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Local business owner gets face time with Facebook

Jonah Sandler, co-founder of the Scene 75 indoor entertainment centers in Dayton, Cincinnati, Cleveland — and soon, Pittsburgh, Pa. — recently traveled to Facebook Inc.’s Menlo Park, Calif. headquarters to rub elbows with company executives and fellow entrepreneurs.

His mission: Help Facebook help people like him.

Sandler is a member of a Facebook Small Business Advisory Council, giving Facebook feedback on how Scene 75 uses the social media tool. He views Facebook as a key marketing partner that helped put his centers on the map.

Facebook flew the approximately 45 member-business owners out to the seminar, Sandler said.

About four and a-half years ago, Sandler was invited to be part of Facebook’s council for small- and medium-sized businesses. In the first year it was created, the council was led by the head of Facebook’s small business division, and Sandler was part of that council’s inaugural formation.

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The council and the seminar show how important such businesses are to the social network — and the importance of Facebook itself to those businesses, Sandler said.

“It has been a very, very powerful tool,” he said.

Every year, Facebook has added a dozen member-businesses to the council. Today, there are some 60 businesses from across the country on the council.

“This was a reunion of sorts,” Sandler said.

He credits Facebook advertising with helping to attract attention to his first Scene 75 entertainment center, off Interstate 75 and Poe Avenue, in 2012 before it even opened.

In Sandler’s first year as a member, Scene 75 had about 23,000 Facebook fans. Today, his Dayton center’s page has more than 82,000 “likes,” and the pages for his other centers easily have more than 50,000 fans.

In Menlo Park, Sandler said, business owners were able to share with the social media giant what they were doing to drive results through the platform.

While there was socializing going on, there was also a good bit of work, he said.

“They did a number of presentations for our group,” Sandler said. “We then had break-out sessions to learn about about different pieces of Facebook, Instagram, etc.”

On the second day, members got a chance to meet Facebook founder and Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg himself.

Zuckerberg spoke with the group, took “one or two questions” from the audience, and moved on, Sandler said.

Zuckerberg did not address any of the recent controversies in which the web giant finds itself embroiled. The company has been hounded by criticism and scrutiny in recent months after reports that Russian-backed groups used the network to create chaos before and after the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Just last week, the 33-year-old CEO testified before Congress.

“They didn’t dive into any of that,” Sandler said. “It was more about sharing the vision of a connected world.”

Still, Sandler added, “It just goes to show you the importance of the group to Facebook that he would spend some time with us.”

Sandler will open a Pittsburgh, Pa.-area Scene center this summer. He envisions a time when he will find a partner to help him truly go national, but he has no definite timeline yet for that.

The four Scene centers will have a total of about 500 employees. Sandler would not disclose sales or revenue, but he said attendance has been strong at all of his centers.

“In each market that we’re in, we’re a top five-most visited attraction,” he said. The centers have anywhere from 250,000 to 300,000 visitors a year, per location, he added.

A message seeking comment was sent to Facebook.

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