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A majority of Inc. 500 companies are using various social platforms including LinkedIn (94%), Facebook (88%), Twitter (79%) and Google+ (53%), while Instagram (46%) is growing quickly and nearing majority adoption, according to the latest annual study of this topic from the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. Inc. 500 executives surveyed as part of the study feel that social networking platforms have a greater role to play than other channels in increasing sales.

In fact, a leading 41% of the executives surveyed at 128 Inc. 500 companies felt that social networking platforms would provide the most potential for increasing their sales over the coming year. By comparison, only about half as many (21%) identified online advertising as the primary sales driver, with even fewer pointing to traditional media (9%).

While those results are fairly similar to last year, they nonetheless represent quite a dramatic turnaround from just 2 years ago, when only about 1 in 8 respondents felt that social platforms had the most potential for driving sales.

Respondents in this latest study appear very confident about the effectiveness of their social efforts, with the vast majority believing social media is effective in building brand awareness (94%), creating relationships with consumers/customers (85%) and generating leads and sales (78%).

With that in mind, it’s not surprising that 83% feel that their efforts overall have been effective and that 81% consider being active on social media essential for their business success.

What’s more surprising is that even with that enthusiasm about social’s effectiveness, concerns about ROI still abound. When asked to cite their primary concerns regarding social media, almost 6 in 10 pointed to ROI, while a majority also worry about the resources they devote and their time allocation (presumably wondering if their returns justify those efforts).

Concerns about privacy (42%), analytics (41%), legal issues (36%) and ethical issues (32%) appear to be of secondary important, meanwhile.

In other highlights from the survey:

  • More than 6 in 10 reported tracking online conversations about their brands, products or industry using a monitoring tool;
  • Half have a social media plan incorporated into their marketing/business plan, and another 21% have a standalone plan;
  • Some 39% have a strategy in place in the event of an online crisis, and 38% have a policy to guide online communication for employees.

About the Data: The study describes its methodology as follows:

“The research presented here was collected in two stages. The first stage investigated which of eight social media tools are being utilized. These tools include: blogging, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube, and Google Plus. The number of followers and likes were also recorded where appropriate. This data was collected primarily via the company’s website where most companies provide a link to the platforms they use. If no link was found on their website, search engines were used in an attempt to capture all accounts. The Inc. 500 ranking, revenue and industry were recorded from the Inc. 500 website. This data was collected on all 500 companies.

The second stage of research involved interviewing a random sample of executives from the Inc. 500 list to gather information about their specific focus on issues such as their concerns regarding social media use, perceived effectiveness, and the relationship between social media use and potential sales. One hundred and twenty-eight companies (26%) were interviewed in this stage.

Those executives responding were a diverse group, representing 23 of the 24 industries on the 2016 Inc. 500 list. Twenty-three percent of the companies that participated in the interview portion were ranked in the top 100. Respondents reported annual company revenues ranging from under $3M to over $100M with 48% of them falling between $3M-$10.9M. Fifty-seven percent of the companies were launched between 2008 and 2011 while 23% were launched in 2012 or later. The most prominent industries were, Health (11%), IT Services (9%), Software and Advertising and Marketing (8%).”

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