Businesses Find Opportunities to Fundraise, Connect Through Local Platforms

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This post is the latest in our “Commerce and Coronavirus” series. It will be an editorial focus for the month of April, and you can see the rest of the series here.

From an operational standpoint, transitioning to a takeout-only restaurant during the Covid-19 pandemic is a challenge. From a marketing perspective, it’s often even worse.

At the same time they’re furloughing employees and overhauling their kitchens to account for new social distancing guidelines, restaurant owners are frantically working behind the scenes to post updated and accurate information about their hours and menus across many different online platforms and social media pages.

Consumers say they want to help the local businesses in their communities, and many are buying gift cards and launching GoFundMe campaigns to help their favorite restaurants, retailers, and brewpubs avoid going out of business. But restaurants and other essential businesses that remain open still need a way to let customers know how they’re selling their products and services, and how they can place orders without showing up in person.

The neighborhood social networking app Nextdoor is one of a number of platforms working on ways to ease that burden. Businesses can now offer gift card URLs and add new takeout and delivery menus to their Nextdoor Business Pages so customers know how to order and offer support. Businesses that have GoFundMe campaigns can include links to those campaigns in the “Story” section of their Nextdoor Business Pages. Nextdoor is also pushing the updates that businesses make to their hours, services, and operations into the main Nextdoor news feed, so users will see when local businesses have changed their information.

In addition to those tools, Nextdoor has also launched a Coronavirus Resource Center to help local businesses get updated news and actionable business advice to navigate the pandemic.

“Nextdoor was built to bring neighbors together—this is important in good times and essential in times of need,” says Nextdoor CEO Sarah Friar. “People across the globe are reaching out to their neighbors on Nextdoor with kindness and offers of help.”

Conversations about supporting local businesses on Nextdoor have increased 17X in the two weeks since states began implementing shelter-in-place orders. In March, the company says global daily active members increased more than 80% month over month.

Other platforms have launched similar initiatives. Yelp has added a number of new features to help local businesses survive, including banner alerts that let customers know about closures or adjusted hours and a “contact-free” delivery option available to businesses through a partnership with Grubhub. Yelp has offered to waive some advertising fees during the crisis, and the company launched a $25 million relief fund.

Facebook was the first place many local businesses turned as social distancing guidelines began impacting operations in March. Although ad spending by local businesses is expected to decrease in the coming months, time spent on Facebook has skyrocketed. When restaurants adjust their hours and update their delivery menus, Facebook is often one of the first places they’ll go. The company is currently rolling out new tools to help businesses connect with customers during the crisis, including a personal fundraisers feature, which business owners can use to ask customers for financial support, and a new option that will enable businesses to list temporary changes to their operations on their Facebook pages.

Facebook is also rolling out a gift card registry to make it easier for people to find and purchase digital gift cards for local businesses, even if those businesses are temporarily closed. Instagram is reportedly working on a similar registry.

Online communities like Patch, the local news platform with thousands of hyperlocal websites covering towns throughout the U.S., are launching online resources for businesses that need help with digital marketing as well. Businesses can share updates about their current status or host virtual events—like cooking demonstrations or virtual paint nights—through Patch’s platform.

Patch’s moderation team has loosened up its restrictions on purely promotional posts on the platform to give businesses even more opportunities to solicit support during the coronavirus pandemic.

Stephanie Miles is a senior editor at Street Fight.Rainbow over Montclair

Stephanie Miles is a journalist who covers personal finance, technology, and real estate. As Street Fight’s senior editor, she is particularly interested in how local merchants and national brands are utilizing hyperlocal technology to reach consumers. She has written for FHM, the Daily News, Working World, Gawker, Cityfile, and Recessionwire.