How the Inc. 500 is Using Social Media

CtrMktgRsrch-Inc500-Use-Social-Media-2013-v-2012-Apr2014Virtually all – 95% – of the 2013 Inc. 500 companies are using at least one major social media tool, according to the latest study from the Center for Marketing Research at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. LinkedIn remains the most commonly used platform, by 88% (up from 81%), but there appears to have been a resurgence in the use of Facebook, now used by 84%, up from 67% a year earlier. The study finds some intriguing opinions on the part of execs responding to an accompanying survey.

Of the 118 executives who responded to the survey – who represented 21 of the 22 industries on the list – some 61% felt that there was definitely or probably potential for sales growth for their business directly through Twitter. That outpaced comparable results for Facebook (55%) and Pinterest (31%). But while the headline takeaway from that result is that the Inc. 500 sees the most growth potential for Twitter, the data also needs to be viewed in light of recent survey results suggesting that US brands are primarily using Twitter for brand awareness rather than for sales. Given that, it’s probably not too surprising that executives feel that there’s room for sales growth on the platform.

Currently, Twitter is being used by 74% of the Inc. 500, according to the Center’s research, up from 67% a year earlier. Google+ usage was measured for the first time and came in at 58% adoption. That was a higher rate than company blogs (52%) and YouTube (50%), though the latter saw a big increase from 30% a year earlier.

Instagram was also measured for the first time, and was found to be used by 18% of the companies. The mobile platform recently announced that it had passed 200 million US users.

While overall adoption of social tools has increased among the Inc. 500, the companies don’t appear to have become more strategic about the use of these tools:

  • About 1 in 5 respondents have no plan in place for their social media efforts;
  • Only about 1 in 3 have a written social media policy that guides online communications within the organization; and
  • Just 59% monitor their brands, products or company name in the social media space, down from 63% last year and 70% in 2010.

Even more worrisomely, just 39% of respondents claimed to have a strategy in place should an online crisis (negative attack online) occur. That’s down from 54% a couple of years earlier. While such online crises may not be limited to social media, a recent survey similarly found that few brands have strategies in place to deal with complaints made on social.

Meanwhile, given that the Inc. 500 is a list of the fastest-growing companies, it’s interesting to assess their perspectives regarding online promotional strategies. Given a small selection of options, and asked which they felt provides the most potential for increasing sales, the responses broke down as follows:

  • Online advertising (43%);
  • Business directory listing (22%);
  • Social media platforms (16%); and
  • Daily deal sites (2%).

The remaining 17%? They felt that none of those would be best, but rather that their biggest growth potential would come from more traditional personal selling methods (such as 1-to-1 sales, direct contact with clients, relationship marketing and networking).

Other Findings:

  • Some 92% of respondents said they have a mobile-optimized site. 1 in 4 have a downloadable app, and 1 in 5 use text message marketing.
  • 3 in 4 respondents use exclusively original or reposted content on their social media outlets, with the remainder adding purchased content to their mix.
  • Somewhat predictably, those respondents who were blogging counted thought leadership as their main goal, while those posting to Facebook and Twitter primarily sought engagement and interaction.

About the Data: The Center describes its approach to determining social adoption by the Inc. 500 as follows:

“First, every company named to the 2013 Inc. 500 list was examined in order to determine which social media tools they were using. Each homepage was reviewed in addition to the entire site (since some did not link to their accounts from the homepage). Search engines were also utilized to find an online presence if none was obvious after reviewing the website.”

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