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July 21, 2010

Many UK firms still ‘uncomfortable’ with social media use

Twitter is the king of enterprise social media

By Steve Evans

While many UK businesses are embracing social media as a new way of engaging with customers a significant number still feel uncomfortable with the idea, according to Andrew McGrath, commercial director at Virgin Media Business.

McGrath was speaking exclusively to CBR about the results of a survey the enterprise telecoms firm carried out examining social media habits of UK businesses.

social media twitter facebook

The survey found that 32% of UK firms have already made use of social media platforms, with businesses in London (47%), the south east (44%) and the south west and Wales (42%) leading the way. Those in Scotland (21%) and Northern Ireland (24%) are bottom of the pack when it comes to using social media.

The study, of 5,000 UK businesses, also threw up an interesting stat about the importance of social media in communicating with customers – both now and in the future. Just over one-third (36%) said it is or will become an important communication channel, leaving 64% claiming otherwise. These figures are very similar to the number of companies that have embraced social media, suggesting that those who see the benefits of it are already using it, while those that don’t are shunning it.

"I think lots of companies still feel uncomfortable with social media, as it fundamentally changes the way they communicate," McGrath told CBR. "It’s much more immediate than traditional communication channels and that can pose problems with legal, marketing and PR departments. There is inertia about opening the company up to the likes of Facebook and Twitter."

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Alongside traditional worries such as loss of productivity and security, McGrath added that for many companies communicating with their customers through social media may not be a priority. "It’s a way to help," he said, "but it’s not their raison d’être."

The most popular social media platforms throughout the UK are Twitter, with 33% of companies using it, followed by Facebook (32%) and MySpace (29%). Blogs are lagging behind on (19%), just ahead of YouTube (17%) and Wikipedia (15%).

Given that Twitter is the youngest of those social media platforms, it’s impressive that it tops the list for enterprise use. "It shows what a significant impact it’s had in the last few years. We started monitoring our brand on Twitter around two years ago and last year started to react to it – our use seems to have followed the general rise of it," McGrath said, adding that the ease of connecting to Twitter – through mobile and desktop apps – has fuelled use throughout the enterprise world.

The message to the sceptical CIO then, is to dip your toe in the water before fully embracing social media, McGrath says. "Experiment – the technology will develop and evolve over time so see what impact it has. You have to ensure it doesn’t become too corporate, it must be a natural thing. Companies should be doing it because they want to, not because they feel they have to as it’s what everyone else is doing."

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