By Cathy Anderson
COVID-19 hit the ‘GO’ button on many slow-moving digital trends, many of which have changed the landscape for small business immeasurably.
But which ones are going to stick around and become a must-have for all business owners?
In this article, we’ll explore five digital trends that have emerged or been amplified by COVID-19, and why they’ll become a necessity in every small business owner’s toolkit.
Digital Trend #1: Alternative social media channels
The pandemic caused a riotous increase in short-form video apps including Snapchat and the controversial TikTok. Small businesses can tap into this by creating their own short vids loaded with cheek and humour, or create a campaign with a catchy hashtag to invoke user generated content.
But, as with any shiny new toy, small business owners should only play in this space if that’s where their customers are, too.
New features on social giants can help small businesses sell directly to their audience, including Instagram Shopping and Facebook’s personalised ads created by machine learning.
Another major social media trend is social listening. Use cost-effective platforms such as Hootsuite, HubSpot or Sprout Social to scan social networks favoured by your target audience and monitor keywords or hashtags relevant to your business, and join select forums, Facebook or LinkedIn groups.
Gauge what your customers love (and hate), then adjust your marketing to address their pain points directly.
Digital Trend #2: Voice recognition technology
Automation is the way of the future, just ask Siri or Alexa. Voice recognition software has permeated homes and businesses and, with travel restrictions, customers are less likely to pop in to ask questions.
Voice recognition software can help a business in two ways. Firstly, it can be used within your customer service team to direct callers to the right person or to your website for more general advice.
Secondly, it can be incorporated into internal software such as customer management systems and assist with laborious data entry. Staff can dictate emails or sales reports to save valuable time and boost productivity.
Voice recognition software can also be incorporated into video technology to record and transcribe meeting notes.
Digital Trend #3: Collaboration technology
Platforms such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Cisco Webex Meetings, Google Meet and video functions in messaging system Slack have replaced morning stand-ups and Friday afternoon drinks.
Many now have mobile phone apps so employees can communicate and collaborate no matter their location.
Remote work has meant an accelerated shift to other digital technology, too. Without access to an office scanner or printer, digitised forms of documents and highly-secure and compliant signatures, such as those offered by Adobe’s Scan mobile app and Adobe Acrobat Pro’s e-signature functionalities, are taking the paperless trend to the next level.
Project management software such as Monday.com, Asana and Basecamp have also come into their own. Teams can follow their colleagues’ progress, track their own tasks and managers can oversee the whole process as it evolves. Cloud-based storage systems such as Google Drive will also permanently replace archaic on-site server systems.
Digital Trend #4: Mobile-friendly e-commerce
Online shopping has exploded in Australia thanks to COVID-19, and Australians are confidently buying via their smartphones.
Small businesses without an online presence had to scramble to pivot to online sales by integrating a shopping platform such as Shopify or WooCommerce into websites or opening eBay or Etsy stores.
This trend won’t fade, so a mobile-friendly e-commerce solution, and associated delivery agreements with companies such as Menulog or Ubereats for food-based businesses or Sendle for regular deliveries, is essential.
Selling through social media, i.e. Facebook and Instagram Shopping, is also easy to set up and coincides pretty neatly with your marketing too.
For service-based businesses, try to create an online offering — such as on-demand video yoga classes. Introducing a simple contact form on your website or integrating a feature such as Calendly so clients can book a Zoom meeting are cost-effective and time-efficient ways to shift customers through the sales funnel.
Digital Trend #5: Work mobility/flexibility
Lockdowns across Australia forced us to work remotely and for many it was a major adjustment. Home offices were hastily set up (kitchen bench, anyone?) and work schedules were disrupted by partners-turned-colleagues and kids who needed homeschooling.
But, with transport concerns, social distancing and safety top of mind, many businesses are adopting a hybrid workplace model. This is a mix of staff working in an office and remotely, plus embracing flexible hours to permit employees to work at various times to fit around family, study or lifestyle commitments.
As a business owner this does require a mindset shift well away from the nine-to-five model to a results-driven gauge of productivity. But it also allows you to hire talented staff who may not live in your city and can work remotely, and a smaller office can reduce overheads.