Facebook research shows that nearly nine in 10 operational small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) worldwide are using at least one of the Facebook family of apps. These include Facebook, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, WhatsApp Business and Instagram.

Advertising and selling goods or services online are other predominant uses of digital tools and integral to connecting SMBs to customers, according to the latest edition of Facebook's Global State of Small Business Report. Over half of SMBs (55% globally) reported using digital tools to communicate with customers.

Our research shows that one in two small businesses in South Africa has yet to see revenues recover to pre-pandemic levels. Our aim is to provide tools and solutions that will empower them to navigate the challenges of the ongoing pandemic; find new customers, create revenue streams and, ultimately, thrive in a time of adversity.

Here are six ways that small businesses can grow their online presence and master the challenges of the Covid crisis:

1. Create engaging content

To make the most of your Facebook and Instagram presence, it's important to make sure that your content is compelling and to post frequently. We recommend posting two to three times per week.

Begin by defining the business goal that you're trying to achieve, such as getting people to attend an event, building brand awareness or driving sales. Then, you can tailor your messaging to encourage people to take action.

Visual content captures attention, so be sure to include a visual element in your post, like a photo or video, to connect with your customers. You can produce high-quality photos and videos easily from your phone, so this doesn’t need to be expensive.

Facebook will soon launch new ways to publish and schedule stories on mobile and desktop, save posts as drafts and edit scheduled posts. These new features will help businesses save time, schedule easily and create compelling content to connect with their customers.

2. Run virtual events

If you run a services business that depends on face-to-face interactions — be it playing live music, hosting business conferences or running fitness classes — the pandemic may have been especially challenging for you.

With Facebook Paid Online Events, you can create, market, charge a one-time fee and gate access to a live virtual experience. This enables you to keep serving customers who don’t feel quite ready to join you face-to-face for an event or class.

3. Fast-track into e-commerce

It’s no longer complex or expensive to run your own customisable e-commerce shop. With Facebook Shops, you can set up an online store within minutes, using simple tools to create an attractive branded storefront that works on both Facebook and Instagram.

4. Get serious about online lead generation

During these challenging times, most small businesses could use more customers. Facebook’s lead ads are a great way to find new prospects. When someone clicks your ad, a prepopulated Instant Form lets them request a quote, a consultation or an appointment. Facebook has introduced new optimisation goals for ad campaigns to help you do this even more effectively.

The new Conversion Leads goal for Lead Ads optimises for quality instead of volume — connecting you with the best leads, faster. Call ads, meanwhile, enable advertisers to connect with customers in real-time by including a Call Now button in their ads. The new Calls optimisation goal can help improve performance of Call ads and lower cost per call.

5. Build an online community

Your business's Facebook page can help you build a community around your brands and products. The new page experience gives you the tools to manage your business page without leaving the Facebook app. Businesses can now engage as their business profile, making tasks like commenting, posting and liking as a business easier.

With a dedicated business News Feed, separate from your personal one, you can easily engage with your communities and find relevant content from other businesses.

6. Explore the Business Resource Hub

We know that operating your business may be more difficult than usual during these uncertain times. Find tips, training and more to help you stay open and connected to customers during the coronavirus outbreak on the Facebook Business Resource Hub.

Digital platforms have made it easier for small business owners to grow and develop their brands for long-term success, with social media playing a pivotal role if one understands how to use it wisely.

The first steps are to understand your target audience while using the right tools and creating engaging content to help grow your online presence.

For more information, visit www.facebook.com