Facebook's self-serve advertising has been a phenomenal hit with small businesses: The company recently announced that it has more than 2 million active advertisers, the vast majority of them small and independent firms. 

But Facebook thinks its ads could be even more popular if business owners knew what to do with them. Advertising in Google search is pretty easy: You pay some money to have your results show up at the top of the screen. Promoting a post into Facebook's News Feed is trickier. "You're competing with stories about your family and your puppies and that New York Times article about germs on the subway," says Jim Therkalsen, a creative strategist at the Facebook Creative Shop.

Facebook opened the Creative Shop last summer to address that problem and help get small businesses over the various hurdles that keep them from making use of its ad products. For the most part, entrepreneurs understand that their target customers are on Facebook, and they know the social network offers sophisticated ways of targeting them. 

What they don't know, in a nutshell, is how to do advertising. Big companies have marketing departments and outside agencies to walk them through it. Restaurants and boutiques are flying solo. But they don't need to be, says Mark D'Arcy, chief creative officer of the Creative Shop. "All of the things we talk about with big brands are true for small and medium-sized businesses as well," he says. 

In recent months, the Creative Shop has sought to underscore that lesson with what it calls Story Packs. These are basically ad campaign templates, tailored to specific industries and designed to resemble the kind of content that performs well in News Feed. Right now there are Story Packs for restaurants and retail businesses, with each featuring examples of ads centered on people, places, things and news. 

To make a Story Pack, the Creative Shop selects a real business and sends what amounts to a creative SWAT team to get to know the owners and figure out how to tell their story in words and  pictures. The idea is that a business owner wondering where to start with sponsored posts can look at a Story Pack for a similar business and more or less clone it, swapping in their own photos and copy. This approach is "scalable, but it's also relevant and verticalized," says Keara Tanella, another creative strategist. 

In tandem with Story Packs, the Creative Shop offers Creative Tips for the small-business owner to use when filling in the blanks. The tips are often as simple as "Don't use clip art" or "Don't write 300-word posts," says Therkalsen. "These are things that, if you're talking to an agency or a brand manager, it seems like a no-brainer, but if you're talking to a coffee shop or a guy who owns three dray cleaners, it may not seem as obvious." 

Published on: Apr 3, 2015