Mixed Feelings Over Social Media

It appears the jury is still out on the usefulness of social media and social networking websites from a business perspective. Two recent studies show mixed feelings from companies, ranging from SMEs through to large multinational corporations.

In the second annual Business Networking Trends Survey, conducted by WeCanDo.biz, 80% of entrepreneurs claimed to have achieved business wins through social networking sites, with 92% of respondents saying they would recommend networking professionally online to their business contacts.

Professional and business-focused networking sites – among them LinkedIn and Xing – unsurprisingly proved the most popular, with just under half of small businesses surveyed saying they utilise them for professional networking. Just under a quarter use sites such as Twitter for business networking. However, more than a third of SMEs are wary of using Facebook for business networking purposes, refusing to add business contacts as ‘friends’.

Interestingly, despite a huge rise in overall users of social networking sites in the past few years, this year’s study found there to be a fall in the number of respondents who feel online networks help them get closer to their customers.

Yet it would seem that more ‘traditional’ face-to-face networking continues to grow, with 36% of respondents questioned regularly attending networking meetings. The amount of money and time spent on networking has also increased over the past year. However, in spite of this, while half of the respondents plan to maintain the same levels of face-to-face networking in 2010, 55% intend to increase the time they spend networking online.

A second survey, this one conducted by the Internet Advertising Bureau, hints at a certain amount of skepticism towards social media. This study, which included such household names as Coca-Cola and RBS, showed that only one fifth of marketers view social media as a core element of their company’s marketing strategy – with many more confused about the role it should play in their plans.

Further confusion lies in who should be responsible for any social marketing, with one third of respondents feeling some responsibility lies with the PR department, 12% believing the research department needs to be involved, and 7% adamant that the IT department should be responsible.

Further caution is demonstrated by the three-quarters of brand marketers who feel social media’s biggest challenge is proving it can deliver ROI. 64% see measurement as the most significant hurdle to investment in the channel.

Yet there can be no doubt that many companies, among them Vodafone and O2, are huge fans of the benefits and the potential of social media. I.T. giant Dell reported in June last year that it could attribute more than $3 million in sales directly to Twitter, a figure now believed to have topped $5.5m. Maybe social media shouldn’t be so easily dismissed…

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