I have been writing about the work of Nora Ganim Barnes and her colleagues at the Center for Marketing Research at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth for some time. See my last post on them: Is Social Media Reaching a Plateau in America's Largest Companies? They recently released a new study on the usage of social media in fast-growing corporations. This new study continues the Center’s work on Inc. 500 social media usage for the fifth consecutive year, providing a useful longitudinal study of corporate social media use.
In the first study of 2007, the smaller INC 500 companies outpaced the Fortune 500 in blog use (19% vs. 8%) and this trend continued as both group increased their blogging over the years. Now for the first blogging has declined in the Inc. 500 as other social media tools have emerged. In 2010 50% of the Inc. 500 had a corporate blog, up from 45% in 2009 and 39% in 2008. Now in 2011, the use of blogging dropped to 37%. In contrast, they found, in a related study that blogs continued at the same 23% level in Fortune 500 companies.
There are other shifts as the use of Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube, texting, downloadable mobile apps and Foursquare are increasing while there are reductions in the use of blogs, message boards, video blogs, podcasts and MySpace. Specifically, in 2011 74% of the Inc. 500 used Facebook and 73% used LinkedIn. Twenty-five and 24% respectively find that Facebook or LinkedIn is the single most effective social networking platform. In addition, texting, downloadable mobile applications, and Foursquare are used by 13%-15% of the 2011 Inc. 500.
Social media is seen as an effective tool in a variety of ways with 90% of responding executives indicate that social media tools are important for brand awareness and company reputation. In addition, 88% find social media as important for generating web traffic, 81% find it important for lead generation, and 73% find social media tools important for customer support programs. At the same time I was surprised to see a drop in monitoring social media as the 2011 study found that 68% of companies do monitor, down from 70% in 2010, which was the highest percent of the past 5 years. Although is a small drop and we will have to see if this trend continues.
Investment in social media will continue to increase for most as 71% plan to increase their investment, 25% said they would keep their social media budget the same, and only 1 company (4%) plans to decrease its investment. Only 24% of the Inc. 500 now have a written social media policy for their employees who use these tools on behalf of the company. This number clearly needs to increase. Measurement will also likely increase as current metrics include: numbers of fans, followers and supporters (26%), web traffic (25%), lead generation (16%), reduced cost of customer support (10%), the value of sales generated through social media programs (7%).
Most firms are filling resource requirements internally as 66% report retraining or repositioning existing employees to handle their social media efforts, 10% use external consultants or agencies, and 7% have made new hires specifically for their social media needs. In summary, 91% of the Inc. 500 are now using social media to market their brands with a shift from blogs as the main tool to Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. This matches my intuitive and informal observation but it is really useful to have this useful research to validate these trends.