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Photo: Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Facebook on Thursday launched a new app named Facebook Business Suite that lets small businesses manage their pages and profiles across Facebook, Instagram and Facebook Messenger from a single interface.

Why it matters: The app is the first product Facebook has launched that combines the backend infrastructure for three of its messaging apps. The company has teased this move for over a year.

Driving the news: Facebook debuted the new business tools alongside new research it commissioned about the state of small businesses durning the pandemic. One study found that small businesses making more than 25% of their sales online are more likely to report higher sales than this time last year.

  • Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg told Axios in an interview that the company is trying to do more research and better understand the challenges facing small businesses so it can build products and provide better tools and training for them.
  • "Of course not every business can migrate online, but a lot can, and businesses that never thought they could have been doing it."

Details: The Business Suite allows small business to manage and receive messages from customers, notifications and alerts from all three of the messaging platforms all in one place, a unified inbox. The company plans to extend this function to its fourth major messaging app, WhatsApp, in the coming year.

  • The suite also allows small businesses to post content and ads, or schedule them, to Facebook and Instagram at the same time. It includes a feature that allows small businesses to see which types of content and ads are resonating with customers across Facebook and Instagram in one place.
  • These tools alleviate time and resources for small businesses that don't always have teams to manage their social media presences.

The big picture: Amid the pandemic, Facebook has pushed hard to support small businesses, which make up the majority of its advertising revenue.

    • In May it launched Facebook Shop, an online marketplace that's free to use for businesses across Facebook and Instagram.
    • Graham Mudd, VP of ads product marketing for Facebook, says the plan is to integrate the Business Suite with Facebook Shop more closely in the future.

Be smart: Facebook's plan to integrate the back-end infrastructure for all its services has been a target for antitrust critics, who worry that Facebook's real aim is to make it harder for regulators to try to break up the company.

  • "Our goal is to make this as easy for businesses as possible to reach their customers," said Mudd. He notes that the company already allows businesses to use a combined advertising infrastructure to target ads across its different apps.
  • "We're really just responding to what businesses are asking of us," he said.

What's next: The tools are designed for small businesses, but the company eventually plans to make them available for bigger advertisers.

  • For now, Facebook wants to focus the tools on businesses that don't have big advertising accounts with the company, and have to manage the optimization of their outreach to customers manually.
  • One giveaway that a business is small is that it spends money on Facebook boosting individual posts, instead of launching a full ad campaign.

Go deeper

Nov 19, 2020 - Technology

Facebook says very few people actually see hate speech on its platform

Photo: Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Facebook said it took action on 22.1 million pieces of hate speech content to its platform globally last quarter and about 6.5 million pieces of hate speech content on Instagram. On both platforms, it says about 95% of that hate speech was proactively identified and stopped by artificial intelligence.

Details: In total, the company says that there are 10–11 views of hate speech for every 10,000 views of content uploaded to the site globally — or .1%. It calls this metric — how much problematic content it doesn't catch compared to how much is reported and removed — "prevalence."

Axios roundtable on the future of the workforce

On Wednesday November 18 Axios' Sara Fischer and Dan Primack hosted the second in a series of three virtual roundtables, featuring policymakers, academics, and nonprofit leaders to discuss the workforce recovery after COVID-19 and the importance of digital tools, skills, and access.

Markle Foundation Chief Operating Officer Beth F. Cobert and Google.org Head of Impact and Insights Andrew Dunckelman highlighted how the pandemic has accelerated a shift to online businesses, citing research from the National Skills Coalition that reported that 1 in 3 American workers has limited or no digital skills. Roundtable participants discussed how to approach that critical digital skills gap and more broadly, the pandemic's affect on businesses and workers.

Sonja Diaz, Founding Director at UCLA's Latino Policy & Politics Initiative discussed how to create policy solutions for the businesses most acutely affected by the pandemic.

  • "A lot of the gains made by minority businesses have been outside of the regulatory sphere, meaning that they've been able to do this because of personal connections, community connections. They're under-financed and under-banked. So if we think about policy interventions, we know that tailoring and centering them on the needs of women and minority owned businesses is going to be a return on investment."

Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) highlighted how the digital economy is a critical part of COVID-19 economic recovery.

  • "I think what the Americans are waiting for right now is the opportunity to have something really big and bold that speaks to them about their future and their jobs. And I certainly think that the digital economy can be built right into that."

Traci Scott, Workforce Vice President at the National Urban League stressed the importance of meeting users where they're at in terms of digital skills training.

  • "We would have virtual job fairs, but what we found is that people didn't know how to work Zoom. They had never navigated through Zoom. So then we realized that we had to go even deeper in our training just to train individuals on just how to use something that we all take advantage of."

Trevor Parham, Founder and Director of Oakstop and the Oakland Black Business Fund discussed how to see digital tools as something beyond just economic exchange.

  • "We need to focus not just on tools that are going to allow people to create economic transactions, but on whether it is technology or other tools or infrastructure that is going to allow us to restore our ability to be a real human community."

Read the recap of our first roundtable event here.

Thank you Google for sponsoring this event.

6 hours ago - Health

Food banks feel the strain without holiday volunteers

People wait in line at Food Bank Community Kitchen on Nov. 25 in New York City. Photo: Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for Food Bank For New York City

America's food banks are sounding the alarm during this unprecedented holiday season.

The big picture: Soup kitchens and charities, usually brimming with holiday volunteers, are getting far less help.