Next week is the annual publicity opportunity known as National Small Business Week. That’s the Small Business Administration-sponsored occasion for entrepreneurs to attend information sessions on such topics as online marketing and health-care reform. It also offers big corporations and politicians a chance to express their admiration for moms and pops. The result is an awkward mix—there’s no harm in fawning over small business owners for a week, but there’s also no escaping that political and corporate sponsors are in it to promote themselves.
Now we can count Facebook (FB) among the supplicants to Main Street. The social media giant said today that it will host a series of “boot camp-style events” for small business owners. The idea is to convene small business experts and local entrepreneurs to discuss how small business owners can use Facebook for marketing. Representatives from Intuit (INTU), Square, and LegalZoom—big companies that also sell services to small businesses—are participating, too. The program, dubbed Facebook Fit, will travel to New York, Miami, Chicago, Austin, Tex., and the tech giant’s hometown of Menlo Park, Calif.
The sessions are scheduled from June to August, so they don’t actually coincide with National Small Business Week, but they appear to be similar in spirit. Business owners get some training, Facebook gets some good will, not to mention access to some potential customers. About 25 million small businesses have active Facebook pages, according to Dan Levy, director of small business at the company. Even entrepreneurs frustrated with changes in how Facebook treats their posts seem to see the social network as a good way to reach customers, though it’s worth noting that most use Facebook as a free marketing tool.
About one million pay for ads each month, says Levy. To help boost that number, Facebook is charging $25 for its boot camp sessions, then rebating the sum as a $50 credit for Facebook ads. Given that there’s only room for so many business owners at each Facebook Fit session, the program will have limited use in converting Facebook page owners to paying advertisers. More important, the boot camp program—like many other small business training program before it—may be most useful in letting Facebook show Main Street that it cares.