By Francesca James

A new survey from global workspace provider Regus shows that small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the UK are using social networks to acquire new customers with significantly more success than their larger counterparts: 42% of SMEs are winning new business using social media compared to 35% of firms with 250+ employees.

However, a greater proportion of large firms report that they devote at least 20% of their marketing budget to social networking activity in order to reach customers (40%, compared to 31% of SMEs). Similar proportions of SMEs and large firms use social media to “connect and engage with existing customers” — 48% and 47% respectively.

According to the research, half of SME sector and slightly fewer large firms (46%) encourage employees to join business social networks. Overall, the study clearly shows that social networking has evolved from a nice-to-have to a necessity as the majority of SMEs (65%) and large firms (71%) agree that without social media activity, their marketing initiatives cannot hope to be successful.

When asked about the importance of a combination of traditional and digital marketing techniques, smaller firms were noticeably less convinced of the need for the full marketing mix, with 59% of SMEs and 67% of large firms believing that “campaigns will not work” if traditional media are ignored. Small firms’ preference for social media chimes with the earlier finding that they have been quicker and more successful in harnessing the channel to commercial gain.

The global Regus survey findings are based on the responses of over 17,000 managers and business owners across 80 countries, including over 4000 respondents in the UK.

Celia Donne, Regional Director at Regus comments: “Social networking has finally come into its own in the commercial world, with the SME sector taking full advantage of their business contacts and commercial agility to surge ahead of the game when it comes to finding new customers. More large firms may testify to the importance of social media in today’s business environment and actively devote marketing budget towards the channel, but the fact remains that smaller firms are more successful in converting networking practices into customer acquisition.

“As businesses in all size brackets emerge from the downturn, they are increasingly reconsidering pre-recession working practices and opting for more flexible, competitive strategies. Among these, the use of business social media is proving extremely successful and suited to the fast pace of recovery. Particularly in the UK where one in three social network users is a fan, follower or friend of a company page or profile, firms should expect to see an increasing proportion of marketing budget being destined to this activity"

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