Photo courtesy of Kevin Krejci on Flickr
By Rob Swystun
Just like everything else, social media is subject to trends. Some sites pop up and are still going strong while others have fallen off the radar completely. (Anyone remember Digg? Yeah … I didn’t think so.)
Companies have started to take note of what really works for them and what doesn’t work for them and have started increasing efforts on certain social media sites while diminishing their efforts on others or dropping them altogether.
The use of social media overall still continues to increase among the fastest-growing companies according to an annual study performed by the Center for Marketing Research at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. (Correlation, maybe?)
Performed each year since 2007, the study tracks social media usage of the Inc. 500 (those are the 500 fastest-growing private U.S. companies according to Inc. Magazine). For the most recent study (which covers trends in 2012), 34% (170) of the Inc. 500 participated in the study. Interviews were conducted with the highest-ranking Marketing or Communications executive at each company.
The ups and downs of social media
LinkedIn was the most used social media platform among the Inc. 500 with 81% of the companies polled using it.
Twitter also gained users among the Inc. 500, but Facebook saw its usage drop by 7% in the past year compared to 2011.
Foursquare and Pinterest were also being used with 28% and 18% usage among the Inc. 500, respectively.
Facebook’s fall among businesses can be attributed to its casual nature. Although still a great way to connect with consumers and share things with them, Facebook is still largely seen as being a bit frivolous. And even the teenagers who made it such a social media behemoth are starting to grow tired of it.
On the other hand, LinkedIn was especially designed to be used by business people, making it optimal for corporate profiles and networking.
Prior to social media sites taking over, blogs used to be much more important for businesses. But now corporate blogs are starting to regain some of their former glory, with usage of corporate blogs increasing by 7% in 2012 among the Inc. 500, with 44% of companies using their own blog to communicate with customers and potential investors compared to just 37% in 2011.
The obvious upside for a company using its own blog is that it gets to design the thing and make it as interactive as the company wants. You’re not forced to play by some other website’s rules, so to speak.
While in the past few years, companies had been continually increasing their social media usage, things have cooled off a bit recently. In 2011, 71% of Inc. 500 companies planned to up their investment in social media. However, that number dropped to 44% planning to increase spending on social media for 2012. Additionally, 41% plan on keeping their spending on social media at the same level, while another 15% were unsure how their social media spending would change.
This drop in spending is probably due to the fact that the big players in social media have long since been established and companies are now content to keep the status quo with them. There might be another huge shift in social media at some point in the future, but not the foreseeable future.
Companies appeared to be monitoring the internet less this past year than previous years. In 2010, the amount of companies making concerted efforts to monitor online conversations about their names, products or brands was at 70% and in 2011 that had dropped to 68% of the companies queried and for 2012, that number dropped again to 63%.
This slow drop in online monitoring can be chalked up to a mystery of the universe. The fact that businesses seem to pay less attention to what people are saying about them online makes little sense.
The line at the bottom
Just like anything else in business, social media wouldn’t even be on a business’ radar if it didn’t help out the company’s bottom line. About one third of the Inc. 500 businesses queried reported the ability to determine a return on investment (ROI) of their social media ventures. Of that one third, 19% said they had been able to cut costs in their recruiting efforts due to investments in social media.
This savings on recruiting is likely tied to the increase in the use of LinkedIn referenced earlier. It has become famous for its ability to assist professional recruitment efforts.
The study found that 63% of companies in the Inc. 500 have social media content that comes straight from the CEO (or, at least, it has the CEO’s name on it, anyway).
This is significant because even if it’s on a website, people still want to see or hear from a company’s top dog or some other senior member of management.
Although ample evidence exists as to the importance of social media for companies’ communication efforts and clearly more companies are using social media, they are still divided on whether it is a central tool to their growth. Sixty-two percent of companies polled felt that incorporating social media tools into their communications strategy has been necessary for the growth of the company. However, 39% do not believe these tools are central to the company’s growth.
Which side a company falls on probably has a lot to do with what the company does. Social media is much more important for a retail business, for example, than a strictly manufacturing business.
Social media expert?
While many “social media experts” have popped up in the wake of Facebook and Twitter (and the term “expert” has never been used more loosely) only 9% of companies polled said they had specifically hired a person to handle social media duties. An additional 9% hired an outside consultant or content provider for social media needs.
The vast majority, 65%, simply gave the social media responsibilities to existing employees, typically in the marketing department.
Plan … B?
The study also uncovered that a full 22% of the Inc. 500 respondents don’t have any social media plan nor do they have social media incorporated into any other type of communications plan. On the other hand, 12% have a standalone social media plan while the majority have social media functions incorporated into their marketing or business plans.
So, abandon your corporate Facebook account, change everything over to LinkedIn and hire a “social media expert” to handle all of it (you can find one in most Grade 6 classrooms).