Not Lobbying, Reels School for Boomers, & Pretending to be a Good Person - Everything I Learned at a Meta Conference for Small Business
I was invited by Meta (parent company of Facebook & Instagram) to attend a conference called Gather in Washington DC, which took place in May. I learned a ton of stuff while there, both from the workshops and from talking to small business owners from all over the country. As a representative of the digital artist / small business community, I wanted to share my insights about what I learned and what it means for us as creators who make a living off of social media platforms such as Instagram, & Facebook.
Quick summary of the things I’ll talk about in this post & what I learned:
- what is gather? why is gather??
- reels 🔪 we love reels 🔪 everybody loves reels 🔪 make reels 🔪
- be a good person because gen z likes that shit apparently
- you must become an expert in making sick transitions and effects in reels. meta does not care if you are a 65 years old and barely understand how to operate a cell phone.
- make your reels ideally only 15 seconds but Also somehow tell a story with a problem, solution, evidence, and a resolution :)
- a trend of low engagement on Meta apps across the board for all types of businesses
- no reach? no bitches? buy ads :)
What is Gather?
Gather is a yearly conference for members of Meta’s (formerly Facebook’s) Small Business Leaders Network, called Boost. Only 500 members of the very large group were invited to attend.
What is Boost? an ✨exclusive✨ network of US small businesses. You have to pass an interview as part of the application for this group. You must show that you are a leader in your respective community and make good use of Meta’s various tools for your business.
At Gather, we got to attend seminars, workshops, speak to our local congressional representatives for the purpose of Definitely Not Lobbying™️, listen to speeches & inspirational stories from other business owners & Meta employees, and get drunk at Meta’s expense.
For the 2 nights we were there, there were two very generous open bars. at one point a waiter just straight up shoved a glass of champagne into my hands.
I was one of the youngest attendees invited to the conference. I would say a majority of the attendees were in their 30’s to middle aged, and mostly ran mom & pop shops that use social media to try and drive customers to their physical stores. I only met a handful of folks who were solely online businesses!
The whole thing was pretty swanky. We were in a hotel right on Capitol Hill where every single person in the hotel lobby looked like a Business Adult. On the first night, Meta threw us a fancy party at a fancy restaurant with live music & fancy appetizers. We got a multi-course dinner at the closing ceremony where the servers waited on us hand and foot. There was wine, champagne, fancy lights and presentations. It was all around really well put together, and probably the fanciest event I’ve ever been to in my life!!
I am required to mention that Meta paid to fly me out to DC & paid for my hotel and airfare and all that junk. something in the contract about disclosure. anyways thank u zuckdaddy xox
ok that’s cool and all but what is the purpose of Gather? why would meta pay to fly 500 random business owners all the way to DC??
Honestly, I have no idea. I spoke with a bunch of other folks, and none of us could actually get a straight answer out of Meta employees on why we were there and what on earth Meta was gaining from doing this. Because none of us believed it was out of purely the goodness of their hearts 😂
Some of the folks in my Arizona group tried asking our Meta handlers what the agenda was, but we were given a response somewhere along the lines of “there is no agenda :) we are not lobbying :) you can talk to this important government person about whatever you want to talk to them about :) but we have some conversation points just in case you don’t know what to talk about :) especially those pesky data privacy laws because those are really hurting small businesses such as yourselves :)”
From what I’ve gathered, the purpose of gather is:
- to celebrate small business owners who are leaders in their respective communities and share their inspirational stories because meta cares so much about small business :) and good PR :)
- Definitely Not Lobbying™️ with Definitely Not Lobbyists™️
- other than those two points, I do not Dare to try and comprehend the whims of big companies and what they do with their big boy money or why they do it. all i know is i got a free vacation and some really good cake.
None of the people in my group really make use of Facebook ads, so we didn’t address the privacy laws in our meeting. But I met a number of folks from other states who did, and they likely brought that up in their meetings, so mission accomplished for Meta, I guess? If that was even the mission in the first place??
4 course meal!!! that cake was no joke.
things i learned in workshops & seminars
Okay, enough with the lobbying and cake, and onto the actual important stuff. The whole day was packed with different seminars & workshops. I broke down what I learned into categories, with the main one being Reels.
Ah, good ol’ Reels, our favorite TikTok knock off. Well, as much as folks hoped that the push for reels would eventually die down, I am here to announce that reels aren’t going anywhere any time soon. you Will make reels 😀 whether you like it or not 🔪
Reels and video were majorly emphasized throughout this entire conference. They held multiple workshops on it throughout the day to make sure that Every Single Person could attend a session. They even had a Reels Tutoring Center. They literally had staff there to help folks learn how to make reels and walk them through every step of the process. They had props, ring lights, tripods, backdrops, and everything one might need to become a pro TikTok - I mean, Reels - creator. It was understood by most attendees that if you wanted to stay relevant on Meta platforms, Reel and video content is pretty much the only way to do it with the way the algorithm currently works.
The consensus among many of the (older) folks I spoke with was that they do not like Reels, and absolutely hate the fact that the format is being pushed so much by Meta. One woman who runs a photography business said she “didn’t want to have to jump around doing silly dances just to appear on people’s feeds”.
There was a lot of frustration among folks I spoke with over the fact that Reels is such a “young person” thing, and they were being forced to learn it just to keep their businesses afloat. And I totally get it, new technology can be hard to grasp for older generations who weren’t raised in the digital world. Even for someone young and technically savvy like myself, making a reel is a ton more work than just posting a photo!
For these older folks, they not only have to run their businesses (which is often an incredibly demanding job), but also study how to be young and hip. And being hip is a full time job! You have to spend enough time watching Reels & TikTok's just to be on top of what the latest trends are, and then somehow find time to jump on the bandwagon yourself. Ideally enough to post reels 4 to 7 times per week. It’s an impossible task. I heard a few folks say that they just passed the Reel making burden onto a teenager on their staff, just so they wouldn’t have to deal with it themselves.
And there is no option anymore to simply not make Reels. Almost every person I’ve spoken to - both at the conference and online - has been struggling to get their content seen on Instagram & Facebook recently. Whether it is a mom & pop shop on Main Street or an online creator like myself, growth has been tanking across the board for all of us.
The only people I spoke with who Aren’t currently struggling? They’re either consistently making really good Reels, or buying ads.
Lately, it feels impossible to get the content you post seen by your own followers, much less attract new followers. I haven’t moved past 116k followers in over a year. Most days, I lose more followers than I gain, despite posting constantly and making Reels regularly. Mom and pop shops, who rely on their followers seeing their posts online and being inspired to go visit their store in person, can’t get their followers to see their posts. I am an online creator who relies on people seeing my posts and being inspired to visit my online store. And right now, it feels as if the only way forward is to either start cranking out as many high effort Reels as possible, or paying Instagram for the privilege of people seeing my posts via ads.
So many attendees of the conference were struggling with the fact that the Instagram algorithm wasn’t working for us anymore. For all the pushing of Reels that Meta was doing throughout the conference, nobody from Meta even acknowledged how impossible organic growth currently is. We weren’t able to speak to anyone at Meta who could even answer our questions. But yes, by all means, let’s teach everyone how to make a snappy Reel transition and ignore the issues that all of us are facing.
Other bits and pieces of Reels info I learned:
- 15 seconds is the ideal time for a Reel.
- But you should somehow Also fit a story in there. The story should have a problem, solution, evidence, and resolution. all within ideally 15 seconds. good luck.
- if you can’t have a story, just use cool transitions, effects, and editing. if you are not tech savvy, then sucks to be you.
- Instagram is currently rolling out 90 second reels to some accounts
- Spend time playing with effects and transitions in the Reels editor. just mess around. it allows you to come up with ideas for potential videos.
Story - nobody cares about you. so Make them care.
People don’t give a shit about whatever it is you’re selling. Tragic, I know. but seriously. they don’t care. And that is why you’ve got to make them care, by giving them a story to care about. Remember - you aren’t selling a product, or your business. You are selling a story. All aspects of your social media presence should be adding to the story you are telling.
- Humanize yourself. post everything. cleaning up at 3 am, silly things, life things. post it all. it’s part of your story. showing people behind the scenes aspects of running your business helps them care more about you.
- if your company doesn’t have a face, give it one. give followers a person they can recognize as the “face” of the brand. the person who is handling your social media or whatever. People can relate better to a human than to a faceless brand.
- your brand should have a purpose or good cause or inspiring story behind it. if you don’t have one then make one up
Gen Z is soon to be the new biggest market share, and you need to start appealing to them. Gen Z cares Very Much about a company’s values. If you are sustainable, support a cause, etc, talk about it!! And you gotta actually believe it. Don’t just support pride during pride month only. The difference between you and a similar brand may just be your commitment to sustainability. so try to actually be a decent person or whatever if you want to attract the youths.
Brand loyalty is dead. Nobody is loyal to one specific company anymore, not when there’s so many different options so readily available. People are much more willing to try out new brands nowadays, which is both a good and a bad thing. This means that you’ve gotta go Above and Beyond to retain customer loyalty. Reward VIP customers, make your packaging or in store experience something special to remember.
But don’t forget! You can attract new customers via snappy ads :) buy ads :) give zuck daddy your money :)
Are you feeling an overwhelming sense of hopelessness at the prospect of growing your social media accounts organically? Good! Time to start purchasing ads. But you can’t just get away with a static image ad. Video ads are superior. Are you already struggling with Reels and don’t know how you’re going to make a professional looking video advertisement? That sounds like a You problem.
If you do decide to make ads, don’t do it in the Instagram ad maker. Use the Facebook business suite to set up your ads. It allows you to do A/B testing, so that you can test which version of an ad performs better.
This seminar was about strategies that big brands use that you can apply to your small business. It had a few key points.
- Shift to Digital: The pandemic converted everything to online, and that shift into digital is here to stay. If you are a physical store, you have to also leverage an online presence so that you can find your customers wherever they are - online or in person.
- Partnerships: Working with others is the key to getting noticed. This includes collaborating with other brands, as well as working with influencers. And older gentleman sitting near me complained that he doesn’t hardly know what an influencer is or how to find one, but that isn’t Meta’s problem I guess.
- Embrace social to win customer’s loyalty: Like I said above, customers are far less loyal. Emphasizing your social media presence helps keep you on customer’s minds.
- Brand purpose: Use social media to prove to everyone that you are a good person and care about some sort of cause
I learned a lot in the conference, but ultimately, it didn’t answer pretty much any of the questions I have for Meta. It was a wonderful experience, but right now, I feel more hopeless than ever. It has been drilled into my head that Reels are the key to success right now, and even with all the incentives (monetary included), I have yet to see anything positive from this. I do what Instagram wants and produce Reels content, but it feels like hardly anyone even sees them. And when something Does get some attention, oftentimes, it leads to a lot of negative comments from people who don’t know me or my brand or even care about it. My followers don’t see my posts, and neither do potential followers. I’m expending so much more energy and time trying to create Reels, only for middling results.
Instagram was once my biggest source of revenue. I was able to grow my audience organically, without the use of ads. But after remaining stagnant at the same follower count for so long, and dwindling views on my posts and dwindling sales, I don’t see how I can continue in this way. It feels like the only way forward for me is to start buying ads.
And it feels to me that this is Exactly what Meta wants.