By Daniel Hunter

Business social media networks continue to revolutionise corporate marketing strategy and over the next two years will be the second most effective tool for acquiring new customers, according to research amongst 2500 UK businesses conducted by Regus, the global workplace provider.

But the senior managers and business owners in the poll say that face-to-face networking is by far the best way of generating new business compared to all other on- and offline marketing techniques. Their views sound a warning to firms ploughing their marketing budget into sophisticated digital tools: don’t forget the personal touch.

Online advertising will retain its favoured standing within the marketing mix but significantly lags business social media. Looking at other important ways of finding new customers, public speaking at key events emerged as highly regarded and businesses believe that its importance will rise further over the next two years — again pointing to the renewed emphasis on face-to-face interaction with customers and prospects.

Traditional advertising, direct marketing and telemarketing only gain a minority vote, and all are in decline.

“This research reiterates a key principle that is often forgotten in the clamour for digital marketing: business is done by people with people and not by machines," Marc Duke, a Hertfordshire-based B2B technology marketing consultant commented.

"I find that some companies have unrealistic expectations when it comes to online marketing, especially social media, although these channels can be highly relevant and responsive if used correctly. Firms need to think very carefully about the best way to connect with their prospects and remember that nothing is better than meeting people face to face and in the business world a handshake is as important as ever.”

Steve Purdy, UK Managing Director at Regus, said that social media networks are essential in finding new customers.

“The growing role of social media networks in business means that today they are an essential tool to find new customers and it will be exciting to see what the next two years bring as businesses learn to exploit this channel even further. But our research shows the perils of pursuing a digital strategy to the exclusion of face-to-face interaction," he said.

“The remarkable thing about today’s society is that for all our vastly enhanced ability to connect, whether via Twitter, Facebook, video-conferencing etc, it’s easy to end up feeling quite lonely. You can get to a stage where you choose who you speak to, screen out the rest, and operate to a great extent by virtual means — networking becomes so selective that it ceases to work as it should. This is exactly the same in the business world but fortunately it seems that firms are acknowledging this and giving ‘real world’ networking the true attention it deserves.”

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