John Murray, who owns the Hero Joint in Patchogue and Kilwins...

John Murray, who owns the Hero Joint in Patchogue and Kilwins restaurants in Patchogue and Babylon Village, said he hired a full-time social media manager to help to grow his business during COVID. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

Small businesses are banking on social media to carry them through COVID-19.

Reaching customers on Facebook, Instagram and other digital platforms has become crucial for companies contending with capacity restrictions and cautious consumers, Long Island entrepreneurs and business leaders said Thursday during an e-panel on small businesses. The event was part of an annual summit on strategic development hosted by Vision Long Island, an organization advocating for growth on the island.

Restaurateur John Murray said he hired a full-time social media manager, and has been blown away by his capabilities.

"If you're going to survive these times — with peoples' short attention spans, mainly, and conventional advertising not really being as traceable — you have to get on social media," said Murray, who owns the Hero Joint in Patchogue and Kilwins restaurants in Patchogue and Babylon Village. "They can actually take your call history off your phone, and input that into Facebook and try to find those peoples' profiles to then target them with ads."

Food reviews, deal promotions and spreading news on social media have helped merchants in the South Asian Chamber of Commerce, according to director Harry Malhotra. The chamber rotates when it publicizes various members' sales so companies gain customers during slow periods, but do not compete with one another.

"He does the pitas filled with chicken — now five bucks only … he does it on Tuesdays, and the other guy, does kebabs on Thursday," Malhotra said, adding entrepreneurs are getting to know customers on a first-name basis. "We're bringing that old method back, but in a new, modern way."

In a separate session, also on Thursday, panelists talked about the importance of youth workforce training.

During the session, panelist Subrina Oliver, chief executive of O-High Technologies in Deer Park, said high schoolers should familiarize themselves with evolving STEM fields, such as automation, energy and information technology.

"In order for you to take hold of your own career, you have to be STEM secure," said Oliver, whose firm connects STEM employers with minority technology workers. Even if students "decide to go on a non-STEM path, if they have STEM knowledge, they’ll still be advantaged," she said.

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