Gartner predicted that by 2014, 20 per cent of UK businesses will rate social media above email as a means of communicating at work. The prediction that a fifth of organisations will ditch email in favour social networks comes as no surprise. It's a trend that we've been observing in the UK for quite some time, but can social media really replace sending an email?

Earlier this year, Virgin Media Business surveyed 5,000 UK companies to find out if, and how, they are using social media tools. The results showed that business usage of social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook is already close to the levels predicted in Gartner's report. In fact, around 24 per cent of London's businesses thought that using social media at work was essential. This isn't surprising considering that London has the highest number of Twitter users of any city in the world. However, 14 per cent of all the companies we spoke to told us they wouldn't want to work without social media.

The research also uncovered geographical differences in people's attitudes towards social media. Businesses in the north are more wary of the trend and rate its importance well below other ways of communicating when at work. Overall, 71 per cent of businesses in the north said that phone communication remains critical. According to these businesses, face-to-face meetings are the second most important means of communicating.

Despite variation across the country, the fact that so many people are using social media means that Gartner's prediction just scratches the surface of the appetite for these communication tools. This is particularly true for the south-east, where social media is already a vital communication technique.

Even with so many businesses using social media, around two thirds of companies we spoke to still believe that "human contact" is the most important part of their communication strategy. Therefore, far from being a substitute for other communication channels, social media is a complement to email, phone and face-to-face meetings.

So, could email be replaced by social media within the next few years? Not in the near future. In reality, the use of social media can't be seen as a revolution which threatens to overthrow email, telephone and meeting in person. Social networks are an incredibly useful addition to any business communications strategy, but they aren't about to trump a tool like email. By adopting a balanced approach which includes a variety of communication channels and not ignoring one over another, businesses will ensure a well-rounded and effective communications strategy.

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