likes and followers, it's about your reach," she said. By using their dynamic ad offerings, she said, "my reach went from 200 [people] to 510,000. And when you can reach a massive amount of people, you can broaden your consumer base and convert that reach into sales, building your business on a dime."
"When I say be authentic, I mean remember that you're a human being at the end of the day," Njau said. "People like that. People want to know that you have the same struggles as them. I'm so grateful for the community that keeps me going every day. As a business owner, I'm unapologetically me. I don't have time to be anybody else."
Both Glover and Njau started their businesses with a personal story and mission tied to their identities as Black women, an aspect which is integral to their brands and success.
For Glover, using sites like Instagram to build her business is about doing good for her community. "As an African American woman creating these products, I know that in a lot of urban neighborhoods beauty supply stores carry toxic cosmetics, so I wanted to alleviate that. I'm also a survivor of domestic violence," she explained. "I wanted to do something where I could empower women through beauty." Combining both her birth name and the new name she had to assume to protect her and her children, Glover started LaMonique.
For Njau, her business is about paving a future for global communities and the African diaspora, as well as encouraging the social impact partnerships (Opens in a new tab) that empower her makers. "I have a heart for the continent. I'm hoping my kids and their grandkids will see it in their lifetime, where people are not surprised that high-end items come from Africa, where the youth unemployment rate is not 65 percent on the continent, where people are valued."
For strategic entrepreneurs, goals like these could be achievable — especially if companies and money-holders step up to promote equity and support the missions of socially-conscious, diversity-first businesses.
"Women and minority-led businesses are often hit hardest by macro-economic challenges like the pandemic and inflation, and saw higher closure rates during the pandemic, according to our research (Opens in a new tab)," Meta told Mashable. To address this, the company created programs like Meta Elevate (Opens in a new tab), which offers resources to help Black and Latinx users build digital skills for business ownership and distributes scholarships (Opens in a new tab) to fund professional certifications. Glover was a recipient of such a grant, which she used to obtain a Digital Marketing Associate Certification.
There's also Meta Prosper (Opens in a new tab), which facilitates learning and economic opportunities for Asian and Pacific Islander-owned businesses, and the SheMeansBusiness (Opens in a new tab) program, a Meta series that has trained more than a million women in 38 countries on digital tools. For Women's History Month, Meta also just launched the Women's Community Impact Guide (Opens in a new tab) to help "build business, community, and momentum" toward women's equality.
"I believe in the power of persistence," Njau said. "Be consistent, be authentic, be responsible."