UPDATE: This story has been updated to include an additional, clarifying response from Facebook.

Facebook recently announced it plans to invest $1 billion in programs for small businesses in 2018--an amount nearly equal to its investment in similar initiatives over the past seven years combined. But it's not exactly rolling in the "likes" so far.

While Mark Zuckerberg focuses on damage control following the Cambridge Analytica data scandal, his 14-year-old social network this week kicked off a 30-city tour for a digital skills training program starting in St. Louis. That's on top of a previously announced expansion of its jobs platform, which debuted in the U.S. and Canada a year ago.

"We know there is more Facebook can do to connect people and businesses," says Alex Himel, vice president of local, in a press release announcing the new initiatives. "Since 2011, Facebook has invested more than $1 billion to help local businesses grow and help people find jobs. And in 2018, we plan to invest the same amount in more teams, technology, and new programs. Because when businesses succeed, communities thrive."

Don't get too excited, though. If the company's new jobs tool is any indication, what Facebook has planned for that $1 billion may well underwhelm--particularly if you were hoping for a slick LinkedIn-like platform. And while the tool itself is free, to best use it, you'd better be prepared to open your wallet.

Jobs, in Focus

Facebook began its latest small-business initiative with the wider rollout of its jobs platform. The feature, which will expand into 40 new markets this year, lets businesses post job openings on their respective Facebook pages for free, while users can apply for them directly without leaving the platform. Listings also get posted to Facebook's jobs platform and marketplace, making them visible to those who may not follow a specific company.

"The primary benefit that exists is the ability to target on the basis of interests," says Kai Wright, a lecturer at Columbia University who has built a career advising giant companies in advertising, public relations, and media. "That is by far the differentiator between Facebook offering job services versus LinkedIn. But that 'interest data' is yet to be seen." What's more, he's skeptical that the company could successfully reframe Facebook as a place to find jobs. Typically, Wright notes, the No. 1 thing people do when they're looking for a job is to lock their Facebook profiles. "It's counterintuitive," he adds.

Despite noting three positive reviews of its jobs tool in the press release announcing the expansion, close to a dozen businesses using the service report mixed results. (Facebook declined to say how many businesses are using the tool.) With the exception of three companies, two of which pay to promote their listings, none of the businesses Inc. spoke with mentioned an uptick in job applicants after using the tool. What's more, nearly everyone said that their job postings had a low "reach" number, meaning the number of people who might have seen it, compared with a typical post or considering their pages' follower count.

Not for Pros

"The rumor is that it's working for more mass-market sorts of positions," says Jacque Paige, one of the owners of Smith Hanley, a Southport, Connecticut-based recruitment agency specializing in placing highly skilled workers.

She started testing the service in October, and has been posting frequently since February this year. The company currently has 11 open listings, including data scientist, analyst, and medical positions. With the exception of data-related jobs--which she calls a "hot topic" and get seen by between 73 and 88 people--her other listings typically reach 10 to 20 people, a number she calls low. "We're going to keep trying it," she says. "We assume at some point that Facebook will start charging for it, so while it is free, we want to use it and see if it works for us."

Indeed, Facebook may not be the best place for employers looking to fill specialized positions, says Matt Lozar, a social media marketing adviser at Haley Marketing in New York. "I don't think it works great for those information technology jobs, for the six figure jobs. It works better for more of--not lower-paying--but lower salary jobs," he says. "I think those job candidates are spending more time on Facebook and looking for jobs there."

Facebook, for its part, isn't billing itself as another LinkedIn, which has staked out these professional types for its jobs platform. "We know that one in four people in the U.S. have searched for or found a job using Facebook, so we're focused on helping those who want to work for the local businesses they love," Facebook's Himel tells Inc.

Facebook declined to comment on how its jobs feature works for specialized positions, but Himel adds: "We're always looking for more [feedback] so we can improve our tools."

Not Quite Free

Another area where improvement is needed, say users, is the cost.

Michelle Allen, co-owner of three Edible Arrangement stores in North Carolina, says that the one thing she doesn't like about the tool is that she has to spend money on it. She is referring to the cost of so-called "boosting" a post. A boosted listing works like an ad, which gets distributed across the platform to users who might not follow you but have indicated interest in the same topics as your target audience. 

"If you want to boost [a post], they have a minimum of $10 per day," she says. Facebook job listings are live for 30 days, but Allen only boosts her listing one or two days early in the process.

Facebook offers an estimate of how many people could see your job listing if you boost it. For $10, Allen's job listings could reach anywhere between 1,000 and 2,700 people. It's not a guarantee, however. Last December, she spent $18 on a post that reached 3,010 people. A month later, in January, she spent $30 on a different listing that reached just over 1,000 people. 

Beckie Orszula also pays to boost her company's listings, but she's not bothered by the cost. After using the tool for a few months, the digital marketing manager for Forge Industrial Staffing says she has seen an increase in applicants. "I would say maybe 60 percent of applicants off of Facebook we were able to hire," she adds. The Grand Rapids, Michigan-based industrial recruiting company typically posts general labor positions, such as machine operators, production workers, and shipping and packing clerks. Orszula declined to comment on the company's budget for boosting its listings.

Facebook declined to comment on the record on why free job listings had lower reach numbers compared with regular posts. It offered, instead, an explanation of how a posting might get seen.

"Job posts are distributed just like any other Page post in News Feed," says Gaurav Dosi, a Facebook product manager for jobs, in an emailed statement. "A business's post can also be found on the businesses' Page, in the Jobs dashboard where people can search all open roles around them, or via Marketplace."

Not Over Yet

To be sure, it's still early days for Facebook's jobs tool. As more companies sign up for it, options should expand--and demand for higher skilled professionals may increase. It's also worth noting that employers generally do need to pay to post a job listing on other platforms. So even if Facebook's offering doesn't end up being free, it still may be very helpful for certain types of businesses.

And Facebook could still have something really helpful for small businesses up its sleeve for 2018. Though, when asked specifically about what's in the works for the $1 billion investment, company spokespeople declined to immediately offer details. Following publication, Facebook tells Inc. the money will be allocated for "technology, Pages, our jobs tool, trainings like Blueprint, and other programs like SheMeansBusiness and Community Boost." 

Even so, its ubiquity can't be understated, says Lozar. "People are spending a lot of time on Facebook," he says. "They are coming home from work, they might be frustrated with their jobs, and they might see the right job posting."

Published on: Mar 30, 2018