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Connection: Don’t forget the social in social media

February 8, 2013

“Connection is the outcome of art.” — The Icarus Deception by Seth Godin

As an entrepreneur, you’ve done your homework: you’ve listened to the excellent advice from the Entrepreneurship 101 speakers, you’ve gone through all of the workbooks and are able to speak to the market for your startup, the viability of your business plan and your go-to-market strategy.

But have you stopped to consider and measure the impact of your connections as part of the health and wealth of your startup?

The MaRS website is full of advice and guidance on how to find a mentor, build your board, invest in talent and conduct sales. All of these discussions involve connections to you and your business, but we rarely talk about the intrinsic value of these connections.

Can you valuate the invaluable?

The social graph as described by Paul Butler of Facebook clearly shows the potential reach of one’s social network. By now I think we can all readily agree that social is the new norm and that its impact is already massive, especially when you look at the economic benefits as outlined in the McKinsey Global Institute report on the social economy.

Across four industries alone (consumer packaged goods, consumer financial services, professional services and advanced manufacturing), they have determined that the potential financial impact of enterprises engaging in social technologies is in the range of $900 billion to $1.3 trillion dollars. The consumer-supported activity in supporting enterprises reached $40 billion in 2010 and is projected to be as much as $76 billion by 2015.

These are powerful and impressive numbers and, as an entrepreneur, you need to know how to build and sustain your business by engaging in and using social technologies. Those who choose not to integrate social into their businesses will surely fail. Analyzing the value of efforts, energies and resources when you’re building your social presence is a responsible position to take. And it is right to be able to articulate the value of a “like” and what that brings to your business overall.

What I want to remind you of here, though, is the holistic impact of your connections, the social of social technologies. Connection is far more than your online community. It envelops, but also goes beyond, your team of advisors, mentors and investors.

Connection is what feeds your soul, fills your brain with ideas and inspiration, and buoys you as a human being. It is why your businesses are built, why research and discovery continue, and why social enterprises and B Corps have finally found their time.

Your art shows in your fellowship

While social technologies have changed many aspects of how we manage our businesses from day to day, something that hasn’t changed and that is still fundamental to making a business successful is that people still want to do business with people: people who they know and people who they believe in. This, of course, is entirely critical for startups.

What we know is that this network of connections is more important than ever in realizing those successes. Again, as noted by the McKinsey Global Institute, “people derive great personal satisfaction from the relationships they are able to maintain, the information they can glean, and the communities they form in their use of social technologies.”

Never before has the collective “we” had such immediate access to the “they.”

A few years ago, after New York Times journalists and authors Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman released their book NurtureShock, I was hugely impressed by their work and I went online to share just that. The authors then reached back and responded to me. It was a small act, that communication between us, but what it said was that they were interested in my excitement and my feedback just as much I was interested in sharing their work. We talked about bringing them to my local community for them to share their work at a grassroots level with parents and community members. Connection.

In many ways, we’re all still just a bunch of “Joes,” and everybody wants to be a part of something. Social technologies may create that warm handshake, but it’s equally as important to engage your connections directly. Talk with them, meet with them, invite them in.

Po and Ashley have become a reference for me now, and while we may not be friends in real life, they are a part of my experience—and that connection, no matter how fleeting, helped form and shape my engagement and embrace of social technologies.

So, how do ensure that you receive the greatest value from your connections? The answer is simple, really.

Aron Solomon, a MaRS advisor and one of the new leads on the MaRS education technology front, shared this message with the young leaders that he met with recently at i.c.stars in Chicago: Be a mensch.

When you are a mensch, you draw those to you that proffer advocacy, word-of-mouth support, influence and goodwill; all those things that are invaluable and immeasurable, but likely have the greatest impact on your early success.

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