Social media is coming to the US business world and sooner than many had originally anticipated.
In early 2007 the results of a groundbreaking study into the adoption of social media within the Inc. 500, an elite group of the fastest-growing companies within the United States, were released.
Now, approximately one year later, that same group was studied again in an effort to look at longitudinal change in the adoption of these digital communication tools.
The companies who responded were asked the same detailed questions concerning their familiarity with, usage of and measurement of social media.
The survey used in the both the 2007 study and the 2008 study asks a range of questions with regard to six prominent social media (blogging, podcasting, online video, social networking & wikis - Given the frequently uncertain definitions of these media, common understanding of each form was achieved by providing definitions from Wikipedia).
As one of, if not the first, studies of US corporate social media adoption with statistical significance, this research proves that social media has indeed already entered parts of the US business world at a tremendous speed. It also indicates that corporate familiarity with and usage of social media within the Inc. 500 has nearly doubled in the past 12 months.
Conducted by: Nora Ganim Barnes, Ph.D., Eric Mattson
The University of Massachusetts Dartmouth Center for Marketing Research recently conducted one of the first statistically significant, longitudinal studies on the usage of social media in corporations.
The new study compares corporate adoption of social media between 2007 and 2008 by the Inc. 500, a list of the fastest-growing private U.S. companies compiled annually by Inc. Magazine. For details about the 2007 Inc. 500 and the complete directory of the included companies, please visit Inc. Magazine's website at www.Inc.com.
In 2007 (using the 2006 Inc. 500 list), the first study of this group and their use of social media was released and revealed that the Inc. 500 was outpacing the more traditional Fortune 500 in their use of social media. For example, at that time, 8% of the Fortune 500 companies were blogging compared to 19% of the Inc. 500.
This study revisits the Inc. 500 approximately one year later (using the 2007 list) in the first longitudinal study on corporate use of these new technologies.
Given that previous research now shows that just 11.6% of the Fortune 500 currently having a public blog, it is astounding to see that 39% of the Inc. 500 are blogging. The addition of 3.6% more Fortune 500 companies to the blogosphere pales in comparison to the addition of 20% more of the Inc. 500 companies after the same time period.
Like the original, the new study is the result of a nationwide telephone survey of those companies named by Inc. Magazine to the Inc. 500 list under the direction of researchers Nora Ganim Barnes and Eric Mattson.
All interviews took place in March and April of 2008. Forty-two percent (209) of the Inc. 500 participated, making this research statistically valid at +/- 5%.
Given this statistical significance, this research proves conclusively that 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 nearly doubled in the past 12 months.
The respondents in this study, as in the first study, are diverse in industry, size and location. They include three of the top 10, 11 of the top 25, and 44 of the top 100 companies from the Inc. 500 list.
The 209 companies who responded were asked the same detailed questions concerning their usage and measurement of social media that were asked of the Inc. 500 approximately one year earlier.
Forty-two percent (209) of the Inc. 500 participated, making the new research statistically valid at +/- 5%. The original study was also statistically valid.
In order to maintain the integrity of all comparisons, only those tools studied in the first study were included in this follow-up research.
To begin, respondents were asked to rank their familiarity with each technology from "very familiar" to "very unfamiliar."
The social media that was most familiar to the Inc. 500 in both studies is social networking with 42% of respondents claiming to be "very familiar with it" in 2007 and 57% in 2008. However, as the graph below shows, across the board a significant percentage of the companies are "very familiar" with each of these technologies.
The social media that continues to be the most familiar to the Inc. 500 is social networking with 57% of respondents in 2008 claiming to be "very familiar with it" (compared to 42% in 2007). Familiarity is related to usage. It is interesting to note, however, that even those forms of social media less familiar to the participants are still used by at least 20% of them.
From familiarity, the survey moved into the companies' actual usage of social media.
The companies were asked in 2007 and again in 2008 if they were using the six social media discussed above and, if yes, for how long they had been using them.
Again, the results are surprising.
a) While familiarity is related to adoption, even the least familiar media has 21% adoption (podcasting).
b) All six forms of social media have enjoyed growth in the adoption of these tools with an amazing 77% of the Inc. 500 reporting use of at least some social media tool.
Not only is this widespread adoption being driven by strong familiarity but also from the recognized critical role of social media to a company's future success in today’s online world.
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. It is clear that this group of fast-growing companies considers the use of social media as a central part of its strategic plan.
From familiarity to usage to importance, social media is expanding rapidly within the Inc. 500.
The bottom line is that the Inc. 500 continues to learn about social media at a very quick pace.
For the first time, growth in familiarity, adoption and importance to mission has been documented in a statistically significant, longitudinal study. If the Inc. 500 is embracing social media at this record pace, can the rest of corporate America be far behind?
A more thorough analysis of our research into social media adoption by the Inc. 500 will be published in several journals throughout 2008.
To be added to our email distribution list so that you can stay abreast of our most recent research and writings, please email eric [at] ericmattson.com or nbarnes [at] umassd.edu.
Originally published as "The Game Has Changed: College Admissions Outpace Corporations in Embracing Social Media" by Nora Ganim Barnes on the website of the Center for Marketing Research at University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.
About the author
Dr. Nora Ganim Barnes earned a Ph.D. in Consumer Behavior from the University of Connecticut and is a Chancellor Professor of Marketing and Director of the Center for Marketing Research at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. As Director of the Center for Marketing Research, she has provided services in brand and product development, research, promotion, and commercial television production to hundreds of clients.Nora Barnes and Eric Mattson -