updated 12/7/2010 10:17:11 AM ET 2010-12-07T15:17:11

NEW YORK, Dec. 7, 2010 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- In prioritizing which technology is most important to their companies, America's small business owners still value business software and their company website more highly than social media sites and services. However, while software and core Web presence rank highest in helping them to operate more efficiently and acquire new customers, a new study by The Guardian Life Small Business Research Institute also identified specific segments within the small business community that are starting to embrace social media as a communications and business building resource.

The research, fielded earlier in 2010, reveals that "using software to make my business run more efficiently" and "using websites to tell prospective customers about our business" are currently the two most important ways that small business owners tap the power of technology. In contrast, "using social media as a tool for communicating about our company" and "using social media as a way to find out about prospective clients or prospects" ranks significantly lower when viewed, in aggregate, across all respondents. The categories of small business owners where social media is more strongly emerging as an important tool include Women, Millennials, Companies with 10 or more employees and businesses that have experienced – or expect to experience – growth in revenue.

Measuring Intensity

These findings emerged from The Guardian Life Index: What Matters Most to America's Small Business Owners, which uses an innovative 21-point scale to register intensity of feelings among America's small business owners on a wide range of operational and personal issues. The Institute's analysis is based on a comprehensive study, which surveyed 1,200 small business owners with 2 - 99 employees across 12 key industry sectors, including: Accounting & Financial Services, Arts & Entertainment, Environmental, High-Tech, Hotels & Restaurants, Manufacturing, Personal Services, Professional & Technical Services, Real Estate, Retail & Wholesale Trade, Traditional / Discretionary Healthcare and Other.

"Small business owners are significantly leveraging technology for operational efficiency and customer engagement," explained Mark Wolf, director of The Guardian Life Small Business Research Institute. "Social media is emerging as an important tool, and there is every reason to expect it will blossom as more small business owners begin experimenting with it. But, for the majority of small business owners today, the priority remains firmly focused on those types of technology that provide direct, tangible support of the business such as their website and core software."

Gender Differences

Gender differences regarding the importance of technology are striking. According to The Guardian Life Index, women small business owners are far more likely to embrace technology in all its forms and applications than their male counterparts. Significantly, women entrepreneurs value social media at three times the level of male small business owners.

"The Institute's research has previously shown that women entrepreneurs are more customer-focused and more likely to incorporate community into their business plans than male small business owners," said Patricia G. Greene, Ph.D., MBA, special academic adviser to The Guardian Life Small Business Research Institute. "These findings suggest that women small business owners are more inclined to embrace new tools like social media to engage with customers and build communities of interest."

Size and Generational Differences

Not surprisingly, company size is consistently correlated with the high importance of technology. Small businesses with 10 or more employees more intensely value software, websites and social media as tools that can enhance their business operations than companies with fewer staff members.

For the first time, The Guardian Life Index looked at generational differences among small business owners. Efficiency-improving software and websites are equally valued across four generations of small business owners: Millennials (under age 28), Generation Xers (age 29 to 49), Baby Boomers (age 50 to 67) and Silents (age 68 to 85). However, Millennial small business owners are far more likely to value social media than any of their generational counterparts. The importance of social media drops consistently from younger to older generations.

Technology and Financial Performance

A striking bifurcation emerges with regard to feelings about technology and financial performance. Small business owners that expect their revenues to increase by more than 25 percent over the prior year, as well as those who expect their revenues to decline by more than 25 percent, equally value technology at a high level of intensity.

Similarly, small business owners that plan to expand their business as well as ones that plan to downsize, value technology with remarkably consistent views. "On the one hand, small business owners feel that efficiency-boosting software, website utilization and social media applications can help them grow their companies. On the other hand, if they are planning to downsize, they can use the same tools to become more efficient and more effective with less reliance on other resources," said John Krubski, the futurist who designed The Institute's methodology and serves as its research advisor.

Visitors to The Institute's YouTube channel will also hear the personal account of a female small business owner currently using social media to successfully market and promote her business, as well as a technology evangelist who shares his insights on how to effectively utilize social media platforms at http://www.youtube.com/guardiansmallbizdom .

About The Guardian Life Small Business Research Institute

The Guardian Life Small Business Research Institute is an intellectual resource devoted to better understanding America's small business owners. It combines ground-breaking research the company commissions with the expertise of people within the Guardian Life family who have deep experience in the small business community, to yield deeper knowledge, insights and wisdom about today's small business trends.

For more information about The Guardian Life Small Business Research Institute, please visit: www.smallbizdom.com .

About Guardian

A mutual insurer founded in 1860, The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America and its subsidiaries are committed to protecting individuals, business owners and their employees with life, long term care insurance, disability income, group medical and dental insurance products, and offer 401(k), annuities and other financial products. Guardian operates one of the largest dental networks in the United States, and protects more than six million employees and their families at 120,000 companies. The company has more than 5,400 employees in the United States and a network of over 3,000 financial representatives in more than 80 agencies nationwide.

For more information about Guardian, please visit: www.GuardianLife.com .

CONTACT:  CooperKatz for The Guardian Life Small 
           Business Research Institute
          Leah Taylor
            (917) 595-3062
            ltaylor@cooperkatz.com
          Maria Martinez
            (917) 595-3059
            mmartinez@cooperkatz.com

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