Hot on the heels of the news that ‘social’ is set to underpin customer service channels in 2012, a new study suggests that UK firms are set to increase their social spending next year.

The report – commissioned by the Royal Bank of Scotland Corporate & Institutional Banking (RBS CIB) – found that almost nine out of ten (87%) mid-to-large-sized UK companies are going to maintain or increase social media spending in 2012.

Furthermore, the study revealed that 90% of firms are either freezing or budgeting for a less than 5% rise in advertising or marketing spend, with social media viewed as a more cost-effective communications tool. More than a third of the companies surveyed (39%) saw a proven positive commercial or reputational rise as a result of the social media activity in 2011, which is one of the key reasons for the planned increase in social spending over the next 12 months.

But not all companies are looking to increase their social spend. Of the 13% of firms looking to make cuts in this area next year, over half (54%) said this was due to budget restrictions. Of those looking at reducing spending on social media in 2012, 27% saw no return on investment while 15% said social media carried brand or reputational risks.

John Dixon, Head of Technology, Media and Telecoms from Royal Bank of Scotland CIB, said:

“UK businesses clearly understand the importance of social media. It is an effective and cost-effective tool, and its increased popularity comes at a time of increased pressures on marketing.  The challenge for firms will be to maximise their investments beyond 2012.”

The study also sought to look at the role of tablets in business too, and it found that iPads and similar devices are growing in popularity with senior executives, with nearly half (47%) of senior management using them regularly. A quarter (23%) do so to access business programmes, increasing to 35% of CEOs, whilst 36% use tablets to access data or reports on the move.

The study was undertaken by Research Runner between 11 and 26 October 2011, and was based on more than 200 interviews with finance directors, CEOs/COO/CFOs, managing directors and treasurers of companies with an annual turnover of at least £25m.