West lags developing nations in using social networks for business

An IPSOS survey has found that China is leading the way in using social networks for business purposes, while their use is restricted in many countries due to security concerns or fears of a loss of productivity.
Written by Jack Schofield, Contributor on

It will come as no surprise that the business use of social networks correlates with age: the younger you are, the more likely you are to think they're a good idea. What's less obvious is that the countries making most productive use of social networks are -- in order -- China, India, Turkey, Mexico, Russia, South Korea and Singapore. All of these score 60 percent or more, against a global average of 46 percent. The laggards are the UK, Germany, USA, Australia, Canada, Switzerland, Belgium, France and the Netherlands. All of those score 35 percent or less, and the Netherlands scores a lowly 24 percent.

Impact on productivity by country. Source: Microsoft

The results come from an independent IPSOS survey of almost 10,000 people who are heavy technology users at companies with more than 100 employees. A third had more than 5,000 employees.

The survey covered 32 countries, with just over 300 respondents in every nation except Ireland, and 504 representing the US. The survey was undertaken for Microsoft, which "wanted to find out more about the uses — or lack of use — of social tools in business". Its products are not mentioned, but it's clearly interested in selling Yammer, Lync, SharePoint, Skype and related products.

The main professional uses for social networks are communicating with colleagues (68 percent), sharing/reviewing documents (50 percent) and communicating with customers/clients (47 percent). The numbers are much higher for some countries. For example, "communicating with colleagues" is most popular in China (84 percent) and Mexico (80 percent) but least popular in Spain (51 percent) and Switzerland (56 percent).

Canada and Japan (both 81 percent) led the way in restricting the use of social networks for security reasons, according to workers, while Poland (78 percent) and Brazil (77 percent) were more concerned about lost productivity.

As mentioned, age is a factor. Overall, the 18-24 age group saw the most potential for the use of social networks at 53 percent, but this declined to 41 percent for the over 45s. However, when it came to "communicating with colleagues", both groups scored the same: 69 percent.

Men (49 percent) were more likely to claim that social networks made them more productive than were women (44 percent).

Impact on productivity by demographics and sector. Source: Microsoft

In terms of industry sectors, social networks were popular in media/publishing and travel/hospitality (both 52 percent) and least popular in government (37 percent). However, the report says: "just 30 percent of respondents feel their managers embrace social tools, and more than one-third feel their company underestimates the benefits of these tools".

Around 40 percent of respondents agreed or somewhat agreed that "My organization’s IT department can be a barrier to using social tools," and only 12 percent completely disagreed with that statement. A third neither agreed nor disagreed. Clearly, there's scope for IT departments to do more, if they wish.

The Microsoft survey on enterprise social use and perceptions (PDF) is available online and has also been used to create an infographic.

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