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Digital Divide: Small Businesses Neglecting Online Presence

Digital Divide: Small Businesses Neglecting Online Presence
Small businesses aren't spending enough time building up their online presence. / Credit: Online Marketing image via Shutterstock

In order to boost your bottom line, you need to spend more time online.

Small business owners are spending only a minimum amount of time building and managing their online presence, potentially leaving them unable to cash in on the online buzz generated by their products and services, according to a new study from marketing services and business products provider Deluxe Corp.

The research revealed that 70 percent of small businesses spent less than one hour per week maintaining their online presence, with 51 percent posting to social media only once a month or less.

Tim Carroll, vice president of small business engagement at Deluxe, said while small business owners do a great job being "buzz worthy" by offering remarkable products and delivering excellent customer service, they aren't preparing for when buzz about them actually happens.

"Most customers, after hearing about a business through word of mouth, will search for it online, visit its website, look at its social media pages and read reviews about it," Carroll said. "Those small businesses with a strong and well maintained online presence can capture this behavior and convert it into lasting relationships."

Overall, the majority of small businesses aren't using social media to its fullest extent.  The study shows that for direct customer interaction and promoting new products, only 29 percent found social media extremely important. Additionally, just 53 percent of small business owners reported that they used Facebook to sell a product.

Small business owners also aren't giving their websites the attention they deserve. The research found that 53 percent of small businesses with more than three employees and 49 percent of companies with revenue below $100,000 had no interest in improving their Web presence.

"It can take just one day – one influential person to notice – to make a small business a hit, so make sure your online presence is ready to go," Carroll said.

According to Carroll, there are different ways small business owners can give their online presence a boost in order to increase visibility, generate interest and capture any buzz.

  • Encourage customers to talk about you. Whether by providing reviews and feedback or by sharing and following your business on social media, this type of direct customer engagement can be extremely helpful. Small businesses not asking for customer feedback are missing an opportunity to use the channel as an extension of "word of mouth."
  • Capture email addresses and engage fans. Target customers want to know about your business. They want to know what is new, what is on sale and what promotions are on the horizon. There are multiple tools that allow small businesses to easily capture these customers' email addresses and create timely and engaging communications to keep them coming back.
  • To sustain buzz, a website needs to be findable. When potential customers search for you, they expect to find you on the first page of search results. Search engine optimization (SEO) is essential to make sure your website and content will land you on page one.
  • Think of your online presence as a group of dedicated employees. They may not be physically there, but your online capabilities are working hard for you 24/7 and 365 days a year. And like a work force, they need to be looked after and maintained. A website or social media channel that is not updated regularly can give the wrong impression to a prospective customer and send their business to a competitor.

The study was based on surveys of more than 500 small business owners around the U.S.

Chad Brooks

Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based writer who has nearly 15 years' experience in the media business. A graduate of Indiana University, he spent nearly a decade as a staff reporter for the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, covering a wide array of topics including, local and state government, crime, the legal system and education. Following his years at the newspaper Chad worked in public relations, helping promote small businesses throughout the U.S. Follow him on Twitter.