Businesses in the UK, Germany and Canada are lagging behind their peers in the emerging markets when it comes to adopting and using social media. China, India and Brazil are, on average, 20 to 30 percentage points more likely to use social media than their counterparts in developed countries, according to a global report.

Despite the slower uptake in the developed world, social media is rapidly moving up the boardroom agenda in organizations around the world. The survey found that more than 70 percent of companies globally are now active on social networks and see social media as a viable and effective business tool.

The emerging markets seem to be quickly finding that social networks offer a relatively low-cost opportunity to leapfrog the competition in developed markets. In some cases, inefficient, unreliable or monitored email systems are forsaken in preference of the faster and unfiltered, interactive social network channels. In others, a lack of alternatives may be driving businesses to adopt social networks within the enterprise.

The rapid adoption of social media in the emerging market countries may also be attributed to a lower dependence on ‘legacy systems’ than in more established markets which tend to bind organizations to their long-established channel strategies, as well as the rapidly declining cost of internet access and devices in the developing world.

Other key findings:

  • 80% of UK managers in the survey said they use social media at least several times a week (98% in China, 95% in Brazil)
  • 48% of UK companies use external social media to communicate for business purposes such as connecting with suppliers, clients and customers (compared to 72% in the US and 83% in China)
  • Businesses in the retail sector use social media more than those in other sectors
  • 55% of UK companies have policies regarding social media use in place (60% in the US, 63% in China)
  • UK companies fare better when it comes to problems regarding social media use such as bandwidth and storage; only 21% of UK companies have experienced problems in the past 12 months (China 57%, India 50% and Canada 44%)
  • Exposure to malware is also lower in the UK (25%) than in other countries (41% in the US, 60% in China)

80% of respondents globally said that the use of social media tends to deliver significant returns to the business that outweigh the risks associated with social media use. The most quoted benefits include a wider knowledge pool, an increased public profile, increased job satisfaction and the opportunity to cultivate relationships.

The report also found that organizations that restrict access to social networks may be fighting a losing battle. One-third of employees at organizations with blocked access were not only using social media at the office, they were ‘jail breaking’ their work devices to satiate their social networking needs.

Executives may be naïve in thinking that banned access to social networks eliminates employee use. Indeed, the survey shows that by restricting or blocking access, many employees tend to move their activity to their own personal devices which are often less secure and completely unmonitored.