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After asking more than 500 companies with fewer than 20 staff, O2 estimates 17% of the UK's 4.6 million SMEs are using the free social networking site to send three million "tweets" or messages a day. Over one quarter (28%) signed up in the last four weeks.
O2 estimated Twitter users were saving up to £5,000 on marketing and recruitment costs. Cost saving was mentioned by 62% of respondents as the main benefit, the firm said. More than one in ten (16%) said they had saved up to £5,000 since signing up to the service. Nearly a third have saved up to £1,000.
Other common uses includes raising their business profile and communicating with a wide audience for free. Nearly three quarters said they were using Twitter to market and promote their businesses. Nearly half (42%) used the network to stay in touch with customers and suppliers. One in three (34%) used Twitter to monitor their competitors.
Over a quarter (28%) said the ability to keep in touch with other small businesses in real time had boosted business confidence. One in ten had up to 100 other fellow Tweeters.
Simon Devonshire, head of small business marketing at O2, said Twitter showed how SMEs were embracing technologies to adapt and survive.
He said SMEs were using converged devices such as the iPhone and BlackBerry smartphones with Twitter. This meant Twitter was outstripping other digital networking activity, he said. Four in 10 SMEs were using Twitter more than LinkedIn or Facebook, and 60% said their usage was likely to increase. Nearly seven out of ten (68%) said they used Twitter more regularly than their blogs.