As we mark the one-year anniversary of US pandemic lockdown, we wanted to look back at how a key segment of society, Small Business owners, has reacted as the months wore on. In particular, we wanted to see how B2C Small Businesses differed from the overall Small Business population. The B2C Small Business segment is dominated by retail establishments that have been particularly impacted by restrictions on in-person interactions. Knowing how B2C Small Business owners shifted their focus during the pandemic period provides a window into the mindsets of “Main Street” business owners, the priorities they have, and the role they play in society.
The first thing we noticed in the data was that B2C Small Business owners seemed to recognize the implications of the pandemic before Small Businesses in general. Both groups generated a spike of conversation at the beginning of the crisis, but the B2C group’s spike came earlier—they recognized the implications before other Small Businesses did.
As the first weeks of the pandemic unfolded, another interesting difference between the two populations became apparent. Finance was the largest topic of conversation in the overall Small Business group. However, for the B2C Small Business segment, two other topics were discussed more significantly than Finances. The top topic was Small Business Life, which captures the stress of managing all the risks associated with being the owner of a business. And a close second was People Management, a signal that B2C small business owners were particularly worried about keeping their teams employed through the crisis.
The fact that B2C Small Business owners talked more about their people and the stress of ownership, and less about finances, may be an indicator that they were less aware of (or felt they had less access to) the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). It may be that, unlike some larger B2B Small Businesses, small B2C establishments are less well capitalized and have less access to the banking services that facilitated PPP awards.
As the pandemic wore on, and the approval of vaccines offered some hope to the country toward the end of 2020, we observed another difference between the segments. In the past six months, the sentiment of the overall Small Business group conversation has fluctuated around a relatively consistent level of optimism. The sentiment of the B2C Small Business conversation, on the other hand, has trended downward. Even with the end of the pandemic in sight, B2C Small Business owners are finding it hard to be hopeful.
Understanding the conversation from specific audiences, like B2C Small Businesses, helps governments to develop policies and companies to provide solutions to solve those audiences’ problems.
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