Tech Will Save Us: How Tech is Supporting Small Businesses (and Cinemas)

By | April 27, 2020 7:55 am PDT

While there is no doubt that the coronavirus pandemic has been devastating to small businesses, one of the more interesting aspects has been the technological response to support the businesses most affected by coronavirus. Whether it’s a local coffee shop, a retail outlet or a cinema, there are a host of products that have been developed to help small businesses during their time of need. We’ve highlighted a number of these tech products that can help support your cinema during these trying times.

Social media is a vital component to a cinema’s survival during the coronavirus shutdown. Whether it’s building the community around your cinema, fundraising or simply providing an update on reopening dates, it’s one of the most important means of keeping in touch with the public. Luckily, there are a host of new tools and advice from the big tech companies to help small businesses survive during this unprecedented period.

One of the most difficult things to handle in this crisis has been tone of voice on social media. How does a brand address the strange situation that we find ourselves in? It’s vital to keep communications open with customers but it can be extremely tricky to navigate at this time. Twitter has recently published a survey conducted amongst its users that provides some great suggestions on what the public is looking for from brands during this period.

  • 64% said brands should continue advertising products as normal – While cinemas may not be able to promote new content like usual, there are many opportunities for interaction with quizzes, polls and the like;
  • 52% agreed that seeing/hearing ads gives them a sense of normality;
  • 77% agreed they feel more positively about brands making an effort to support society at the moment – we’ve already seen some cinemas, such as the Movies@ group in Ireland, respond with initiatives such as offering free admissions to health care workers for the rest of the year;
  • 7% of respondents said brands should continue using their normal brand tone of voice.

You can read the rest of Twitter’s research, including responses specific to coronavirus, here.

Facebook, and Facebook-owned Instagram, have also risen to the occasion to provide support for small businesses. Setting aside Facebook’s $100 million grant programme for small businesses, they have pulled together a number of helpful resources for brands, including one specific to entertainment, which provides guidance and tips on everything from livestreaming and external communications to free webinars on managing groups and communities.

Instagram Giftcards

Facebook and Instagram have also been developing new products and services to address the challenges faced by many small businesses. Last week, both platforms announced they are making it easier to purchase gift cards through Facebook and Instagram accounts as a way to generate income. They have also made it easier to raise money, through the creation of new fundraisers linked to a business, and created a range of Instagram products, such as stickers for an Instagram story, to raise awareness of any activity. Given the popularity of gift cards and fundraisers to support small cinemas as documented previously, these are welcome additions to the Facebook and Instagram family.

Not to be left out, Google has also pulled together a resource hub for small businesses affected by the coronavirus, including free digital skills training which covers Google-specific marketing, but also general digital and business skills.

An offshoot of social media, livestreaming and watch parties, such as the Everyman House Party, have proven an important way for cinemas to stay connected with their customers, and technology has found a way to support those as well.

Facebook Fundraiser

Instagram has recently made their livestreams viewable in a web browser, which improves the viewing experience, but also, combined with their new gift card and fundraising opportunities could be a game changer for helping support small businesses. Google has also released a guide on how to maximise livestreaming through YouTube.

For any cinemas looking to capitalize on the community building watch party trend, the Netflix Party app is a free Google Chrome Browser extension which dramatically improves the experience of watching a movie on Netflix as a group. The extension adds a group chat element, and allows group synchronisation, so if one person pauses the movie, it pauses for everyone.

Another tool to help improve the watch party experience is Substitial, a free browser extension that allows captioning (or subtitling) to be added to online video content, making foreign language content much more accessible.

wi-Q Wi-Q

We’ve also seen an uptick in curbside concessions recently. While some cinemas have been able to run curbside concessions activity through their own mobile app, for those that don’t have an app, wi-Q can help. Wi-Q, a mobile ordering technology provider, has developed low-cost, purpose built software designed for small restaurants and coffee shops, but which could work equally well for a cinema, and no app is needed. Customers can access a menu via a URL link or QR, and pay by card. In fact, Wi-Q already has a history of working with cinemas, having previously provided software around ordering concessions in advance.

While not technology in the sense of the other examples here, hashtags are proving a valuable source of information, networking, fundraising and providing a much needed sense of community. We’ve seen it already in the industry with #MoviesTogether and #CelebrateOurCinema, but there are several hashtags in circulation at the minute that could be of use.

#OpenWeStand was started by website builder GoDaddy to provide a space where small businesses owners can provide support for each other, share ideas and access information. The associated website – www.openwestand.org – not only has resources on topics from financial support opportunities to working from home tips and a forum to share ideas with other small businesses, it even has a list of global partner brands that have pledged to support small businesses.

PayItForwardLive

Over in the US, telecoms and media giant Verizon has launched #PayItForwardLIVE, an initiative to support small businesses, which not only offers weekly live streams from major performers on their Twitter page, but also provides grants for businesses affected by coronavirus. The public is encouraged to include the #PayItForwardLIVE and tag the name of the small business they are supporting, and Verizon will donate $10 per use of the hashtag to that small business.

This is just a small sample of the huge range tools that are available to small businesses if you know where to look. Some further resources for free support for small businesses can be found here.

The direct correlation between cinema and big tech may not be immediately apparent, but cinemas such as Fyrisbiografen, the winner of the Europa Cinemas Innovation Prize 2018, have been treating their cinema like a tech start-up long before the coronavirus crisis occurred. Thanks to extensive web analytics, audience and ticketing data analysis, they successfully revamped their approach on everything from their website to digital marketing. As a result, they increased their audience almost 50% from 2016 to 2017, all through technology that was available to the public. Now, with all the new tech that has been developed to help small businesses survive the coronavirus, the opportunities to generate income during shutdown and grow audiences when cinemas are able to reopen have increased substantially.

While these are incredibly tough times for any small business, it is safe to say that we have never been better equipped to weather the storm. The range and breadth of tools available to help any business, from a coffee shop to a gym to a cinema, is unparalleled and they should be embraced because in this instance, it does seem like tech really will save us.

Jess Carlin

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