Digital Business in Small Business

Throughout the extent of our class to this point, we have talked about several different ways companies are utilizing emerging trends in digital business to improve their outlook in the future. We have talked about how important it is to stay on the cutting edge of new business trends, and to strive for digital maturity. For large companies, like Google, Facebook, and Wal-Mart, there are several well-outlined ways to stay ahead in this rapidly changing digital world. But for small businesses, many of these rules do not apply. Businesses that can’t attract top talent, that can’t afford the “80/20” rule, that don’t have a Digital Strategy Lead; how do these companies use changing technologies and emerging business trends to their advantage? Small businesses like diners, bowling alleys, mini golf courses, local law practices, etc. can still use digital business to their advantage, but the roadmap to doing so will be much different from those of the top tech companies we have learned about.

As a small business, it may seem like a daunting task to stay on the forefront of emerging trends. Most of the local business owners I know have absolutely no experience in technology, and are already overworked just trying to keep their business afloat. However, our readings defined digital transformation as adopting business processes and practices to help the organization compete effectively in an increasingly digital world. When framed in this lens, trying to adapt to new digital trends seems not only more manageable, but also more necessary.

The first step that many local, client facing businesses took to try and integrate technology was to make a website for their business. Most of these websites give little besides hours of operation, prices, and a menu (if it is a food business). For the most part, these websites look simple and ancient.

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That, however, is totally fine! As Lindsay Sutton said in her presentation, “I am becoming increasingly convinced that no one really cares about the website.” Users that are visiting the website directly are for the most part looking for basic information that can be found on the front page.

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So if a website is not necessarily going to be the way to keep up or get ahead online, what can small businesses do? First of all, small businesses must establish a social media presence. For many small businesses, “Social media is a place for genuine engagements with consumers and often these dialogues result in loyal, long-term customers.” A social media page can be used to not only promote your own products and services, but also to engage directly with your customer base and either respond personally to complaints, or answer any questions they may have.

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Despite all of these advantages, only 53% of small businesses actively use social media. Much of this stems back to the issue of time available and technological ability for small business owners, but this also is a result of the fact that starting a social media page for a business can be a daunting task. As a personal example, a few years ago my mom wanted to start a Facebook page for our family’s diner. She had never been on Facebook before and how no idea how it worked, never mind how to professionally curate a page that would add value to her business. In addition, no business wants to have the social media page that has 7 followers, and never fully gets off the ground.

There are several ways to avoid this predicament, and turn social media from a scary proposition to a value-adding portion of your business. The first idea for small businesses to get their page off the ground is to run a promotion tied into engaging with your social media page. Offering a free round of mini golf if you show the cashier you have liked the company Facebook page, or giving away free dessert if you check-in to a restaurant on Facebook are great ways to gain followers for those new pages.

Secondly, on Facebook specifically there are ways for you to “boost” your posts, so that they will gain exposure and be seen by many people who do not currently like your page. You can target a specific audience, refining who will see your boosted post by location, age, gender, and interest. For a surprisingly small fee, you can guarantee that thousands of people will view your boosted post, and possibly “Like” your page because of it.

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Facebook, however, is not the only relevant digital platform for small businesses. Review sites such as Yelp, or anywhere else your small business may be discussed online, are important websites to be aware of. With over 132 million monthly visitors, reviewing everything from dentists to bars to beauty salons, Yelp specifically is very important for small business’ online reputation. Despite this fact, 87% of small businesses do not take advantage of review sites. There are several things small businesses can do to make sure their image on Yelp and other review sites goes as smoothly as the user reviews will allow. Even more, most of these tasks are actually very basic. Simple activities such as claiming your business on Yelp, making sure all of the information (hours, address, etc.) is correct, and adding nice pictures to your profile will make a difference when potential customers look up your business. Once your business is claimed, you also have the ability to respond to customer reviews. This can become an extent of your customer service, as you can respond to the negative experiences of bad reviewers, and thank and appreciate those who leave positive reviews.

There is much more small businesses can do to leverage their online positioning, but even for the overworked small business owner, these few steps are a must. Studies are increasingly showing that consumers are turning to online reviews before making purchase decisions, and this applies to almost every different small business industry. Once you have an established social media presence, things such as creating shareable content and engaging with users will allow these pages to continue to expand and benefit the bottom line. But to stay on top of emerging trends in digital business, the modern small business owner must take these steps and others to establish a positive online reputation, and leverage this in ways that will lead to more customers.


  1. Great post! When I think about social media engagement, it is usually big name companies that come to mind rather than stand alone restaurants or bowling alleys. I think one of the best ways to build a loyal customer base is to provide personal engagement and a presence that keeps your company in customers’ minds. These seem like really cost and time effective ways for small businesses to achieve this level of engagement.

  2. Joon Kim · ·

    Great post! It’s crazy to think that only 53% of small businesses are actively engaging in social media as a mean to promote their business. The inability to an hire employees capable of managing a social media page or simply the lack of time availability may be real obstacles, but there are so many ways to make social media a value-adding aspect of the business, as you laid out nicely in this post. I think that investing the extra capital and effort into creating a solid presence on Facebook, Yelp, and other platforms that involve high levels of interaction with potential clients can generate exponentially large returns and growth of business.

  3. juliabrodigan · ·

    Insightful topic! I think that small businesses best bet on gaining traction through technology is social media. They should focus on Instagram, Facebook and Yelp!. When I am thinking about going somewhere I always look up the location on Instagram and Google. This way I am able to see pictures of the product that real/relatable people took. What I see on these platforms is a huge factor in whether or not I decide to actually go. Thus, small businesses should focus on trying to encourage their customers to post about them. They can do this through offering incentives, such as offering a free dessert if they post to their Instagram. It is amazing how powerful of a role social media has in the success of small businesses.

  4. Hilary_Gould · ·

    This was really interesting and relevant to me right now! I work with a non profit based in Tanzania– it’s a wonderful organization, but there website looks outdated and unprofessional. I’ve been trying to help them update it, but you’re right that it might not be what they need. It’s a fairly small organization though and they don’t have a large presence on social media either– it’s largely word of mouth. This was interesting to read and think about other places where it might be more effective to have a presence than simply a webpage!

  5. Nice post. Just wrote an article for Entrepreneur Magazine about small business and digital. What they lack in resources, they can make up for in agility!

  6. clairemmarvin · ·

    Loved this! My family runs a small business and I have been trying to get my dad to fix its website and get on social media for a while now! Good point about websites only going so far though if the main part of your business is not conducted through the website (like online retailers). I also tend to look up Yelp reviews for a business before I even visit their main page so leveraging these reviews is so important to get your small business noticed and taken seriously!

  7. taylorvanhare · ·

    Fun post! I think small businesses can benefit the most from really engaging with their customers. Whether that is responding to questions posted on the company’s Facebook page or updating their Yelp content – both can go a long way. This active engagement establishes a connection between the business and its consumers. Small businesses are always looking to grow and increasing its customer satisfaction will help guarantee more positive WOM advertising in a sense.

  8. ojeagle121 · ·

    I think you made a good point about the lack of resources. My friend from college is an owner of a small business and he has basically zero social media presence for his company. I think there is an age factor in play here too. For my friend, he’s a little older and isn’t on any social media in his personal life either. After working 10-12 hr days, learning how to run social media marketing seems like a daunting task.

  9. I think that this a great topic and something that small business owners need to get involved in. Really good small business may survive without a presence on social media because of a well established brand. But for emerging small business they need to cultivate a social media presence. This is a tough sell to make to a one or two person shop to dedicate money/time/additional resources to make a FB page. It would almost be smart for a consultant to specialize in this area and show the benefits of social media presence on small businesses.

    Diego talked about “Clover Go” in his presentation, and that is one of many apps by Clover to help small businesses work smarter. All of the Clover products work in conjunction with one another to provide products for the owner based on data analytics that can help educate the owner on decisions to make about the company’s future.

  10. […] via Digital Business in Small Business — ISYS6621: Social Media and Digital Business […]

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