The Facebook ConnectAmericas Challenge
On Wednesday 8 November at the Hyatt conference centre, The Ministry of Planning & Development (MOD) in conjunction with the Inter American Development Bank launched the first event in its planned roll out of “Vision 2030”. Called, quite simply, “The Facebook ConnectAmericas Challenge” its an attempt to begin to change the course of this country’s economy and this is no easy feat. This Vision 2030 is really a recycling of the old Vision 2020 where the government hopes to wean the country off the teat of Oil and Gas exports to a diversified economy. One, in this case, that centers around being the Information Communications Technology hub of the Caribbean and Latin America. Ms Karina Coburn, Chief of Operations of the IDB in Trinidad & Tobago, in her keynote address, made it clear that the IDB with the GORTT, want desperately to maintain the appearance that diversification is a number one priority.
To do this the MOD and the IDB have engaged Facebook to come on board as partners in an attempt to bring local Small and Medium Enterprise companies (SME’s) up to speed in using the “new” digital online technology. The event was two fold, introduce the IDB’s online tool for helping SME’s access and work in international and regional markets. As well as bring Facebook as a “partner” to help expand SME’s reach outside of T&T’s shores. In both cases “social networking” was the theme of this event.
Nothing New here to see, move along
Unfortunately that ship has sailed. Many years ago. There may be few companies in T&T who don’t have a Facebook presence in 2017 but many of them don’t know how to utilize it to its full potential. There was more promised here that wasn’t actually revealed throughout the progress of the presentations.
Social Network for Entrepreneurs – ConnectAmericas
One such initiative exclusively designed to help small and medium business is the ConnectAmeicas portal presented by Francisco Desouza, a Trade Specialist at the IDB. Its described as a “Social Network for Entrepreneurs.” One always gets a little weary when someone presents yet another “social network”. However the site boasts a huge membership from all over Latin America as well as providing not just networking capabilities, but training as well. As one commentor said, “thats the main reason to join”. Mr Desouza was adamant in his contribution that this resource is for SMEs to expand their markets and bring in much needed revenue from outside of Trinidad & Tobago. Can another social network can deliver on that promise? After all finding an export market might be made easier but turning a profit from it, is another.
This is the GORTT’s hope that moving toward 2030 local SME’s would have increased revenue streams via increased exports. The next step would be taxing said SME’s to recover much needed funds to run the country, but the jump from that to this is very huge and the gap is very large.
Facebook, 2008 Redux
If you were a business person in 2008 your marketing person would have come to you and told you about “Facebook” and that everyone’s on “it.” “Not everyone is on it! Why should I spend money to go there?” was a common refrain. If you didn’t jump on board then, jumping onboard now is even a bigger challenge, and the Government has a bigger obstacle to overcome this time than even five years ago.
Facebook of 2017-2018 is quite a different beast than it was ten years ago. Essentially companies rode the gravy train of almost free unfettered access. All of that changed in 2015. The revision of Facebook’s algorithm essentially put all companies, big or small, into the “paying bracket”. You have to pay for your message to be seen.
The Government seems to think that just because the Minister, for example, doesn’t understand Facebook or Instagram, everyone else doesn’t either. It became apparent 5 minutes into Ana Santilla’s keynote from Facebook that this was going to be a simple “Get on Facebook Pitch” and it was exactly that. For the next three hours Facebook did a slick presentation. This shone no light on the platform that we didn’t already know. For example, get content your followers like and you will be seen. Basic Facebook use only.
They also peppered the presentation with warnings that “if you lose access to your page, you can never get it back”. I think many of the people in the audience has, at some point in time, experienced a “hack” on their page. Local Facebook/Instagram celebrity R’odey said as much in his comment. The answer to R’odey was basically “change your password” Hardly earth shattering.
This meant the Q&A was better than the presentation
The insights came from the questions, the good ones at any rate, fired at the Facebook team. “Can I boost a video post like any other post?” Met with the round about answer: “Only if the content is interesting to your followers”. A simple “Yes” would have sufficed. Deathly silence greeted Ana as she pulled up the insights section for pages. Half the room didn’t give it a second glance. They knew page insights well. The other half seemed lost. Towards the end of the session, no one, especially R’odey and Nikki Crosby, felt that they have a handle on this “Social Media Management thing.” R’odey’s questions and comments are here.
Another question asked “Why is no one seeing my posts?” and the answer was again, nebulous. The Facebook representative responded. “If your content is good, people will see it.” They never mention budget and spending on the the platform.
The winning question for the afternoon was “When can we start paying Facebook in T&T dollars?” Mr Desouza responded “We will work with Facebook to see if that can be arranged.” The audience applauded. In reality will this ever happen? Probably not. We can only dream.
So what did we all learn?
ConnectAmericas is a great resource for entrepreneurs. But Facebook did not spend the time really getting into the meat of the matter for businesses. You have to pay to play. People will find it hard to find you on Facebook. You need that advertising support.
However, this was a two day event. Announced only during the course of the day. A more indepth look at the platform for a select few people earmarked as “trainers.”, constituted the second day. The video from that day’s event also revealed nothing new. They left out anything to do with paying money for advertising and how to effectively use advertising to boost posts.
Celebrities and larger businesses need support to continue to use the platform. R’odey’s comment about having “500 messages to sift through” is the heart of the matter. As a SME one must be able to give the time and resources to the platform. This was not communicated well at this presentation. In fact a few commentators had come to believe that Facebook and ConnectAmericas would solve their businesses problems by a proverbial “wave of the digital wand.”
On the Rocks of Reality
We are haemorrhaging $US by the billions, yet the GORTT, without knowing it, is making it even easier for Facebook to make money from us through advertising. Facebook won more customers that day for sure.
Until we can find that one thing that we in Trindad & Tobago can sell that the world needs and wants, we will continue to be on the fringe as the Oil price drops further, can we truly say we can compete on the world stage with our IT offerings? Maybe, but Facebook & the IDB can’t solve all our problems for us.
Until the GORTT can solve all our problems, drop me a comment or get in contact. I can show you how to maximize your profit online. Using an overall digital marketing strategy that doesn’t just include Facebook and Instagram. If you were at the seminar and wish to correct my inaccuracies, please do so below. Thanks for reading.