Is Your Business Suffering from Social Media Denial?

Kevin Casey, intrepid journalist for InformationWeek, rang me up this week for input on his article, “Do Nonsocial SMBs Know Something We Don’t?” In the article, Kevin’s ponders whether SMBs that haven’t bought into social media have good reasons to hold off. Certainly an under-represented angle on this topic, especially when you consider that more than half of SMBs don’t use social media in their businesses according to a joint SMB Group-CRM Essentials “2011 Small and Medium Business Social Business Study,” conducted earlier this year (Figure 1). Even among SMBs that are using social media for some business functions, many do so in ad hoc fashion–primarily just throwing spaghetti on a Facebook wall.

Figure 1:

Kevin and I (and subsequently, his article) discussed several issues that hold “nonsocial” SMBs back, including an unwillingness to surrender control, fear of damaging the company’s image, difficulty in measuring success and that it takes too much time and effort. And, these reasons may be valid for some companies.

But, after we hung up, our conversation prompted me to re-visit the responses to the question, “What are the top 3 reasons that influenced your decision not to use social media solutions in the next 12 months?” The issues we came up with above align with factors that respondents cited in the survey, such as uncertainty about whether integrated social media solutions will help the business, too difficult to measure effectiveness of social media engagement, and concerns that employees won’t use social media responsibly.

However, the #1 reason SMBs with no plans to use social media cited is that they believe “customers and/or prospects don’t regularly use social media” (Figure 2). If you are in this camp–its time to wake up and smell the coffee! The new Pew Research study,  “Social networking sites and our lives,” reveals that 80% of Americans between the ages of 18 and 35, and 48% of U.S. adults over the age of 35 are now using social media–with use of social media sites doubling since Pew’s 2008 study. And that’s not all: Pew reports that the average age of adult social media users has risen from 33 in 2008 to 38 in 2010–and that more than half of users are now over 35.

Figure 2:

Need more proof that you need to figure out a social media plan for your business? A Wedbush Securities survey indicates that while the number 18 to 34 year-olds who “Like” Facebook content has crept up from 60% in 2010 to 66% percent in 2011, the percentage of Facebook users in the 55+ category hitting the Like button has jumped from 24% to 43% in the same time period.

So, while there may be valid reasons for some SMBs to choose not to integrate social media into their businesses, don’t delude yourself into thinking that you don’t need to get into the game because your customers and prospects aren’t using it. The odds are increasing every day that they are–and that your competitors will be all too happy to fill in any gaps you leave in the social media conversation.

Note: The SMB Group/CRM Essentials “2011 Small and Medium Business Social Business Study” surveyed 750 SMB (small business is 1-99 employees; medium business is 100-999 employees) decision-makers about their use and plans for social media for sales, marketing, customer service and support, product development, HR and other business functions. Related blog posts based on survey data include:

Seven Daily Inspirations from Dell’s Women Entrepreneur Network Event

Entrepreneurs are a rare breed. Although start-up activity has been on the upswing, just 0.34 of the adults in the U.S. for example (or 340 out of 100,000) started a new business each month in 2009, according to the Kaufman Index of Entrepreneurial Activity. Women entrepreneurs are even more exceptional, accounting for just 29% of all U.S. businesses, as indicated in a recent American Express study.

Small wonder when you delve deeper.  Women entrepreneurs receive less than 10% of all equity financing, relying instead on their own funds, friends and family, loans and credit cards to bootstrap their businesses. Yet, according to Moira Forbes, Editor and Chief, ForbesWoman, women-run companies outperformed male run companies by 28%. In fact, a Babson College study calculates that if women entrepreneurs had access to he same capital as men, they could add 6 million jobs to the economy in five years.

At Dell’s second annual Women Entrepreneur Network Global event, held June 5-7 in beautiful Rio de Janeiro (which I was lucky enough to attend and moderate a breakout session at), the spotlight was on inspiring women entrepreneurs from around the world to break through the gender barrier—and in the words of Cindy Gallop, Founder and CEO, IfWeRanTheWorld—change the ratio.

The event brought together a global all-star team of female business leaders who are succeeding at this mission, along with a fresh crop of aspiring women entrepreneurs determined to beat the odds and create successful enterprises. Featured speakers and panelists included women who’ve founded and funded businesses across a diverse range of geographies and industries.

Many pearls of wisdom were imparted in this highly interactive and engaging conference (check out the Twitter hashtag #DWEN, which drove 12 million social media impressions in 3 days, according to @Dell and @Radian6). Here are seven that really made an impression on me and that I wanted to share.

1.     Failure is an essential part of success. Women are often more likely than men to take failure personally and give up on an idea or project after rejection. As noted by Arianna Huffington, in her live video presentation: “I love taking about my failures more than my successes….think of failure as stepping stone to success…I was rejected by 35 publishers before getting to yes.” And now look at her as the Huffington Post blasts by the New York Times in unique monthly visits.

2.     Take action to make your dreams come true. “When you cease to dream, you cease to live,” is a celebrated quote from Malcolm S. Forbes. Having big dreams is a key ingredient for launching a successful business, and “taking action is what separates entrepreneurs from people with ideas,” as summed up by his great-grand-daughter, Moira Forbes in this video. How true! How many times have you had a great idea and done nothing with it, only to see someone else take that same idea, run with it, and create a fantastic business?

3.     Be curious. Curiosity is what makes Michael Dell such a great entrepreneur, according to Dell’s Steve Felice, President, Consumer, Small and Medium Business. In my humble and unscientific opinion, most women tend to be more naturally curious than men. The anecdotal evidence I’m basing this on is that I know a lot more male know-it-alls than female ones. Harness your innate curiosity to explore, examine and unearth what people want and need to zero in on market opportunities and propel your business forward.

4.     Pitch your business to its full potential. Lots of great advice on how to do this in the two-part Entrepreneurial Incubator workshops. Springboard Enterprises—which has helped over 400 women-led companies raise more than $5 billion in equity financing since 2000—provided terrific insights and feedback for women seeking equity capital. The top takeaways: don’t second guess yourself, learn to sell, go big or go home. Nail your pitch to convey the passion, power and confidence necessary not only for funding, but to seal the deal in business partnerships, customer sales and media opportunities.

5.     Women have to use our talents, not act like men. Women bring a different attitude and approach to businesses. You can be strong, smart and assertive without acting like a man! For instance, trust your gut–if in doubt, don’t!” Certainly great advice whether it’s in your professional or personal life. As Tina Wells, Founder and CEO, Buzz Marketing Group  discussed, cultivate authenticity, not “authenticitude.” Being the best of who you really are is a more winning formula than trying to re-make yourself into an image of what you think you should be.

6.     Fuel your business with technology. Free and inexpensive online services and social media can kick-start your business. Entrepreneurs can use cloud computing’s “no infrastructure investment required” model to get their businesses off the ground. To gain staying power over time, they also need to fully integrate technology with the business to get streamline processes, gain scalability, and sustain market and competitive advantages.

7.     Peer mentorship is as important as getting venture capital.  Many of the women discussed how refreshing it was to be at an event where openness, sharing and constructive feedback was the norm at this event. The highly successful entrepreneurs at DWEN are generous in sharing their time and advice with new entrepreneurs, via one-on-one interactions, social media and angel investing. And we can all swap stories, trade notes and learn from each other’s experiences. Cindy Gallop’s movement to encourage women to demand more women speakers, panelists, etc. at ALL events is another way we can foster mentoring–check out #changetheratio on Twitter.

The wisdom, camaraderie and energy at DWEN was truly amazing, as was this group of women, who live and lead with these inspirations everyday—and serve as an inspiration for all of us, men and women–as we pursue our goals.

(Disclosure: Dell is an SMB Group client and covered my travel expenses for the DWEN event)