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Goodbye, Google: Miami small businesses spend on Instagram to reach customers

Sisters Isabel, left, and Susana Garcia Nevett at their Garcia Nevett - Chocolatier de Miami on Wednesday Dec. 12, 2018.
Sisters Isabel, left, and Susana Garcia Nevett at their Garcia Nevett - Chocolatier de Miami on Wednesday Dec. 12, 2018. pfarrell@miamiherald.com

Isabel and Susana Garcia, the proprietors of Garcia Nevett - Chocolatier de Miami, have three business “storefronts.”

One opened four months ago on Southwest 57th Street in South Miami. The sisters, immigrants from Venezuela, have been making chocolate confections for a decade. When they arrived in Miami almost a decade ago, they restarted their business out of their homes, then expanded to wholesale. This year, they decided they wanted to make their brand more experiential, and opened up a retail shop. You can see (and smell) the chocolate being made throughout the day. Today the sisters sell more than 4,000 items per week.

The sisters’ second and third “storefronts” are their Instagram and Facebook pages. There, they have approximately 10,000 followers and counting.

“It’s the biggest platform we have for launching new products,” she said.

It also gives followers a tantalizing snapshot of what they’re cooking up that day, she said.

“People trust you when you have your account and you’re posting frequently,” she said. “They feel involved in the business. We are a small business every day making chocolates, and we are trying to build trust in our brand.”

Facebook has made headlines recently for its data collection policies and political maneuvers. But the social media giant’s platforms remain essential tools for small businesses. The company currently is promoting its Facebook Boost initiative, a series of workshops designed to help small businesses, entrepreneurs and job seekers grow their businesses and develop new digital skills they need to compete in today’s economy. The company will be hosting its Miami events at the James L. Knight Center Dec. 18-20. Registration forms can be found at fcbmiami.splashthat.com.

These days, Isabel estimates 60 percent of Garcia Nevett’s advertising budget now goes toward reaching eyeballs on Instagram and Facebook. (Facebook bought the photo-sharing platform in 2012.)

It’s a sign that small businesses are increasingly turning to Facebook’s platforms to reach customers — and a sign of Google’s waning influence.

A decade or so ago, small businesses spent thousands each year on search-engine optimization, buying keywords and banner ads to get to the top of Google’s search rankings.

Today, Google is literally shrinking. According to online market research group eMarkerter, Google is set to lose 2.3 percent of the digital advertising market, while Facebook (including Instagram) will gain nearly 1 percent.

Monica Peart, senior forecasting director at eMarketer, says businesses large and small are increasingly turning to Facebook, which turns out to be, simply, a better product.

“Facebook (including Instagram) represents one of the only online properties that offers the very detailed audience targeting that advertisers have come to rely upon,” Peart said in an email. “This is especially true for small business advertisers which may sell more niche products and services to specific audiences.”

Peart noted these audiences can be targeted based upon their location, age, gender — and importantly, a host of actions they’ve taken while using Facebook or Instagram. It also helps that Facebook’s and Instagram’s apps are consistently among the top internet properties visited by internet users each month.

“Therefore advertisers in many cases can consistently target ads to their unique customers and potential new customers through the use of more recently available Facebook features,” she said, “such as ‘Lookalike audiences’ which can prove extremely powerful for small businesses that have more specialized audiences.”

Christina Ortiz, owner of Christie Pea Beauty Lounge in Sunset, has 2,000 loyal clients a month. She used to spend about about $250 a month bidding on Google keywords to get her shop to the top of Google rankings.

Her Google AdWords spend in 2018? Zero.

Ortiz says her clients, who tend to be younger, are now more likely to find her shop through Instagram and Facebook.

“People want to be engaged,” she said.

Google has turned into a relatively passive tool, she said. But with Instagram and Facebook, she says, interacting with customers — and selling them products and services — is front and center.

“We express [our culture] in our posts,” she said. “It helps someone new learn what we are, what we represent. For someone walking into our establishment, we can give them anticipation of what to expect.”

She says she is now seeing as many as 200 new customers a month.

Chase Rodriguez is the co-founder of Sabal Coffee, located in the St. Roch Market in the Miami Design District. Sabal has only been open a few months and has not yet put together a full advertising budget; so far, word of mouth has been working. So has Google Maps — which lets any business set up a page for free. In the last 30 days Sabal has gotten about 1,600 customers.

“Even as a Google search user, I’m more likely to use Google Maps to look for coffee than the regular search feature,” Rodriguez said.

Spending on Google Ads would be a waste of money, he said.

Instead, Rodriguez says Sabal would likely hire a social media company to help curate its Instagram and Facebook presence, once it is ready to do so.

“That is important,” he said. “We would want to hire someone who knows what they’re doing, and has the time to do it.”

Rob Wile covers business, tech, and the economy in South Florida. He is a graduate of Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism. He grew up in Chicago.

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