Social media is top sales generator for a quarter of UK small businesses

Recent research indicates that selling via social media platforms is more popular than traditional marketing methods with UK small businesses.

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A quarter (28%) of small businesses in the UK say social media is their main driver of sales, according to new research published by BT. For those businesses, social media was cited as generating more sales than any other channel, including physical stores and ecommerce. 

Social selling

Social media continues to rise in popularity compared to other marketing tools used to generate sales, with a quarter (25%) of small business owners using organic/non-paid social media to increase income, and 22% using paid social media posts. 

These methods are both being used more widely than other digital tools like direct email marketing (18%) and SEO (15%), and more traditional tactics like partnerships (11%) and leafleting (11%).

Digital skills gap

Despite the widespread uptake of social media as a sales tool, the research also found that 21% of entrepreneurs are concerned that they lack the digital skills to help them get the best results for their business from different social platforms.

More than half (58%) of small business owners say they would benefit from digital skills training, and 60% wish this support had been offered to them while at school. The research also found that some small business owners admitted to feeling overwhelmed by changes to rules, algorithms and consumer habits. 

  • One in five (21%) say they feel behind the times;
  • 16% say they feel stressed;
  • And others said they feel anxious and confused when they think about how to best use social media for their business.

These feelings are commonly due to the frequent changes to advertising rules, the complexity of paid social performance and making the most of customer data. 

Facebook Marketplace, TikTok and Instagram shops all help businesses reach new audiences and convert sales within social media sites, yet guidelines and algorithms vary across platforms – which is leaving many business owners feeling confused and behind.

When asked what skills they need more support with, the response was:

  • 24% would welcome support in targeting the right audience online;
  • 21% need help understanding social media and creating a brand online;
  • 19% want more advice on understanding cyber security.

“We’re definitely seeing our social media channels grow in popularity compared to other marketing channels to generate sales and customer engagement,” Graham Broomfield, chief operating officer for Neve Jewels Group, told Startups.

“We continue to use organic and non-paid social media to increase sales. For example, the Shop function within Instagram is a great way to not only showcase our jewellery designs, but also easily direct customers straight to the product they want to see and shop.

“We are now also starting to explore paid social media content to build on our presence. We’re continually investing in resources to strengthen our content strategies across Facebook, Instagram and TikTok and are continuing to explore our approach to engaging with customers at every touch-point they are using.”

BT’s study investigated social media strategies used by more than 500 small businesses in the UK. It found that Meta-owned platforms are the most important for entrepreneurs – 30% said Facebook was the primary social media channel they use for sales generation, followed by Instagram (18%), Twitter (10%) and then TikTok (9%). 

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Kirstie Pickering - business journalist

Kirstie is a freelance journalist writing in the tech, startup and business spaces for publications including Sifted, TNW, UKTN, The Business Magazine and Maddyness UK. She also works closely with agencies such as CEW Communications to develop content for their startup and scaleup clients.

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