LinkedIn is the most popular social media tool 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.

More than 8 in 10 companies listed on the 2012 Inc. 500 (81% of them) use the professional networking site, up from 73% a year earlier. Meanwhile, the proportion of Inc. 500 companies using Facebook has declined, from 74% in 2011, to 67% in 2012.

Other findings related to social media adoption among the 2012 Inc. 500:

  • Blogging gained momentum in 2012: 44% of Inc. 500 companies now publish a blog, up from 37% a year earlier.
  • Software, advertising/marketing, and media companies were the most likely to blog in 2012, whereas government services organizations were least likely to do so.
  • Foursquare use has doubled, from 13% of companies in 2011, to 28% in 2012.
  • The proportion of companies using YouTube has fallen, from 45% in 2011, to 30% in 2012.
  • 18% of 2012 Inc. 500 companies use Pinterest.  

Below, additional findings from the 2012 Inc. 500 study of social media use, conducted by the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, Center for Marketing Research.

Importantly, nearly two-thirds (63%) of Inc. 500 CEOs are contributing content or taking ownership of some social media outlet.

Investments Leveling Off

Fewer companies are increasing investments in social-media marketing.

Only 44% of the 2012 Inc. 500 companies plan to spend more on social media in the coming year, compared with 71% of companies that planned to do so in 2011.

Some 41% of 2012 Inc. 500 companies say their investments in social media will stay flat in the coming year (vs. 25% of Inc. 500 companies that reported the same a year earlier). 

Monitoring Social Buzz

Inc. 500 companies are growing less attentive to social-media buzz: 63% of 2012 Inc. 500 companies now monitor social conversations about their names, products, or brands, down from the 68% that did so in 2011 and the 70% that did so in 2010.

Value to Business Growth

Despite increased use of social media, Inc. 500 companies are somewhat mixed on how central social marketing is to their growth: 6 in 10 (62%) say social tools have been very necessary (27%) or somewhat necessary (35%) to the growth of their company. By contrast, 4 in 10 (39%) disagree, saying social media is very unnecessary (15%) or somewhat unnecessary (24%) for business growth:

Return on Investment

Only one-third (34%) of the 2012 Inc. 500 report having the ability to determine financial return on social media investments. Among that third, 19% say social media has helped them cut recruiting costs. 

About the data: The 2012 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 2012. The 2012 list was released in the September issue of Inc. Magazine. In this sixth 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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Lenna Garibian is a MarketingProfs research writer and a marketing consultant in the tech industry, where she develops engaging content that builds thought leadership and revenue opportunities for clients. She's held marketing and research positions at eRPortal Software, GAP Inc., Stanford University, and the IMF. Reach Lenna via Twitter @LennaAnahid and LinkedIn.