Social Media Growing As An Important Marketing Tool

According to a nationwide telephone survey in 2009 of the Inc. 500 list, under the direction of researchers Nora Ganim Barnes and Eric Mattson, social media has penetrated parts of the business world at a tremendous speed. It also indicates that corporate familiarity with and usage of social media within the Inc. 500 has continued to grow in the past 12 months.

Key findings from the study are that:

  • The technology that continues to be the most familiar to the Inc. 500 is social networking with 75% of respondents in 2009 claiming to be "very familiar with it" (compared to 57% in 2008). Another noteworthy statistic around familiarity is Twitter's amazing "share of mind" with sixty-two percent of executives reported being familiar with the new microblogging and social networking platform
  • While social networking and blogging have enjoyed growth in actual adoption, the use of message boards, online video, wikis and podcasting has leveled off or declined. The addition of Twitter (considered by respondents to be both a microblogging site and a social networking site) in the latest study shows that 52% of the Inc. 500 companies are already using this tool for their business
  • 43% of the 2009 Inc. 500 reported social media was "very important" to their business/marketing strategy. And 91% of the Inc. 500 is using at least one social media tool in 2009 (up from 77% in 2008). In addition, 36% having implemented a formal policy concerning blogging by their employees

As of 2009, 75% of respondents claim to be "very familiar" with social networking tools.   In 2007, 42% percent were "very familiar" with social networking and 57% were "very familiar" in 2008.  However, as the chart shows, across the board a significant percentage of the companies are "very familiar" with each of the technologies studied.

From familiarity, the survey moved into the companies' actual usage of social media. While familiarity is related to adoption, even the least familiar tool (podcasting) has 37% adoption. Social networking and blogging have enjoyed growth, while the use of message boards, online video, wikis and podcasting hasve leveled off or declined. The addition of Twitter in the latest study shows that 52% of the Inc. 500 is using this tool for their business.

When asked if the use of social media has been successful for their business, Twitter users report an 82% success rate while every other tool studied enjoys at least an 87% success level. Measuring success was investigated and most respondents report using hits, comments, leads or sales as primary indicators of success.

When asked if they plan to adopt any of the social media technologies that they are not currently using, they clearly intend to continue immersing themselves in these tools.  44% percent of those without corporate blogs intend to have one. 27% percent of respondents who do not currently have a business presence on Twitter plan to move into that space. Even though the use of online video appears to have dropped slightly, the intent to adopt it appears strong.

Social Media, 2009 (Inc. 500)


% Very Familiar

Currently Use


Plan to Adopt (If Not Currently Using)

Social Networking





Messsage/Bulletin boards










Online video




















Don't use any





Source: UMass Dartmouth, January 2010

When queried on the importance of social media, 26% of respondents in 2007 felt that social media is "very important" to their business and marketing strategy. That figure rose to 44% in approximately one year and remains virtually the same in 2009.

Importance of Social Media For Business/Marketing Strategy, 2009 (% of Respondents)


% of Respondents

Very important


Somewhat important


Somewhat important


Very unimportant


Don't know


Source: UMass Dartmouth, January 2010

The conclusion from the UMass report suggests that...  from familiarity to usage to importance, social media has expanded rapidly. And, for the first time, 3-year trends in familiarity, adoption and importance to mission have been documented in a statistically significant, longitudinal study. This third study, says the report, begins to shed light on exciting new social media tools like Twitter, and new uses of social media like recruitment and & hiring, and the emergence of social media policies. With almost every responding company using at least one form of these exciting new technologies, social media is clearly here to stay in the business world.

At the same time, a  new Weber Shandwick study, to evaluate how effectively Fortune 100 companies used Twitter to its full potential as an engagement platform, concludes that, with intervention, Twitter can help companies engage with customers, build new relationships and create a new pool of advocates talking positively about their brands.

The study showed that 73% of Fortune 100 companies registered a total of 540 Twitter accounts. However:

  • 76% posted fewer than 500 tweets
  • 52% are not actively engaged
  • 50% of accounts had fewer than 500 followers
  • 11% were placeholder accounts
  • 4% were used for a specific event only

With more than 20 million people on Twitter in the U.S.(50 million worldwide), there are ample opportunities for audiences to engage with corporations and brands, says the report.

The key is listening and engaging, says Weber, but the study indicates that companies are not engaging effectively. Among the Fortune 100 companies examined by Weber Shandwick, only:

  • 26% of their Twitter accounts were primarily used as a one-way flow of information that offered no engagement with followers.
  • 24% of the Twitter accounts were primarily used for brand awareness. Many appeared to be on Twitter simply to have an online presence.  
  • 16% were used mainly as sales vehicles for company products and services.
  • 9% were directed primarily to customer service
  • 8% focused on Thought leadership it.
  • 14% of accounts were used for other reasons such as recruitment or employee-specific information, or their accounts were locked and not visible.

And, the conclusion of the Weber Shandwick study is that for the majority of Fortune 100 companies, Twitter remains a missed opportunity. To maximize the benefits of Twitter, says the report, companies should offer opinions and encourage discussions, reach out to their communities of customers and advocates, build relationships with new customers and look for untapped supporters.

For more information, please visit  UMass/Dartmouth here, and get the PDF file from Weber Shandrack here.


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