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The “digital divide” for rural small businesses

William Richmond (Western Carolina University, Cullowhee, North Carolina, USA)
Scott Rader (Western Carolina University, Cullowhee, North Carolina, USA)
Clinton Lanier (University of St. Thomas, St. Paul, Minnesota, USA)

Journal of Research in Marketing and Entrepreneurship

ISSN: 1471-5201

Article publication date: 16 October 2017




This research aims to contribute to the marketing and entrepreneurship literature by showing that there is a new, different digital divide for rural small businesses based not on access to the internet but on its use for digital marketing.


This research uses data from the state of North Carolina, examining 1,000 businesses across both rural and non-rural geographies in terms of their deployment of Web and social media marketing technologies. Further, within the rural category, analysis proceeded to ascertain potential differences between “western” (mountainous) and “eastern” (coastal) rural areas.


The research concludes that despite significant improvements in broadband access in rural areas, rural small businesses still lagged in terms of adoption of state-of-the-art Web and social media marketing practices. However, between western and eastern rural areas, differences in this lag in best practice were not discovered.

Research limitations/implications

Although the data collected were limited to small businesses in North Carolina, the results may not generalize all small businesses.


While underserved, rural economies received apt attention with regard to closing the proverbial “digital divide” in terms of broadband (high-speed internet) services. Resolution of this disparity does not necessarily portend that those same constituents also closed the gap in terms of using online, marketing best practices that are facilitated by broadband. Policymakers wishing to promote rural economies need to address not only the existence of an internet infrastructure but also the small businesses’ willingness and ability to use it effectively.



Richmond, W., Rader, S. and Lanier, C. (2017), "The “digital divide” for rural small businesses", Journal of Research in Marketing and Entrepreneurship, Vol. 19 No. 2, pp. 94-104.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited

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