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We need to (stop) talk(ing) about digital…

Written by Shaun Staff, Marketing & Communications Manager at SCC

In October, I attended the inaugural Digital Leaders West Midlands Salon, where leaders from across the region met to discuss the digital maturity and support available to charities and SMEs.

Key to the discussion was the Lloyd’s Bank UK Digital Index 2015, against a backdrop of ‘Provoking digital adoption in the West Midlands’.

The Digital Index offers insights into national and regional activity, and key findings include:

  • The most digitally mature SMEs are a third more likely to report an increase in turnover in the last two years than low digitally mature SMEs;
  • Charities are twice as likely…
  • …Yet more than half of charities do not believe having a website would increase funding;
  • 58% of charities are without basic digital skills compared to 23% SMEs.

But what does this mean for digital adoption in the West Midlands?

The Index tells us that the region has a stable score, in line with the national average. Key barriers remain, but are diminishing, and education & connectivity are the main prevention.

What the Index can’t tell us are the experiences of real people, such as those at the Salon, and those SMEs and charities that have benefitted from digital adoption over the past two years. And those yet to.

Interestingly, a recurring discussion point throughout the Salon focussed not on technology, connectivity, or the various platforms available to businesses and individuals, but language.

“We need to move away from talking about ‘digital.” Quite the quote in a room full of ‘Digital Leaders’. But it’s accepted that the idea of digital can be a de-motivator in itself.

The word ‘digital’ means different things to different people. And to those 58% of charities without basic digital skills, it’s as broad as it is daunting, and becomes even less relevant without practical application.

Education is key around the ‘art of the possible’ with digital. There are multiple platforms available for different uses, and not all are necessarily a good fit.

Throughout the Salon, we tended to keep coming back to social media. We all know about the power of Facebook and Twitter.

But how can digital be used, beyond social media, to address real business pain points of real businesses? The answer starts with education: breaking digital down into areas that can be improved, and communicating these simply:

  • Selling;
  • Payment;
  • Growing your business.

Two real life case studies stood out to me:

‘Best in Bury Butchers’, harnessed the power of digital to reach more than 600,000 people with their Facebook ‘real deals’ and grow turnover from £800k to £6m in 18 months.

In stark contrast, a local flower seller with a small market stall outside a West Midlands train station can’t – and won’t – accept digital payment.

It’s worth asking ‘why not?’

Is the flower seller actively averse to the idea of digital? Is it ignorance to the growth opportunities? Is it a lack of education around the help that is available to support his digital adoption? Is it simply contentedness – and is lack of growth ambition such a bad thing?

David Hardman, CEO of Innovation Birmingham, highlighted the importance of exactly what it is we’re trying to do as Digital Leaders West Midlands: ‘provoke’ digital adoption.

It’s important that charities and businesses are educated to understand the benefits of digital adoption. Together we can help charities and SMEs make informed decisions around the type of adoption, technologies, platforms, and real business application.

So how do we target businesses with zero understanding? Or SMEs that do not believe in the power of digital?

It was suggested that progress will be driven by digital champions – and larger organisations activating employees to create business partnerships and individual mentoring programmes.

We need to make it easier for people to be online, and provoking digital adoption must not stop at discussion.

As we moved into final reflections, it was agreed that as private and public sector businesses, and individuals, we need to take responsibility and act on ideas for change through tangible partnerships to help charities and SMEs embrace digital.

Shaun Staff is the Marketing & Communications Manager at SCC.

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