Facebook NZ starts to dish out $400K in Covid grants – but not everyone happy

The good news: Facebook has started to distribute some $400,000 in support for New Zealand small businesses – as part of its US$100 million worldwide programme to give a leg-up to small companies hit by the pandemic, via a mix of cash grants and free ads.

“We have distributed cash grants to all 60 qualifying businesses and are in the process of completing ad credits distribution into their ad accounts,” a Facebook NZ rep told the Herald on Monday.

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The bad: It’s been slow going, and not that transparent.

Tim Dorrian, managing director of Aro Digital, began following Facebook’s Covid-19 Small Business Grants programme since it was first announced around this time last year, in March 2020.

In July last year, Dorrian complained that Facebook’s initiative seemed “extremely slow” next to a similar initiative from Google that had managed to award the US$340m worth of advertising credits to SMEs by that point.

“Pretty much all of our clients have received Google Ads credits, with the amount of credits being based on how much each business had spent in the last few months before the credits,” the Aro Digital principal said at the time.

This week, seven months later, he told the Herald, “We signed up for updates on the Facebook programme and kept an eye on it.

“But we never heard a peep about it, and haven’t heard of anyone who received the money.”

He added, “Considering Google gave nearly every ad account that we manage free ad credit, we expected Facebook to support more than 60 businesses with credit.”

While the Facebook rep confirmed cash grants had been given, and ad credits were in the process of being allocated, it could not name the recipients, because the social network did not have permission to name them – although it was possible this might be arranged at a later date.

“We also couldn’t find any reference to the exact criteria a business needed to meet,” Dorrian said.

Although it was unlikely to mollify the Wellington-based Dorrian, Facebook said that only Covid-hit companies “located in or near Auckland” with two to 50 employees were eligible for the grant. Applications closed on September 22 last year.

Why restrict the $400,000 in cash and ad credits to Auckland companies?

Perhaps curious for a company synonymous with doing things digitally, Facebook said the limit was imposed because the grant programme was restricted to cities where the social network maintained a physical office.

While Facebook could be lauded for not using the names of the NZ recipients in publicity without their permission, the fine print for its grant scheme gave it plenty of scope.

It said, in part: “We [Facebook] may collect (including by asking you to provide) information about the race and gender of officeholders in your business. For example, we may ask you to provide information about the number of officeholders in your business who identify as women. In addition, for applicants in New Zealand, we may collect information about the number of officeholders in your business that affiliate to an iwi or have Māori heritage.”

The information could be used in subsequent Facebook marketing, the social network said.

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