By Bryan Toston
Conversations about the role and nature of technology in our lives intensified at Congress over the summer. And for good reason: Sound privacy rules, in particular, are important to business owners as well as consumers. Unfortunately, lawmakers have not focused on adopting a strict federal privacy standard; instead, they proposed a set of antitrust bills aimed directly at punishing the biggest tech companies for, among other things, their growth.
Aside from the motivation behind this legislation, the effects would be very real for the small business community and our economy in general. Small business owners are at risk of hugely disproportionate impacts, especially in terms of regulating the digital tools we rely on, unless our voices are part of the conversation.
It’s impossible to overstate the role that technology has played in the small business community over the past year and a half. Maintaining operations and keeping employees on the payroll during a pandemic simply wouldn’t have been possible without the digital tools available to today’s small business owners. The “stack” of back-end and marketing platforms provided by big tech companies – the same companies currently under consideration by Congress – have given Main Street businesses and budding businesses in their communities a chance to survive .
In working with small businesses across Eastern Washington, I have seen the value firsthand. We all use a multitude of Google tools: Analytics, Workspace, Admin Console. And Amazon Web Services is essential for hosting websites and facilitating other features for small businesses. In today’s uncertain marketplace, more than ever, small businesses need to connect and interact directly with customers online. This means using a targeted approach to social media and our online presences more generally. We have adapted in recent years, using social media marketing techniques through Facebook, Google, YouTube and others that have enabled targeted engagement with existing customers and channels to reach new ones. Facebook’s marketing tools, for example, were the only life jacket to keep some small businesses afloat during shutdowns, allowing them to keep their customers up-to-date, informed, or simply reachable at a time when few could afford to reinvent in the world. locally what the big tech companies were already providing.
As discussions surrounding the regulation of the tech industry continue in Congress, I cannot help but see the impacts of some proposals unfairly affecting our small business community. Large businesses willing and able to spend millions of dollars on focus groups have the luxury of generating the audience data they need for their marketing. Integrated digital tools jeopardized by impending antitrust proposals have given small businesses access to this same kind of marketing – a crucial head start, especially during difficult times of the pandemic.
This is the most important thing in digital tools: they allow the little guy to have access to the same kinds of tools and market research that big companies can afford. If lawmakers seek to foster competition, they should encourage continued access and provision of digital tools, not limit them.
Business owners and consumers fully recognize the need for political discussions around technology, given its essential and expansive role in our lives. But those conversations need to include the perspective of local business owners who draw on the tools provided by the very companies that are the main subject of anti-tech policies and messages emanating from Congress.
As delta variant COVID-19 cases continue to rise, and uncertainty remains in the day-to-day lives of small business owners and communities across the state, we seek to see a political approach to technology. that uplifts the small business community and facilitates continued access to critical digital services. We have ideas on how to protect the best interests of everyone, including that of our local economy. It’s time to make sure small business owners have a seat at the table.
Bryan Toston is co-owner of Kraken Creative, a Spokane-based marketing and design firm serving small businesses in the Northwest, and a member of the board of directors of the Spokane Hospitality Association.