The plight of small businesses makes for grim reading these days. Lockdowns imposed around the world have brought significant pain to the sector and most have struggled to make up revenue shortfalls online. And as we look to vaccinations as the path back to normality, it's unclear how many small businesses will survive that long. A recent McKinsey study found that more than half of the 2,200 small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) they surveyed across Europe felt their businesses may not survive longer than 12 months. Meanwhile, in the US, 59% of small businesses surveyed in a Goldman Sachs study reported a negative revenue impact from the pandemic. Considering that SMBs employ just under half of the US workforce1 and two-thirds of Europe's2, you quickly see the importance of this sector to the wider economy.
Even before the pandemic, small businesses in numerous industries were struggling to compete against the industry goliaths, who used their scale, technology and access to capital to muscle into new markets and keep upstarts out of theirs. Incumbency has therefore proven a powerful thing: it’s no wonder the rate of new business creation has been in decline for decades and is at its lowest level since the late ‘70s.3 And due to successive waves of mergers, some industries have never been more concentrated. The pandemic could accelerate this consolidation, making it even tougher for small businesses to succeed.
Faced with these two existential threats, what can small businesses do to compete in what feels like a David vs. Goliath world? From my perspective, it’s really all about the customer. In a world where it's increasingly difficult to differentiate on product or service features, price or quality, customer experience is one of the main ways you can stand out in the crowd.
By focusing on listening to and understanding your customers you can build loyalty while identifying new opportunities to serve them. How? By listening. Your customers, prospective customers, and competitors are sharing their experiences, feedback and ideas openly on social media every day. And due to its open nature, Twitter is a great place to both connect with your customers and learn more about what’s important to them.
Just about anything and everything is shared on Twitter, from the trendy to the mundane, often answering questions you didn't think to ask. This hints at an important characteristic of Twitter data: unsolicited opinions and feedback shared by consumers in the moment they are actually having that experience. These perspectives are unfiltered, raw and emotional, shedding light on underlying motivations, emerging behaviors and new norms. Surveys can be helpful, but they are guided by the questions asked and it can be a struggle to get people to complete them. Social listening on the other hand allows you to instantly tap into millions of conversations on topics important to your business. We like to think of it as the world’s largest focus group.
It’s never been easier to tap into the public conversation on Twitter to support your business’s growth. Social media management tools such as Sprout Social, a Twitter Official Partner, make it easy to deliver social customer service and listen to customers for ideas on how to improve your products or services while gathering inspiration for new ones. From the florist to the pharmacist and the retailer to the restaurateur, small businesses of all shapes and sizes can gather insights that help move themselves forward. And as we enter 2021 with the hope of recovery on the horizon, investing in market awareness is a truly wise investment, which just might help some of the Davids out there take on their Goliaths.
Looking to get inspired? Check out data.twitter.com for case studies that highlight the value of social listening.