UK advertisers trail behind US rivals when it comes to exploiting the burgeoning power of social networking websites, according to new research by TNS.
The survey, which polled senior management from blue-chip companies such as Sony, Diageo, GlaxoSmithKline and HP, revealed that nearly 50% of those polled in the US agreeing that social media must be grasped with urgency if brands are to keep ahead of the market, compared to just 18% in the UK.
Overseas managements also had a more sophisticated understanding of the social media phenomenon, with 32% of UK respondents saying that they are still at a "learning" stage, compared to a survey average of 18%.
The US and Canada are predominantly at the next "experimentation" stage, where most businesses are already engaging in pilot projects. In the UK, just 9% of the businesses surveyed are at this progressive stage.
The research also found that very few UK executives believe that viral marketing campaigns can aid in brand building, while 76% of those polled in the US said viral marketing could have a "huge impact" on a brand or business.
TNS attributed the UK's reluctance to jump on the social media bandwagon to a lack of boardroom level support. Around 23% of the UK executives questioned blame a lack of senior management commitment for them falling behind the social media trend, and a further 36% cite lack of skills among marketing teams and suppliers as the greatest barrier to implementation.
The survey also highlighted a feeling that traditional agencies failed to understand social media and treat it like traditional media.
Jim Nail, chief strategy and marketing officer at TNS Media Intelligence said he found it surprising to see that the UK is lagging so far behind other major nations in terms of recognising the business potential for social media. He said that marketers ignore it at their peril.
"We are already seeing the damage done to brands who ignore negative publicity on networking sites -- and with hundreds of thousands new subscribers signing up each day, this influence is only going to increase."
Nail added that the report drove home the fact that social media was here to stay and that everyone polled thought that social media would have a big impact in future.
He said brands needed to look to the positive impact that social media can have on building brand awareness, how it can support on product launches and increase customer loyalty.
Nail said: "It can and give businesses never-before-seen levels of consumer insight. Surprisingly however, our study shows that many business executives are still new to social media, which points to a large gap between attitudes and action. And nowhere is this more evident than in the UK. If senior managers continue to disregard social media and fail to resource related campaigns appropriately, UK businesses will put themselves at a severe disadvantage."
On a more positive note for UK business the survey said that budget is not perceived as a problem. On average across countries 10% of executives questioned see insufficient budget as the greatest barrier to implementation, but this does not feature as a concern in the UK.
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