Facebook and LinkedIn are now the most popular and most effective social media tools among the nation's fastest-growing private companies, according to a study by the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth, Center for Marketing Research, under the direction of researcher Nora Ganim Barnes, PhD.

Meanwhile, the number of Inc. 500 businesses that publish a corporate blog has fallen over the past year, the study found, as companies appear to be shifting away from maturing tools (e.g., blogs, message/bulletin boards, online video, and podcasting) toward popular platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, and Foursquare.

Key social media-related findings among companies listed on the 2011 Inc. 500, according to the study:

  • Facebook and Twitter use is still growing, albeit slightly: 73% of Inc. 500 companies use Facebook, up from the 71% that did so in 2010, and 64% use Twitter, up from 59%.
  • Blogging and online video are down: 37% of Inc. 500 companies now publish a blog, down from 50% in 2010, and 24% use online video (vs. 33% in 2010). Among those not using blogging, 56% plan to start, whereas only 34% of those not using online video plan to do so. 

The use of podcasting has also fallen sharply—from 16% in 2010, to 6% in 2011.

Below, other findings from the 2011 Inc. 500 study of social media use, conducted by the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, Center for Marketing Research.

Across other social channels and digital marketing activities, LinkedIn enjoys nearly the same popularity as Facebook among the Inc. 500:

  • 73% use LinkedIn and 45% use YouTube (adoption levels were not measured in 2010).
  • 13% use Foursquare, up from 5% in 2010.

Some 14% of Inc. 500 companies are developing mobile applications (that activity was not measured in 2010).

Blogging: Inc. 500 vs. Fortune 500

Among the Inc. 500, the use of blogging may have peaked as a primary social media tool.  By contrast, among Fortune 500 companies, blogging has leveled off over the past three years, at roughly 23% penetration:

Facebook, LinkedIn Most Effective Overall

Asked to define the single most effective social networking platform they use, 25% of Inc. 500 companies cite Facebook, and 24% cite LinkedIn.

Reporting Success

Most Inc. 500 companies are reporting success with the social media tools they use, and many are reporting more success this year than last:

  • 86% of those who use Twitter report success, up from 81% in 2010.
  • Despite declines in adoption, 92% of Inc. 500 companies that blog report success with their efforts, up from 86% a year earlier. 

Among Inc. 500 companies that use Facebook, 82% report their efforts are successful, down from 85% in 2010.

Across other channels, 90% of companies that use LinkedIn say their efforts are successful, while 87% of companies using YouTube say those efforts are successful.

How Is Success Defined?

Inc. 500 companies use various metrics to define the effectiveness of social media; among them are levels of followers and supporters (26%), Web traffic (25%), lead generation (16%), reduced cost of customer support (10%), the value of sales generated via social media programs (7%).

Some 10% of Inc. 500 companies don't measure the effectiveness of their social media efforts.

Overall, social media tools are viewed as important to achieving company goals. Among such goals, Inc. 500 companies cite the following:

  • Brand awareness: 90%
  • Company reputation: 90%
  • Web traffic: 88%
  • Lead generation: 81%
  • Improving customer support programs: 73%

Other findings:

  • Monitoring social media buzz has leveled off: 68% of Inc. 500 companies monitor social media, down from 70% in 2010.
  • Budgets: 71% of Inc. 500 companies plan to increase spending on social media in 2012, whereas 25% plan to keep their social budgets flat and 4% (only one company) plan to decrease spending. 
  • 24% of Inc. 500 companies now have a written social media policy for employees who use the tools on behalf of the company.

About the data: The 2011 study, under the direction of researcher Nora Ganim Barnes, PhD, is based on a nationwide phone survey of companies named by Inc. Magazine to the Inc. 500 list, conducted in October and November of 2011. The 2011 list was released in the September issue of Inc. Magazine. In this fifth iteration, 34% (170 out of 500) of Inc. 500 companies participated. Interviews were conducted with the highest-ranking marketing or communications executive at each company. In many cases, the company CEO or CMO provided the information.

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Inc. 500 Social Media Use: Facebook, Twitter Up; Blogging Down

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