This month’s Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly Column: “Stats make a compelling case for using social media”

Every month I write a column about social media for The Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly. Here’s September’s:

Stats make a compelling case for using social media

Benjamin Disraeli once said, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.” Nevertheless, numbers get our attention: they help us make sense of trends, understand complex concepts and decide where to focus our attention.

This certainly is true when it comes to social media: As quickly as the social media landscape has changed, we all need help understanding what’s really happening and where things might be going.

With that in mind, here are 10 recently revealed social media statistics worth considering. Keep them in perspective and remember Disraeli’s words, but above all else, don’t ignore what they mean for your business.

The stat: Time on social networking sites and blogs now represents nearly a quarter of the total time Americans spend online — up from 15.8 percent a year ago. (Nielsen)

What it means for your business: If you think social media is a trend or exists only along the margins of the Web, this should change your mind. Social media is now such an integral part of the Web that it’s almost indistinguishable from Internet use as a whole. If you’re not taking advantage of social media — or, at the very least, if your website aims only to speak but not listen — it’s time to get aligned with Web 2.0.

The stat: Facebook now has more than 500 million members.

What it means for your business: If Facebook’s members represented citizens of a country, it would be the third-largest country in the world, behind only China and India. Facebook is no longer just for teens and college students. There’s a very good chance your customers are on Facebook, regardless of their age.

The stat: 17 million Americans use Twitter. (Edison Research)

What it means for your business: Just as social media as a whole is more than a niche phenomenon, Twitter is very much for real, despite all the scorn directed its way (including, occasionally, from yours truly). So if you think all the negativity about Twitter means “no one” uses it, think again.

The stat: Twitter’s user base represents only 7 percent of the U.S. population. (Edison Research)

What it means for your business: Don’t confuse “Twitter’s for real!” with “Twitter’s for everyone!” Tweets are a great way to share a timely, concise message, but they’re perishable. Twitter also can be very labor intensive. No matter what social media tools you’re considering, make sure they’re a good fit for your business.

The stat: 25 percent of Twitter users are African American. (Edison Research)

What it means for your business: How do you know which tools are a good fit for your business? Focus on the ones that have captured your audience’s attention. With African Americans making up one-quarter of its user base — approximately double the relative percentage of the U.S. population as a whole — Twitter is a great fit for many brands. As social media habits become harder to break, it makes sense to try to reach your audience where it already is, instead of trying to move it somewhere new.

The stat: LinkedIn is valued at $2 billion. (Bloomberg)

What it means for your business: Having a social media strategy means much, much more than just having a Facebook page or a Twitter presence. LinkedIn and other niche sites can have just as dramatic an effect on your ability to reach an audience. Investors are keeping an eye on LinkedIn. Are you?

The stat: 93 percent of all business buyers believe all companies should have a social media presence. (Cone Inc.’s “Social Media in Business” study)

What it means for your business: Not only are your customers on social media sites, they expect to find you there, too. If not, it’s a negative impression — one that could lead them to search a competitor’s name instead of spending more time trying to find you.

The stat: 81 percent of B2B companies have accounts on social media sites compared to 67 percent of B2C. (Business.com 2009 B2B Social Media Benchmarking Study)

What it means for your business: Some business-to-business companies believe that social media just isn’t for them. However, B2B use of social media actually outpaces that of B2C. It’s important to remember that B2B is still person to person, and connecting people is exactly what social media is designed to do, regardless of your industry.

The stat: Employees who use social networking sites are 9 percent more productive than those who don’t. (University of Melbourne)

What it means for your business: If you’re resistant to social media because you think it will inhibit your employees’ productivity, you may be missing the big picture. Tools like LinkedIn and YouTube may give employees access to people and resources that can help them get more done. And just like a coffee break can recharge our batteries, occasional visits to Facebook may help them re-energize before diving back in to their work. Social media use isn’t appropriate for all professions — brain surgeons and taxi drivers come immediately to mind — but consider its benefits before limiting employee access.

The stat: Social media is the focus for many marketers, with 45.4 percent saying it’s a “top priority” and another 42.2 percent calling it “important.” (The Society of Digital Agencies’ “2010 Digital Marketing Outlook”)

What it means for your business: Need more evidence that social media is important to your business? Consider this: Even if your company doesn’t have a strategy for using social media to reach its customers, it’s almost certain that your competition does.

None of these statistics is important on its own. But when you consider them collectively, they demonstrate a very real shift in our communication environment. Overall, the story they tell is that social media, when used effectively, impacts the statistics that matter most — your revenue, customer satisfaction and employee retention rates, for example. And those are numbers that, Disraeli’s wisdom notwithstanding, never lie.

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