PR and marketing are the most common reasons that UK businesses use social media, according to statistics released by the ONS.

The new Ecommerce and ICT Activity Report, which includes annual data from 2012, also shows that website sales totalled £164bn, representing 6% of total UK business turnover in 2012.

Looking at the use of social, the data shows that a third of companies (33%) that use social do so to develop the business’ image or to market products. 

A further 23% use social to respond to customer opinions, reviews or questions, while 12% use it to involve customers in the development or innovation of goods or services.

Interestingly, almost half (44%) of the largest businesses (1,000 or more employees) used social media to recruit employees in 2012.

Businesses that use social media are still just about in the minority though, as 56% of respondents in the survey do not use social media.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the data shows that larger businesses are more likely to use social media, with 79% companies with 1,000 or more employees using social networks compared with 40% of those with 10 to 49 employees.

Proportion of businesses using social media, by size of business, 2012

These totals are likely to have increased during 2013 however as social has continued to develop as a channel for marketing and customer service.

In fact, in the Econsultancy/Responsys Marketing Budgets 2013 Report almost two-thirds (62%) of businesses said that they plan to increase investment in social media this year.

And for more information on this topic, check out our blog posts on how small businesses can make use of Pinterest and Facebook.

Total ecommerce sales

As mentioned, the estimated value of ecommerce sales was £492bn in 2012 which equates to 18% of business turnover. 

This includes both sales through websites and also sales received over Electronic Data Interchange (EDI). EDI is the computer-to-computer exchange of documents in a standard electronic format.

Looking purely at sales that take place through an ecommerce site, in 2012 18% of businesses sold over a website with revenues reaching £164bn. This means there was a year-on-year increase of £31bn (23%) in sales compared to 2011.

The value of website sales as a proportion of total business turnover increased to 6% in 2012, up from 5% in 2011. 

As one would expect, website sales are dominated by larger businesses which accounted for around half of the 6%.

The smallest businesses (10 to 49 employees) contributed only 0.7% of the 6% estimate of total business turnover derived from website sales.

Looking at how online sales breakdown by industry, wholesalers account for £50.1bn in website sales, followed by retail with £23.4bn, and information/communication with £21.4bn.

Total ecommerce sales via a website by industry

The full ONS report can be accessed here.