Putting Your Best Digital Face Forward

By Chad Brooks Features FOXBusiness

Staff members work on their computers at Viki's office in Singapore May 24, 2012. Who would want to watch a South Korean soap that was a flop back home? Lots of people, it turns out - something that Singapore-based startup Viki feels vindicates its ... business model: an ad-supported streaming TV and movie site where unpaid fans add the foreign subtitles. The service plays on a number of trends both in Asia and worldwide: a passion for watching video over the Internet; a growing interest in content from other countries; and the emergence of more sophisticated software to spread the burden of laborious tasks like subtitling. REUTERS/Tim Chong (SINGAPORE - Tags: BUSINESS SCIENCE TECHNOLOGY)

Small businesses are hurting their bottom line by not building relationships with their customers online, new research shows.

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A study by Web.com, which offers a range of Internet services to small businesses, including domain registration, website builders and online marketing, discovered that nearly 60 percent of customers are influenced to take positive actions when a small business meets their expectations for Web, social media and digital capabilities.

Specifically, nearly half of those consumers who have their online expectations met by a small businesses said they would likely seriously consider the business over larger companies or Internet-based businesses, put it on their short list of favorite retailers and make a purchase from them.

In addition, 60 percent of those consumers who have their expectations met when interacting with a business online said they would be more likely to check out other aspects of the company's digital presence to find out more about the business, recommend the business to family and friends, visit the physical store and learn what other customers have to say about the business.

"Small businesses have historically relied on face-to-face relationships to grow and differentiate themselves, but today's consumers are demanding that these relationships extend into 'e-Main Street,'" said David Brown, chairman and CEO of Web.com.

Overall, 83 percent of the consumers surveyed said having a website and the use of social media is important to their consideration when choosing a small business at which to shop. Despite that, only 34 percent say the small businesses they're familiar with have a website.

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The research found that compared with what consumers expect, the majority of small business decision-makers overestimate their Web and social media capabilities. While 63 percent of small businesses think they are meeting their customers' online needs, just half of consumers feel the same way.

Ultimately, the study revealed that this perception gap may be a result of the two groups wanting different things. Researchers said consumers tend to seek empowerment, engagement and relationships via the Web and social media, while small business decision-makers emphasize transactions, awareness and marketing.

"Small businesses may underestimate the importance of digital capabilities today, but are beginning to take advantage of available tools to close the gap," Brown said.

The study shows that nearly three-quarters of small businesses believe that the Web, social media and wireless will be very important over the next four years.

The research was based on surveys of 3,000 consumers and 850 small business owners.

Originally published on BusinessNewsDaily.


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