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St. Louis tapped as first city in Facebook tour to help small businesses hone digital skills

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Zuckerberg in St. Louis

FILE PHOTO: Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg in St. Louis Thursday, Nov. 9, 2017, announcing the company's Facebook Community Boost initiative. Photo courtesy of Facebook

A team of Facebook staffers plans to come to St. Louis in 2018 in a bid to help small businesses, entrepreneurs and nonprofit organizations sharpen their digital skills both on and off the social media platform.

St. Louis will be the first stop in a 30-city tour dubbed “Facebook Community Boost,” the social media platform’s representatives told the Post-Dispatch.

Other cities Facebook plans to visit in 2018 are Houston, Albuquerque, N.M., Des Moines, Iowa, and Greenville, S.C. The website for the program is facebook.com/tellcommunityboost.

Facebook’s co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg met with small business owners in the Cortex innovation district in St. Louis on Thursday to announce the new initiative. Zuckerberg is wrapping up a U.S. tour of businesses and other sites this week as part of his goal to visit all 50 states in 2017.

“I’ve visited a lot of communities this year and one theme I’ve found is that strong small businesses create strong communities,” Zuckerberg wrote in a post on his Facebook page Thursday. “That’s because small businesses create jobs, provide services and bring people together.”

Facebook previously held free one-day “Boost Your Business” training programs that attracted 500 participants in two Missouri cities last year, Farmington and Springfield. That program, which trained more than 60,000 small businesses in total, was part of a more than $1 billion investment Facebook said it has made in supporting small businesses since 2011.

With the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Facebook co-sponsored research this summer that showed one in three U.S. small- and medium-sized businesses say they’ve built their business using Facebook and 42 percent of those surveyed said they hired more people due to growth since joining Facebook. Additionally, in Missouri, the survey showed that 73 percent of respondents said that an individual’s digital and social media skills were an important consideration when hiring, even more than where a candidate went to school.

“We really see an opportunity to have a greater impact by doing more because we know it’s working,” Facebook’s Aneesh Raman, a member of Facebook’s global policy team, said of the new Facebook Community Boost.

While Facebook usage is growing, of the more than 70 million small businesses that use its service, only 6 million advertise on the social media platform.

The new Facebook Community Boost coming to St. Louis next year, which will be free to attend, will provide more advanced digital and social media training for entrepreneurs launching a new business and give business owners assistance on ways to grow outside their current markets by using Facebook advertising. Digital literacy training will also be available for individuals who’ve never been online.

“We’ve heard from small businesses that they’d like a more expanded offering,” Raman said, adding Facebook is still determining how the program will be structured. Information on the sites and dates will be announced later.

“We want to go to where people on the ground say we can have the biggest impact,” Raman said.

The effort comes as Facebook ads have come under scrutiny after the company revealed content gathered by a Russian group reached millions of Facebook users during U.S. elections last year. Facebook representatives said the company will seek to verify political ad buyers, root out fake accounts and allow Facebook users the ability to see more information about an ad’s backers.

Lisa Brown • 314-340-8127

@lisabrownstl on Twitter

lbrown@post-dispatch.com

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