How the Transformation of Business Is Leveling the Playing Field for SMBs

May 17, 2021

Woman managing a front of house system in a restaurant.

Technology is and always has been the “great equalizer,” and there’s no better example than the internet itself. Thanks to digital tools, anyone, anywhere can become an upstart — from the dog mom selling bandanas on Etsy to the freelance accountant hosting LinkedIn Live Q&A sessions. Digital tools amplify the efforts of businesses big and small. 

Last year brought us another great equalizer: COVID-19. Businesses of all sizes faced challenges, and everyone scrambled to adapt — from the Fortune 500 transitioning to work-from-home, to the neighborhood sandwich shop taking curbside orders online. And, despite the abruptness of the pandemic, technology offered businesses the means to pivot. 

Now, as life returns to normal post-pandemic, businesses will continue to use this technology to innovate. When we look back in history, the Transformation of Business will dovetail perfectly with the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The Transformation of Business

COVID-19 didn’t just shutter physical workplaces — it created an explosion of online activity. As businesses continue to pivot to a digital-first approach, it’s vital to reevaluate strategies and explore opportunities to leverage the power of a new, active digital environment. 

It’s not only businesses that are reinventing themselves online. According to a special report from Nielsen, the average adult spent more than 12 hours in front of a screen each day in 2020. Roughly half of that time went to online browsing — including more than two hours daily spent on social media sites. 

More than ever before, businesses can find buyers from around the world online. With a smart, focused approach, it doesn’t take a huge network or marketing budget to appeal to them. All it takes is a little creative imagination and recognition of the digital resources available. 

Here’s a look at some of the ways small-to-midsize businesses (SMBs) have embraced the shift to digital and leveled the playing field. 

Getting Noticed in a Sea of Content

People are online more, which means they’re consuming more content, creating more opportunities for brand-building and engagement. But creating content isn’t enough; businesses need content that stands out and drives engagement. It’s a tall order, but not an impossible one — even with limited resources. 

LinkedIn Stories are a prime example. Launched in early 2020, LinkedIn Stories use the ever-popular story format found across social networks to give SMBs a way to communicate directly with potential customers. From a Q&A with customers about products and services, to sharing customer testimonials, to snippets of life behind the brand, small businesses have a direct way to appeal to followers in an authentic way through Stories. Best of all, stories are just a few seconds long and often candid — meaning no mammoth marketing budget required to send a meaningful message. 

Stories aren’t the only low-cost, high-impact form of content marketing to gain momentum during the pandemic. Live-streaming isn’t a novel concept, but the ways SMBs found to utilize it during lockdowns and quarantines are nothing short of genius. Live auctions provided one way to boost engagement and sales during bleak periods of the pandemic. Live-streamed services also boomed — everything from guided meditations to digital visits with your CPA or barista classes streamed from the local coffee shop. In an age when the average smartphone can shoot 4k video, live streams are cost-efficient and can generate huge engagement with the right personality in front of the camera. 

Hosting Online Events to Attract a Crowd

Speaking of live-streaming, businesses also found a way to overcome the abatement on in-person events. 2020 saw experiments with virtual events and 2021 is already producing streams that show they’re here to stay. 

For many small businesses, running large-scale physical events is unfeasible. Even participating in trade shows or expos can be cost-prohibitive — not to mention difficult depending on location. For most small businesses, running virtual events and live streams is far more practical, and can yield many of the same benefits.

How can small businesses capitalize on the accessibility of virtual events? Social media is a great place to start. Tools like LinkedIn Live allow businesses to control the delivery of a virtual event, and notify followers of when your event kicks off. Line up speakers, presenters, guests and video, and it’s easy to host an informative, engaging, exciting event. And while there’s a time investment and some coordination involved, the cost to orchestrate a virtual event is nominal for many SMBs — or, at least far less than putting together an in-person event at scale. 

A book shop can host authors for moderated meet and greet sessions. The local spa can coordinate an event to show off treatments, host speakers and introduce products. No matter the nature of the live event, SMBs can expect engagement to the tune of seven times more reactions and 24 times more comments than native video. 

Building Strong Virtual Communities 

The shift to more online-focused marketing isn’t just about generating sales — it’s also about creating brand advocacy. As small businesses struggled to pivot in the early days of the pandemic, they relied heavily on advocates to not only support them but to encourage others to do the same. 

Digital tools have made it easier to build online communities and develop a strong collection of advocates for growing brands. Followers on social media can share posts to their network, which encourages more followers to engage with the core brand. It’s not immediately transactional — in fact, it might never result in a transaction. What matters is the power of community to turn a brand’s call to action into a megaphone message that reaches further and has more impact than a traditional ad. This isn’t to say that paid media doesn’t work or isn’t an essential complement! There’s just no beating a personal recommendation or the endorsement of a friend whose opinion you value.

COVID-19 may have shuttered local communities for a time in 2020, but those communities popped up online and grew bigger and faster than ever. 

A Flurry of New Tools and Resources

The new digital playing field has been an incubator for innovation. As demand for specific tools and resources cropped up in 2020, innovators were quick to answer with solutions. This is especially true on social media. New LinkedIn tools and features can uniquely help small businesses and startups accomplish their goals as they continue to ramp up digital operations. 

At a time when searchers still can’t get a straight answer about business availability or hours, LinkedIn’s “open for business” feature makes it clear that you’re welcoming customers and clients with open arms. LinkedIn’s Boost feature turns a powerful organic post into a paid piece of content with far-reaching impact. Community Hashtags, Digital Events, Objective-Based Ad Tools and Cover Stories are all accessible options, available at low-to-no cost for SMBs to utilize. Beyond their affordability, a little imagination turns each tool into a dynamic opportunity to reach customers online. 

Ad Spending Isn’t Everything

Thirty-eight percent of small businesses reported increased ad spending in 2020, and 45% plan to increase investment in social media advertising this year. It’s a natural step in the face of recovering sales revenues. Smart advertising that generates a strong ROI is something any business can benefit from. But ad spending isn’t the only way to bring back patrons and kickstart sales.

It’s important for SMBs to explore the many free or low-cost resources available to them online. LinkedIn makes it simple for businesses to connect to customers in any way they need to — whether it’s to answer questions, provide information, generate sales, create communities or just to remind people they’re open. 

To learn more about these tools and successful strategies for deploying them, check out LinkedIn for Small Business. And to keep abreast of the latest marketing trends, subscribe to the LinkedIn Marketing Solutions blog.