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Over half of SMEs use social media but many question its value

13 October 2010

More than half of small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Britain now use social media, according to a new survey by the Forum of Private Business (FPB). Through its latest Referendum ballot, which was themed around electronic technology and smaller firms, the FPB discovered that 52 per cent of its members now use websites like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. However, of that 52 per cent, over half (27 per cent) expressed serious doubts about the value of the popular networking sites.

A surprising 21 per cent described them as ‘not useful’ and 6 per cent went even further, labelling them ‘useless’. Only 7 per cent of respondents who use social media described it as ‘very useful’ for their businesses, with 18 per cent opting for a more muted ‘useful’ description.
 
Commenting on the findings, Forum spokesman Phil McCabe said: “It’s clear that, while a lot of our members are certainly trying out social media for their businesses, many remain unconvinced of its benefits.

 
“We believe that social media does hold a great deal of potential for many SMEs. Its conversational, real-time nature makes it ideal for entrepreneurs and small, dynamic firms which often have much more relaxed attitudes towards public relations than big corporations. Also, sites like Twitter can provide valuable and cost-free feedback on customer and client satisfaction.

 
“However, small businesses are a diverse bunch and what works for one company may well not be suitable for another, so it’s likely that our figures reflect the business owners whose firms aren’t suited to social media because of the sector or market they’re in.”

 
The Forum is currently hosting a series of free breakfast networking events for business owners across the country themed around web awareness and internet technologies. Using expert knowledge from leading web design and search engine optimisation company Creare, the events will provide small businesses owners with invaluable advice and information about their options when promoting themselves online.
 
 
The next event, which is being held for business owners in the North East, takes place on Tuesday, October 19 at the Hilton Hotel in Gateshead. More information can be found under the ‘events’ section on the Forum’s website – www.fpb.org – or by calling 0845 612 6266. Other key findings from the Forum’s Referendum survey of 5,800 business owners include:
 
Nationally, 19 per cent of SMEs still do not have a website. Of the Forum members who do have websites, 76 per cent said they used them to list contact details, 74 per cent said they used their sites to provide product information and 35 per cent found their websites useful for generating sales leads.
 
Additionally, 27 per cent said they used their websites to publish testimonials and case studies and 19 per cent used them to directly sell products and services using systems such as PayPal or secure card processing software.

 
When asked “In what situations do you use electronic media?”, 18 per cent of respondents said they only marketed to new customers via traditional means such as over the telephone, face-to-face or through the post. The figure was 16 per cent for contacting existing customers and 17 per cent for communication with suppliers.
 


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