Machine learning is becoming more prevelant.
From automating parts of the hiring process to gathering insights from customer reviews, small businesses can benefit from the development of machine learning in several ways. — Getty Images/alvarez

Machine learning, a subset of artificial intelligence, has already been leveraged for many modern business applications. Twitter, for example, uses machine learning to better curate timelines for its users. Similarly, Facebook has introduced machine learning into its Messenger app, so chatbots can grow and change based on user responses and interactions.

As this technology continues to evolve, it will become more prevalent in the lives of business owners. That means that new applications for this type of technology will emerge and, ultimately, benefit small businesses.

"AI and machine learning are in their early stages but are evolving at a rapid pace," said Nancy Shenker, founder and publisher of Embrace the Machine. "Like any technology transformation, big companies are investing in AI/ML research and implementations, but SMBs will ultimately benefit from these powerful new ways of doing business."

[Read: 5 Emerging Business Trends to Know About Now]

How is machine learning changing the business world?

Marketing automation

According to Digital Marketing Institute, 97% of business leaders believe the future of marketing consists of marketers and machines working in tandem to better a business's outcome. Companies today are using machine learning to target new audiences, communicate with consumers and find new customers. These tasks, which were all performed manually before, can be completed in a more informed and efficient manner thanks to machine learning.

"Tools like Hubspot give businesses a way to streamline the ways in which they find and message prospects," Shenker said. "The 'machine' performs analytic and communication activities previously done manually."

AI and machine learning are in their early stages but are evolving at a rapid pace.

Nancy Shenker, founder and publisher, Embrace the Machine

Conversational intelligence

Facebook has created a virtual testing ground for chatbot companies with its Messenger app, but these findings signal another impact machine learning will have on business operations. Already, businesses are employing virtual chatbots to filter customer service requests, identify potential customers and streamline the customer service process.

A chatbot solution can be a great first step in the customer service process by streamlining the resolution process for common support questions. These tools can also be used to organize customer service issues and gather customer information for follow up conversations.

Recruiting and hiring

HR professionals often have to review hundreds, or (for larger businesses) even thousands, of resumes and cover letters for open positions. Machine learning has helped with recruiting and hiring by standardizing the process: It can analyze and organize resumes, scrape social media channels and build candidate profiles.

[Read: 8 Top Recruiting Tools for Hiring Managers]

Content generation

As machine learning continues to be refined, more content generation applications will emerge. Shenker said The Washington Post is already using machine learning to generate about a third of its content. With the speed, accuracy and efficiency of AI content generation tools, businesses can rely on trusted machine learning algorithms to create blog posts, press releases and other content related to company operations.

"The cost of these types of tools will come down and more companies will use them to create first drafts of blogs, gated content and other written pieces," Shenker told CO—.

Customer relations

Similar to customer service applications, machine learning is being used to glean insights from user reviews and other online customer interactions. Companies like AdoreMe, for example, provide small businesses with tools to sift through user reviews and understand trends. These trends can then be turned into actionable data and intelligence, further informing company decision making and growth.

Tips for embracing machine learning

Machine learning is an expanding field, so it's important to stay informed about new product developments. Here are a few ways to proactively embrace this technology.

  • Follow experts on LinkedIn. Following AI and machine learning experts on LinkedIn can be a great first step to staying informed about the technology. As companies push machine learning forward, you can stay up-to-date on developments and better understand how it will impact small business.
  • Identify application areas for your business. As machine learning and AI continue to develop, new business applications will emerge. If you have bottlenecks or other areas in your company where machine learning could have an impact, take note of these and look for solutions as they become available.
  • Attend conferences. Shenker said one of the best ways small business owners can understand the current and future state of artificial intelligence is to attend industry conferences (even if they're virtual for the foreseeable future).
  • Avoid "AI-washing" your branding. Because this technology is so new and exciting, many companies and industry players want to apply it to everything – even areas where it's not really being used. Shenker advises sifting the industry hype from actual innovations.

Whether it's a big part of your business or not, machine learning is poised to have a major impact on business productivity. View the relationship with technology not as an adversarial one, but as a partnership. Allow your company to grow and evolve with technology, and you'll be able to reap its rewards.

[Read: Jetblack, Walmart’s Personal Shopping Startup, Leverages Conversational Commerce]

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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Published May 12, 2020