October 12 2010.

More than half of Britain's small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) now use social media, a new survey has found.

Through its latest Referendum ballot, which was themed around electronic technology and smaller firms, the Forum of Private Business discovered that 52% of its members now use websites like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.

However, of that 52%, over half (27%) expressed serious doubts about the value of the popular networking sites. A surprising 21% described them as 'not useful' and 6% went even further, labelling them 'useless'.

Only 7% of respondents who use social media described it as 'very useful' for their businesses, with 18% opting for a more muted 'useful' description.

Commenting on the findings, Forum spokesman Phil McCabe said: "It's clear that, while a lot of our members are certainly trying out social media for their businesses, many remain unconvinced of its benefits.

"We believe that social media does hold a great deal of potential for many SMEs. Its conversational, real-time nature makes it ideal for entrepreneurs and small, dynamic firms which often have much more relaxed attitudes towards public relations than big corporations. Also, sites like Twitter can provide valuable and cost-free feedback on customer and client satisfaction.

"However, small businesses are a diverse bunch and what works for one company may well not be suitable for another, so it's likely that our figures reflect the business owners whose firms aren't suited to social media because of the sector or market they're in."

The Forum is currently hosting a series of free breakfast networking events for business owners across the country themed around web awareness and internet technologies.

Using expert knowledge from leading web design and search engine optimisation company Creare, the events will provide small businesses owners with invaluable advice and information about their options when promoting themselves online.

The next event, which is being held for business owners in the North East, takes place on Tuesday, October 19 at the Hilton Hotel in Gateshead. More information can be found under the 'events' section on the Forum's website - - or by calling 0845 612 6266.

Other key findings from the Forum's Referendum survey of 5,800 business owners include:

Nationally, 19% of SMEs still do not have a website.
When asked: "What information/capabilities does your website give you?", 19% of those surveyed stated that they did not have a website.

Of the Forum members who do have websites, 76% said they used them to list contact details, 74% said they used their sites to provide product information and 35% found their websites useful for generating sales leads.

Additionally, 27% said they used their websites to publish testimonials and case studies and 19% used them to directly sell products and services using systems such as PayPal or secure card processing software.

Almost a fifth of small firms still only communicate with customers and suppliers through traditional means.
When asked "In what situations do you use electronic media?", 18% of respondents said they only marketed to new customers via traditional means such as over the telephone, face-to-face or through the post. The figure was 16% for contacting existing customers and 17% for communication with suppliers.

The time spent dealing with spam emails is the biggest concern for business owners in relation to their increased reliance on technology.
When the Forum asked its members "What are the drawbacks to increased use of technology?", 71% listed time spent in dealing with unwanted emails, making it the biggest concern among those surveyed.

Electronic fraud emerged as the second most popular choice, finding favour with 61% of business owners, followed by the costs involved in keeping up to date with software and hardware, on 51%.

Internet connection speeds are the biggest concern among SMEs in relation to workplace systems.
When asked: "Are the following systems adequate for your current and future needs?", 24% of those surveyed described their internet speeds as 'inadequate'. By comparison, only 6% of respondents described their telecommunications provision as inadequate and just 12% applied the description to their software provisions.