The Office for National Statistics’ E-commerce Survey of UK Businesses asked businesses about social media usage for the first time. Approximately 7,700 businesses with 10 or more employees were surveyed in 2012.
The vast majority of businesses had Internet access (96%) and over four out of 10 (44%) used social media in 2012.
Social media can be defined as websites and applications that enable users to create and share content or participate in social networking (Oxford Dictionaries 2013). In the survey, social media was broken down into different types including: social networks; blogs and microblogs; multimedia content sharing websites and Wiki-based knowledge sharing tools.
43% of businesses used social networks such as Facebook
Overall, 43% of businesses used social networks (e.g. Facebook and LinkedIn); 24% used a blog or a microblog (e.g. Twitter); and 15% used multimedia content sharing websites (e.g. YouTube and Flickr).
The survey also shows that the extent to which businesses use social media differs by business size and sector.
Large businesses almost twice as likely as smaller ones to use social media
In 2012, 81% of the largest businesses (1,000 or more employees) used social media compared with 42% of the smallest businesses (10 to 49 employees).
Similar differences were seen across the different types of social media. Of the largest businesses, 79% used social networks (e.g. Facebook and LinkedIn) compared with 40% of the smallest businesses. Meanwhile, 62% of the largest businesses used blogs and microblogs compared with 22% of the smallest; and 50% of the largest businesses used multimedia content sharing websites compared with 13% of the smallest.
Social media usage varies widely across different industries
Businesses in the Information and communication sector were the most likely to use social media (77%) in 2012. At the other end of the scale, social media was used by only 20% of businesses in the Construction sector.
Looking at different types of social media, again businesses in the Information and communication sector were most likely to use social networking (76%) and businesses in the Construction sector were the least likely (19%).
Businesses in the Information and communication sector also reported the highest rate of blogs and microblogs usage (53%) and multimedia content sharing website usage (44%) usage. The Transport and storage sector was the least likely to use these types of social media (5% and 4% respectively).
Common reasons for using social media
Businesses also used social media for different reasons and these also differed by the size of the business.
The most popular reason for using social media in 2012 was to develop the business’ image or to market products (33%).
Social media has also opened up new ways for businesses to engage with customers; 23% of businesses responded to customer opinions, reviews or questions on social media, while 12% used it to involve customers in the development or innovation of goods or services.
Almost half (44%) of the largest businesses used social media to recruit employees in 2012, compared with 12% of all businesses.