Facebook Canada is reaching out to the small business crowd through a new program called Grand for Good – with the first trial run happening in Toronto.

Running from September to November, Grand for Good will pair up small business owners with teams from 10 Canadian media agencies that use Facebook and social media on a daily basis.

The media agencies, including companies like MEC and MediaCom Canada, will work with small business owners to build a marketing strategy for their Facebook page. An agency will basically take over a small business’ Facebook presence, posting content on its behalf and advertising to users. Then agencies will pass control back to small business owners at the end of November, sharing their strategies and best practices on how to effectively advertise on Facebook.

The program is free for small businesses to join, and Facebook will give each business $5,000 in advertising credits. Facebook Canada is hoping to sign up about 60 businesses in the GTA, and then eventually expand the program to Vancouver, Montreal, and longer-term, to other countries.

“What’s unique about this program is it takes the thought leaders and the experts in the advertising industry that work at the big agencies that typically only work with the Fortune 500 companies, who now can share their expertise … with small businesses that would frankly never get exposure to some of these big agencies,” says Alfredo Tan, group director of global marketing solutions at Facebook Canada.

“This kickstarts their marketing program for six weeks with people who are living and breathing and learning about our platform.”

To apply, businesses need to be Canadian-owned, based in the Greater Toronto Area, non-partisan, and serve customers of all ages. They must also be independently owned and not franchised, although they are permitted to have multiple locations. Their Facebook pages must have under 300 Likes.

Small businesses interested in joining the Grand for Good program can apply here. The deadline to apply is Aug. 23.

About 18 million Canadians log onto Facebook every month, so it only makes sense to go to where the customers are, says Satinder Chera, vice-president of communications at the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB). The organization represents about 190,000 small to mid-sized businesses across Canada.

“Small businesses are obviously looking for cost-effective ways to bring their goods and services to market, and more importantly, be able to reach out to consumers in what is increasingly an e-commerce world,” says Chera, adding CFIB will be promoting Grand for Good through Facebook, Twitter, and emails to its members.

While Chera encourages small businesses to try other advertising tools, like Google AdWords, he says many consumers are doing their shopping online through Facebook. So it only makes sense to gravitate there and treat the social network as one more tool in their advertising arsenal, especially if it doesn’t cost them too much.

Beyond cost-effectiveness, Tan says the program was designed to be time-effective as well. With media agencies doing much of the heavy lifting, small businesses would probably only spend about two to three hours a week on their Facebook strategies during the program, he says.

However, figuring out that Facebook strategy is key, he says. Businesses often have different expectations of what social media should be doing for them, and it’s important to lay those out beforehand, he adds.

“For us, return on investment is basically us allowing a business to achieve whatever objectives they’re interested in driving,” Tan says. “One of those will always be sales, another one could be to increase awareness, to increase our visits, did we get a lot of engagement, do people have a positive sentiment about our brand.”

“So we’re shifting away from the conversation of just what social metrics can Facebook solve for you, but what business and marketing objectives can Facebook solve for you … Working with these small businesses, we’re hoping to show it’s possible at the small business level as well.”

And for small businesses who are interested in doing more with Facebook advertising, but don’t want to apply for the program, they can take free training from Facebook’s Studio Edge curriculum. The program is the same one media agencies will be using before they begin working with small businesses. Registration for Studio Edge is available here.

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