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Four small business takeaways from SXSW Interactive 2016

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Sharma Hyder
How much does technology drive your current business strategy?
Four small business takeaways from SXSW Interactive 2016

Whether your entire business model is made possible by the latest tech, or you’re still thinking about how best to incorporate new technology into your business, tech trends are driving the future of business. Your company, no matter how big or small, needs to get connected.

Recently, Verizon and I partnered together and attended SXSW Interactive 2016 festival in Austin to bring you the most important trends in tech that will shape the future of small business.

The biggest reoccurring theme we discovered was that technology can be a strategic driver that helps businesses to increase efficiency and enable personalization. Within that overarching theme, we attended panels covering four broad trends: Big Data, operating smarter, talking with customers, and new digital media.

Let’s look at how you can put these trends to work for your business.

Big Data

New Insights: Big Data is everywhere, and simply put, it’s overwhelming. Frankly, there is too much information to be efficiently processed and then applied. That’s why the latest developments in AI (Artificial Intelligence) are so exciting. Engineers are now programming AI to process data in a way that provides actual insight, rather than simply regurgitating the data back to us. With those data-based insights ready at hand, the decision-making process becomes much easier for small business owners.

Gartner estimates that there will be 20 billion Internet-connected things by 2020! This means that the ability to crunch the numbers quickly and get to insights that actually move your business forward is more crucial than ever. In order to stay afloat in this flood of information, it’s best to embrace AI, letting it help us utilize all the promise that Big Data offers.

Actions to Take: Make sure the equipment you use on a daily basis is up-to-date with the latest technologies that allow you to capture data wherever possible. For example, sensor-based systems such as smart thermostats and air-conditioning systems could help provide data on electricity usage, thereby helping you better control heat and electricity costs in your office.

Operating Smarter

New Insights: As the saying goes, work smarter, not harder. In this case, operating smarter is all about managing people and optimizing processes. To that end, putting people first and building the right company culture for your business is vital. When you put an agile, authentic, transparent culture in place, it helps increase employee retention, boost customer loyalty, and even improve vendor relationships.

That same culture then supports the kinds of processes your business needs in order to grow. To be effective, processes must be about actual, realistic execution, not just ideas. It’s crucial to thoroughly test ideas and products – and then be honest with yourself about the results, making sure you have the customer base to justify the introduction of a new product.

Actions to Take: Implement a culture where team members feel heard and valued. A culture in which everyone feels comfortable sharing their ideas and opinions creates a more collaborative atmosphere that will positively affect the way work gets done. You’ll likely see a boost in productivity, creativity, and flexibility. For example, try using a tool such as 15five, a quick and easy platform for employees to give their managers feedback, ask for help, or share their ideas.

Talking with Customers

New Insights: We attended one panel titled, “Is Twitter the New Customer Call Center?” in which we learned that in the past two years, the number of tweets directed at leading brands’ customer service channels has grown 250%. It’s easier than ever to communicate with brands and actually be heard. And 67% of consumers are now tapping social networks for their customer service needs. It’s pretty clear that social media has become an integral channel for customer interaction. In order to keep this public communication with customers positive, it’s important for small businesses to cultivate a climate of trust online.

Actions to Take: Customers don’t expect you to be perfect, but they do expect you to be responsive and respectful. Create trust through immediacy, transparency, and personalization. Consistently engage your customers with real-time responses. By addressing questions and issues directly and in a personalized way, you’ll be sending the right message to both the customer contacting you and your online audiences, who are undoubtedly watching.

New Digital Media

New Insights: Live streaming and virtual or augmented reality apps are on the rise, and customers are opting in. It’s easy to get overwhelmed, as it seems there’s a new app every day. But don’t worry – it’s not about the new platforms themselves, but more about the idea that people are becoming the media.

This is a huge shift! Businesses should be thinking about how to empower their customers to be brand advocates and give them the kind of experiences that they want to talk about and share.

Actions to Take: Small businesses don’t have unlimited resources. Luckily, new media caters to that reality. Rather than creating marketing content yourself, invite your customers and fans to contribute by allowing them to create and share their own relevant content based on their experience with your brand. Ask customers to leave honest reviews, or hold a contest on social media asking your audience to share images. User-generated content (UGC) is an extremely effective way to get a brand message across while connecting in a meaningful way with your audience.

So whether you’re looking utilize insights from Big Data, streamline operations, or improve customer engagement, technology can and should be a central component of your business strategy. It’s vital to harness the promise of the digital age by taking advantage of everything that the latest technology has to offer for your small business.