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Facebook Comes To Charlotte, Promotes Small Businesses Amid Year Of Controversy

Jessa O'Connor / WFAE
A Facebook employee checks a small business owner who attended the Community Boost event.

Public faith in Facebook has been rocky in 2018, amid scandals involving data breaches and the spread of misinformation. Despite a rocky year, some in Charlotte remain loyal to — and active on — the platform, including small businesses.

Credit Jessa O'Connor / WFAE 90.7
The community boost event took place Nov. 28-29 at the Mint Museum in uptown, Charlotte.

Hundreds of small business owners gathered at Mint Museum Uptown for Facebook’s “Community Boost” program, a two-day workshop aimed at teaching people how to best use Facebook and Instagram to promote and grow their small businesses.  The workshop has sessions on how to use targeted ads, how to build groups and how to boost posts for a wider audience.

Charlotte is the 47th out of 50 cities that Facebook is targeting for their events.

As social media becomes more central to small business survival, building up such skills is crucial.

A U.S. Chamber of Commerce study this year found that 55 percent of small business owners in North Carolina find Facebook to be essential to their businesses.

Thor Chitow is one of them, but he’s new to the bandwagon. A mortgage broker who works out of his home in Mooresville, he started using Facebook to find potential clients. He said that on Facebook, he can find a captive audience.

“That’s why it’s attractive to people like me because you can get the average consumer that’s just scanning through Facebook,” Chitow said. “Hopefully, they see my ad, they click on it and say, ‘hey, I need some help with a mortgage.’”

Credit Jessa O'Connor / WFAE 90.7
Thor Chitow, a mortgage banker from Mooresville and uses Facebook as his primary promotional platform.

For the past few weeks, Chitow has been purchasing targeted ads and said it’s already starting to make a difference.

“It’s a lot less to do it yourself instead of paying somebody thousands of dollars a month to get what you call ‘leads’ – which is a person interested in purchasing a home or refinancing,” Chitow said.

He said leads usually cost anywhere from $50 to $200. Now, he spends about $5 to $15 a day on ads — which has evened out to paying less than $4 a lead.

But, Chitow said, navigating Facebook isn’t easy. That’s why he attended the community boost.

“Doing it yourself is a lot more complicated,” he said. “It takes a lot of research and knowledge and all that. And, obviously, there’s no phone number or somebody to help you out at Facebook. So, hopefully, I can get some knowledge to help my advertising.”

Ticora Davis is another Charlottean using Facebook to boost her business. She owns The Creator’s Law Firm, which specializes in intellectual property law.

Davis is a mom who works from her “cloffice” — her term of endearment for her closet-sized home office — while taking care of her children, a 2-year-old and a 3-month-old. When she started her business in 2017, she said her Facebook business page was the first thing she created.

She said placing targeted ads that direct people to her page helps her find her “ideal client.”

Credit Jessa O'Connor / WFAE 90.7
Ticora Davis, owner of The Creator's Law Firm.

“It’s very important because I want to know, and I believe every business owner should know, where is my ideal client?” Davis said. “First and foremost, who is the individual you want to serve and provide a transformation to? And where are they located?”

But Facebook has faced scrutiny over the past year amid numerous scandals involving personal data breaches.

In September, the social media company revealed that up to 50 million users could have been affected by a recent incident where hackers accessed names and contact details of people on the site. They said last month that the number was actually little less — only 30 million users were affected.

But the recent events have inspired public distrust of the social media giant.

Facebook’s Kaitlyn Wilkins said the company is owning up to its mistakes, referencing Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerburg and Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg.

“As you’ve heard Mark and Sheryl say, if we can’t protect peoples’ data, we don’t deserve to have it,” Wilkins said. “So we have a number of initiatives that we have launched outlining steps we are taking to protect peoples’ data and there will be more coming as we continue to put a great deal of focus on that.”

She said the community boost event’s purpose is to continue Facebook’s commitment to small businesses, which she called the “bedrock” of the digital community. Advertising is also the bulk of the company’s revenue, which totaled $13.5 billion in the last quarter.

Credit Jessa O'Connor / WFAE 90.7
Kaitlyn Wilkins, an account manager at Facebook.

Wilkins said the small businesses she works with haven’t expressed concerns over security issues. She said they’re more interested in getting their businesses off the ground.

That seems to be the case for Ticora Davis, who said she doesn’t let clients share personal information on the site.

“If a client messages me, and they will share this is what’s going on with my case or this is my background information, I very quickly tell them that this is not the best place to discuss this,” Davis said.

It’s the same for Chitow.

“I don’t put any of their information on there,” he said. “I have separate, secure systems that I use.”

And as far as his own personal data, Chitow said he isn’t concerned.

“I’m not interesting enough to be worried about any of my information,” he said with a laugh.

Correction: Ticora Davis has two children. It was previously stated that she had a 7-month-old. Her son was 7 months old when she began her business in 2017.