In his seminal book Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Peter Drucker said that “entrepreneurship, then, is behavior rather than personality trait.” That entrepreneurship can be learned if, as he says in Harvard Business Review, one commits to “the systematic practice of innovation.” The latest behavior that has become a hallmark of the 21st century entrepreneur takes place on social media. With the meteoric rise of platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Kickstarter, Google+ and countless others over the past decade, it has transformed the way we think about life and business with regards to sharing information, connecting with consumers, networking with colleagues, collaborating on projects, and company branding. Programs like General Assembly and Stanford’s Design Thinking School along with concepts such as the Lean Startup methodology provide hands on training for individuals and organizations thereby increasing the incidence of an entrepreneurial mindset in society. Drucker’s groundbreaking ideas preceded the mainstream arrival of social media, which presents a unique opportunity to expand upon his work and apply his principles in a fresh context.
Tata Consultancy Services, a leading global company focusing on IT services, digital and business solutions, completed a study “Social Media is Serious Business: A View from European Youth” about social media usage across Europe, where they surveyed 5,000 young people from 15 countries. The results of the study and the #GenerationDirect campaign indicate that the importance of social media among young (i.e., Millennial) entrepreneurs cannot be overstated. Thirty-three percent of this group utilize social media on a daily basis, with its uses ranging from hiring, client communication, networking, collaboration and skill development. Specifically, 60% of young entrepreneurs indicate that social media helps them find freelance employees, and 41% are in touch with their clients via social media on a daily basis. Furthermore, 62% of the sample use social media to grow their business network. In essence, social media has become a fundamental aspect of growing and sustaining a business for Millennial entrepreneurs. As the theme of this year’s Peter Drucker Forum is called “The Entrepreneurial Society,” it is clear that a substantial portion of this society now exists on social media.
The emphasis on social media among young entrepreneurs reflects a larger generational shift regarding the demographical makeup of the global workforce. Millennials (those born between 1982-1994) will make up 75% of the world’s workers by the year 2025 and are considered ‘digital natives’ as the first generation to come of age with the internet and smart phones. For this generation, the use of social media is second nature and a natural part of their daily existence. Beyond their comfort level with technology and their every-increasing presence at work, this generation has received wide spread attention in popular media for their perceived workplace behavior, stereotypically being seen as a job-hopping, entitled bunch. However, in a study I recently co-authored, “Misunderstood Millennial Talent: The Other Ninety-One Percent”, we found that the stereotypes are largely untrue. For the 91% of Millennials that are not financially privileged, only 10% are considering leaving their current job in the next year. In fact, Millennials face intense financial pressure, with over half of Millennials needing to take out student loans to pay for their undergraduate education and 43% having loans totaling $40,000 or more. The overall student debt in the U.S. alone in 2014 was over $1.2 trillion. This generation is predicted for the first time in modern history to be worse off than their own parent’s generations. With such significant financial strain all over the world, many Millennials have turned to social media for help. The Tata consultancy study indicates that social media helps young entrepreneurs have access to funding that perhaps would not have been available before these platforms existed. Furthermore, young workers in general are using social media to improve their chances for employment and command a stronger voice in the world.
While the use of social media is clearly ubiquitous among Millennials, it can be easy to forget how new our reliance on technology still is. The iPhone did not exist as recently as 10 years ago, Facebook did not exist as recently as 13 years ago, and LinkedIn did not exist as recently as 15 years ago. Therefore, we are just scratching the surface on the various ways to capitalize on the business benefit of social media. The room for innovation in this regard knows no bounds. One recent area of growth has been digital learning. According to the Tata study, 42% of young entrepreneurs in Europe believe that the skills which they acquire online will make them more marketable in other industries. Additionally, the acquisition of new skills could make it easier for this generation to find what it is they are passionate about and find a job or career which reflects that. In our study, 72% of Millennials indicated that Meaning and Purpose were very important to them in their work, which was higher than any other single factor. And how they define it is far from the superficial portrayed in the mainstream media. 71% say achieving the goals set before them and being seen as a valued contributor to their supervisor and teammates is a defining aspect of Meaning and Purpose. If Millennials can leverage the tools that social media offers to align their career with their personal skills and interests, they will be more likely to achieve meaning in their work. Tata consultancy’s study also reported that 50% of young workers have used social media to sign an online petition, indicating the potential for the Millennial generation to contribute to societal causes that they find meaningful through social media platforms.
To quote Peter Drucker once again, he said that “results are gained by exploiting opportunities, not by solving problems.” Social media presents an enormous opportunity for young entrepreneurs to continue finding creative ways to build their brands, dynamically serve their clients, cultivate relationships with colleagues and consumers, and explore new frontiers within this young digital society. Of course, not all social media behaviors are entrepreneurial, but the resources and platform it provides enables young individuals to act entrepreneurially in a way that was recently not possible. This suggests that the current generation of digital natives could be the most entrepreneurial that we’ve seen to date.