Last year, I sat in the audience of a panel on women entrepreneurs driving fashion tech at the We Own It Summit in London. Dessislava Bell, founder of Zaggora, shared her story of growing her business entirely on social media. She and her co-founder husband had a few stops and starts on Facebook and Twitter, but they stuck with it.

Using targeted social media marketing, they grew their brand in a very short period of time through the modern day word of mouth: social networks. Instead of the traditional marketing mix, or even one that included both inbound and outbound tactics that provided a megaphone but yielded little insight, customers were doing the talking..to each other. Post after post, Zaggora wearers were sharing personal experiences, trading stories, and inviting more people to connect on Facebook and Twitter. No expensive advertising. No expensive sales force. Instead of high costs and faceless sales interactions, they got was a whole lot closer to their customers and those customers were created a community around the brand.

Sure, businesses, particularly B2C companies have been using social as part of their marketing mix for a while now. Jennifer Alsever wrote about Roku's use of social channels to help boost sales in a recent Inc. piece. New research suggests that female entrepreneurs in particular are using social media marketing to grow their businesses.

Hiscox, a small business insurer, recently published its sixth annual report, DNA of an Entrepreneur. The 2014 report includes findings related to the financial, business growth, and various stresses related to entrepreneurship. The study includes responses from 500 small and mid-sized US-based businesses. Compared to the men surveyed, female founders used social media marketing in four key areas:

Scale Marketing and Sales Capabilities. It used to be that you needed a big budget to support the marketing mix costs and an even bigger budget for expensive sales people. More noise, more feet on the street, more sales. It was that simple. Social media marketing offers female entrepreneurs an alternative to the expensive, always on requirements of traditional sales and marketing. "The costs to start a business now are lower than ever and many female entrepreneurs are taking advantage of that by setting up online businesses that they can scale as demand increases and incorporate into their existing lifestyle," says Hunter Hoffmann, head of U.S. communications at Hiscox Small Business Insurance.

Product Launch. After working with high growth entrepreneurs through my board work at Astia, that you can have the best product in the world. But without an effective go-to-market strategy, your business will fail. For female entrepreneurs, social media channels offer a more compelling way to get products in the hands of customers. According to the report, 62 percent of the female entrepreneurs surveyed use social media marketing to launch a new product; far exceeding male entrepreneurs (36%). "Today's women entrepreneurs are nearly twice as likely to use social media to launch a new product compared to their male counters," says Hoffmann.

Direct Customer Communications. As we learned from the Zaggora experience, social channels allow for direct customer communications. Customers turn to social channels for product updates, new product offers, and customer service engagement. Female entrepreneurs are taking advantage of this trend. Thirty-six percent of women also reported using social media to stay in direct contact with customers compared to 23 percent of men. "In fact, as we found in this year's Hiscox survey, women reported using social media more aggressively to stay in direct contact with customers," Hoffmann added.

Humanize the Brand to Existing and New Customers. "Female entrepreneurs are also leading in taking advantage of the new communications channels to promote their businesses and personal brands, reach new customers and grow their businesses," said Hunter Hoffmann. Growing up at SAP, where marketing went from posters in airports to a content marketing strategy that engaged all stakeholders in the conversation, including competitors as tested by Michael Brenner, former VP of Marketing at SAP, I saw first-hand what orchestration of brand conversations can do. Brand is not about the logo. Brand is about the people, about the experience. Like a previous boss of mine used to say: brick buildings do not do business with brick buildings. It's about the people. It's always about the people. Social media marketing is just that: social. It's a place where female entrepreneurs have learned to cultivate relationships based on their brands.

Published on: Nov 3, 2014