Facebook to help businesses thrive in 2021

By NUR HAZIQAH A MALEK / Pic AFP

CONSUMERS’ behavioural change this year has led to companies shifting to e-commerce and cross-border businesses.

Facebook Inc Asia-Pacific global business group VP Karen Teo said 45% of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in East Asia and Pacific made more than a quarter of their sales through digital channels, according to an ongoing study called the State of Small Business Research.

“As such, small businesses expect to face significant challenges next year, with the top two most commonly cited were lack of demand and cashflow constraints,” she said at the Facebook APAC Day 2020.

Hence, the move aims to ensure survivability of SMEs as they are expected to sell more through digital channels, hoping to mitigate the negative impacts the global pandemic has on business.

“SMEs who can sell their products online may be better equipped to adapt to the economic conditions brought about by the pandemic.

“However, the study also found that 53% of small business leaders are struggling to cover their household bills, while 55% of SMEs in the region report a fall in sales; yet over half of business owners in the region say they are optimistic about their future,” she said.

She added that despite the rise in e-commerce adoption, more women-owned SMEs have been shutting down in every region, including Asia Pacific.

“At the height of the lockdown in May, female-led businesses closure rate was 7% higher than male-led SMEs.

“This gap has started to close, but it is estimated that women’s jobs are 1.8 times more vulnerable to the current economic downturn than men’s,” she said.

In addition, 20% of female business leaders said they spend six hours or more per day on domestic responsibilities, versus only 12% men.

As such, new tools have been introduced by Facebook and Instagram to support SMEs.

“We are offering a few programmes via Facebook, such as the Small Business Grants Programme, as well as the use of #SupportSmallBusiness hashtag and Facebook virtual sessions.

“On top of that, we are also offering free resources, education and training to help small businesses gear up for the festive season,” she said.

Facebook’s goal is to build pro- ducts that make running a business easier and time-saving for entrepreneurs, so they can focus on growing the business.

“Most SMEs cannot afford to buy broad-reach media, therefore, Facebook’s free and paid tools allow business owners to reach customers who matter.

“A majority of the 200 million businesses use free products such as Pages, Inbox, Messenger and Jobs,” she said.

Also under the group’s purview are Instagram and WhatsApp, both of which have seen implementations of new tools to help businesses grow.

Instagram Asia-Pacific market operations director Kaylie Smith said the group has also introduced new tools, while seeing its existing tools being used by businesses.

“For example, @meccanismindonesia, a modest fashion company, has been using Instagram to perform fashion shows and promote their flash sales via live showing,” she said.

Additionally, users can use the #SupportSmallBusinesses stickers to further support SMEs that are on the platform.

“New to Instagram is the added ‘Shop’ feature which allows users to browse through the catalogues of the businesses they follow on the platform,” she said.

The Shop button has replaced the former “notification” tab on Instagram, where users can choose to browse through random shops or the editor’s picks.

Further implementing the use of businesses on social media, customers can also scan a QR code a business displays on its storefront, product packaging or receipt to initiate a chat, which is directly integrated with WhatsApp.

WhatsApp product management director Ajit Varma said WhatsApp itself now has Catalog, Cart and automated messages, which help business owners to personally connect with customers.

“There are currently over 50 million WhatsApp Business app users globally.

“The WhatsApp Business API tool is an enterprise solution for companies operating at a larger scale like telecommunications companies, e-commerce and banks.

“Aside from responding to incoming messages from consumers, businesses can also send custom notifications like shipping confirmations, appointment reminders or event tickets,” he said.

Prior to this, Instagram business owners have already added “WhatsApp link” to their Instagram profiles for customers to make orders or inquiries.