Social enterprises are embracing social media and succeeding because of it according to new research from O2. The survey of more than 500 social enterprises, conducted ahead of this week’s Voice 11 event, suggests social media channels such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter will help these businesses add an average of £212,000 to their bottom line. Nearly two thirds (64 per cent) of those questioned believe social media use will boost their sales by 15 per cent in the coming 12 to 18 months.

The survey, commissioned by O2 in partnership with the RBS SE100 Index of social enterprises, suggests that social enterprises are way ahead of more traditional small and medium enterprises in embracing social media. Two thirds (67 per cent) of social enterprises use social media in the day-to-day running of their operations, compared to one in 10 traditional small businesses.

A clear majority of social enterprises (85 per cent) use such channels to promote their products and services, with 41 per cent networking online with other organisations that share similar values. More than a third (38 per cent) also use such channels to develop ideas and thinking with other businesses.

Effective use of such new technologies is one reason that helps explain why prospects are looking increasingly positive for the UK’s estimated 60,000 social enterprises – businesses that place social or environmental objectives equal to their financial ones. Of those surveyed, exactly half (50 per cent) plan to invest in their business in the coming year, whilst more than a third (35 per cent) expect to hire more staff in 2011.

Simon Devonshire, General Manager, Small and Medium Business, O2, said: ‘It’s no secret that the social enterprise sector is thriving despite the challenging economic climate and I’m keen to look at how other businesses can learn from their success. It’s perhaps not surprising to find so many social enterprises making effective use of social media given they don’t always enjoy the same established networks of customers, partners and suppliers that larger businesses do. However, our experience suggests they are considerably more advanced in their use of such technologies than more mainstream businesses, and the extent to which social media is fuelling growth is truly striking ‘ it is becoming an indispensible part of such businesses’ growth plans, helping them promote products and services, build their brands, and develop ideas and innovations.’

The most popular online channels and social media outlets are often low and no cost, with social networks such as Facebook and LinkedIn (91 per cent) the most widely used by social enterprises, followed by the micro blogging service Twitter (70 per cent) and blogs (40 per cent). Two-fifths (42 per cent) of social enterprises describe such social media channels as very important to running their business.

Paul Hodgkin, founder and chief executive of Patient Opinion, an independently run website providing reviews of patients’ experiences of UK health services, said: ‘Social media is critical to businesses like ours on a number of levels. It enables us to promote our services in the absence of advertising or sponsorship spend, and provides our users with the opportunities to discuss, comment, and share their views. It’s also the ideal means for our busy staff to interact and build trust with our customer base. In fact, our business is entirely built on what can be described as the ‘new economics’ of social media.’

Simon Devonshire, will be speaking at the UK’s biggest social enterprise event, Voice 11, on 30th March. Taking place at The O2, it is the first time that the Social Enterprise Coalition’s annual event has been held in the Capital. Voice11 brings together existing, new and emerging social enterprises, investors and public and private sector partners as well as political and business leaders. As well as hearing from inspiring speakers and debating the big issues facing the sector, the event will provide delegates with a forum in which they can network, exchange ideas, learn new skills and understand the market opportunities for social enterprise.

O2 recently launched a bespoke phone package for social enterprises, and is the first major corporate to recognise the Social Enterprise Mark by offering their social enterprise customers a chance to apply for a 100% subsidy on the Mark application fee. O2’s commitment to social enterprise forms part of Think Big, a sustainability programme which enables customers to make a real difference for people and the planet.

To find out more about O2’s commitment to social enterprise or Voice11, please visit

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