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.
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.
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.
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.
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.