You thought the Internet was popular in business? Think again!

The popularity of the Internet seems obvious; after all, broadband suppliers can hardly keep up with the demand, Facebook membership is growing at the rate of 5m users a week and millions of people had their day disrupted yesterday because of a breakdown at GMail. However, two new reports on completely different subjects throw into doubt the extent to which people are really “using” the Internet.

The first report was from The Hansard Society which looked at how much MPs use the Internet. Even though most used email – 8% of MPs (that’s 51 of them) don’t yet use email, which has been with us since 1971. Nine out of every ten MPs don’t use blogs and almost a quarter of them have yet to invest in a web site.

You might not be surprised by these figures, of course. Members of Parliament are not known for being fans of technology and they live in a world which is still using traditions from the 17th Century. So, what about businesses? Surely they must be using the Internet much more?

Oh how wrong you would be to think that. The second survey to be published about Internet usage comes from BT and it looked at how businesses use the web in particular. If you thought MPs were bad, wait until you read about businesses…!

According to the BT study only 3% – that’s right, just three businesses in every 100 – use the Internet to communicate with their customers. Less than one in five businesses use blogging and most haven’t yet set foot inside a social network.

Furthermore, the research showed that only 13% of businesses thought the Internet was useful for marketing. Astonishingly, seven out of every eight companies do not think the Internet can help them market their products and services.

Yes, you are reading this correctly..! It might seem odd, strange, or downright unbelievable but that’s what BT’s study found. And this is in spite of the fact that last year a staggering £20bn was spent online. That’s around £38,000 a minute going through the online shopping carts – yet almost all British small businesses think the Internet is not going to do them much good…!

Perversely, though, those very same business owners who reckon the web will not help them sell goods and services are amongst the heaviest users of online shops. So, these business people actively engage in using web sites, online stores and other Internet technologies – but don’t believe such things will help their business.

So why is there this huge gap in logic? The answer is the psychological phenomenon known as “cognitive dissonance”. In this, people are aware that their actions are in conflict with their beliefs. When we realise this we try to come up with reasons which rationalise our thoughts and therefore allow them to make sense to ourselves.

So, for instance, some of the MPs who don’t use email, clearly know they should – they know it would help them, save time and so on. They realise that by not using email, they are clashing with these beliefs. So, they come up with rational arguments to explain their behaviour – in this instance claiming that people actually prefer to receive letters in the post.

In the case of business owners who use the web for personal things, such as buying from online supermarkets or downloading ebooks for their office, there is a clash between such behaviour and their own lack of use of the Internet in their company. So they come up with reasons that rationalise the difference. For instance, you will hear business people explaining that effective use of the Internet takes up too much time and that they need to concentrate on making money instead. Or they tell you that the costs are too high, or that there is too much to learn and they don’t have enough staff to go on the relevant courses.

To the business owner making such claims, it rationalises the gap between their own beliefs and their company’s actions. To the rest of us, of course, they sound very much like excuses.

You can, of course, shine your halo; if your business uses social networking, email, Internet marketing, blogs and has an e-commerce enabled web site, you are amongst the minority.

Most businesses, it seems, have yet to use the Internet at all. In fact, those MPs are slightly ahead of them this time. Now that is a shock…!

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