To celebrate Small Business month, Rogers is hosting a series of nationwide events featuring experts in social media, marketing and more. Such as Jesse Hirsh,who has a weekly nationally syndicated column on CBC radio explaining and analyzing the latest trends and developments in technology and social media.
The internet strategist, researcher, and broadcaster based in Toronto, Canada, who will be speaking at the Toronto event on November 10, agreed to give RedBoard Biz a sneak peek at some of his top tips for small businesses.
1. Why do you think small businesses need to have an online presence?
Purchasing decisions increasingly begin with search. When we want to buy something we check the web, whether for prices, reviews, or general information. However it’s not enough for a business to be online. The other dynamic when we search, is that we also intuitively measure trust, and overall reputation, when comparing sources. In fact online presence has a growing impact on who we trust and who we listen to. First impressions rarely happen in person, instead they’re often a result of what people see when they search, and compare results. Even when they do discover you in the flesh, they will still use search as a means of finding what others have said and experienced when doing business with you.
2. What do you think is the biggest challenge right now for small business?
The biggest challenge facing small businesses and any entrepreneur is a scarcity of time, and an ongoing need to further develop and expand their capabilities. Time and it’s sibling attention are the great scarcities of our era. We never feel that we have enough, and the ability to get more is rare and/or expensive. While social media and the web provide all sorts of opportunities to expand and improve your business, it can also take up huge amounts of time, both in terms of maintenance, but also in terms of self-education, i.e. just keeping up with the rapid rate of technological change.
In an era of information overload, time and task management is indispensable. There needs to be a balance between conducting your business, communicating about your business, and investing in the further development of your business. Part of this involves keeping up with changing markets and changing consumer expectations. The easiest way to do that is by collaborating, whether with those inside of your business, or with peers in the marketplace.
3.How do you think consumer expectations have changed as social media has become more mainstream? How must small businesses adapt?
Consumer expectations are increasing with the empowerment that they have experienced using both social media and mobile devices. Whether for purposes of research, or just for complaining, social media allows a consumer to bring an expanded constituency with them while shopping and any experience they have, whether positive or negative, can and will be shared with their expanding audience. The “consumer is always right” has evolved into “the consumer is always powerful” and capable of significantly helping or hurting your reputation.
In response, small businesses need to flexible, but not submissive. Willing to bend to the needs of your consumers, but not to the extent of losing your integrity, respect, and time. Part of the reason consumers are able to complain about a business is because the business is not online or present to respond. Often being online will mitigate or reduce some of the worst complaints, while also making it easier to share and promote the compliments and kudos. Monitoring how people speak and share their experiences about you online will help you develop the capability to deliver customized consumer experiences.
4. How can small businesses use social media to appeal to the different needs of Generation Y customers and Baby Boomers?
The benefit of social media is the ability to first establish weak social ties, but then to translate them into strong social ties. The open nature of social media means that anyone can establish a connection, whether a like, follow, or otherwise. The opportunity once that connection is made is finding further means of engagement that allow you to better know your customers while they have a chance to better get to know you. Thus the real potential is not a generalization based on age, but a customization based on the individual. If in large numbers this can be done via personality profiles and archetypes. However if the capabilities exist, whether via literacy or CRM database, you can customize based on individuals. So that your individual customers really feel a direct connection with you. What unites people of all ages is a desire to feel unique, and special. That is the real potential of social media.
5. If you were to offer a small business owner just one piece of advice, what would it be? Why?
Focus on the development of your own literacy and the literacy of all the people who work for and with you. Literacy is no longer just about reading and writing, but on a broader level “pattern recognition” and the ability to learn new things in a rapidly changing society. For some this is thought of as digital literacy, others describe it as network literacy, I see it as a direct extension of “reading and writing” only applied in emerging media such as Twitter’s 140 character limit or Facebook’s heavily filtered and algorithmically governed news feed.
The ability to communicate with your customers and the marketplace at large is central to any successful business and the challenge will continue to be how do you keep up, let alone thrive and expand. Literacy describes that ability and the advantages that come from being able to do this better than your competition and peers. As an organization the more individuals who are committed to constantly improving their own literacy, the greater the organization’s ability to adapt and thrive in dynamic environments.