Dr. Nora Ganim Barnes, a Chancellor Professor of Marketing and the Director of the Center for Marketing Research at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, has released the results of the center’s fourth annual study into the usage of social media by Inc. 500 companies.

The survey asked participants about seven particular types of social media: blogging, message/bulletin boards, online video, podcasting, Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and Foursquare.

The data presented in the study is compared to the numbers from the version released for the previous year, where available. Certain questions were not asked of Facebook, MySpace and Foursquare, specifically, in 2009.

The survey tapped marketing executives at 31% of Inc. 500 companies, 171 in all, creating a margin of error of +/- 6%.

Highlighted Questions and Results

Let’s go over some of the questions and results that I found interesting. The study itself goes into a higher level of detail and can be read in full on the center’s website.

What social media tools are you “very familiar” with?

Blogging: 61% (down from 67% in 2009)
Message/Bulletin Boards: 43% (up from 38%)
Online Video: 44% (up from 43%)
Podcasting: 36% (down from 37%)
Facebook: 87%
Twitter: 71% (up from 62%)
MySpace: 44%
Foursquare: 19%

Which of the following types of social media does your company currently use?

Blogging: 50% (up from 45%)
Message/Bulletin Boards: 33% (up from 28%)
Online Video: 33% (down from 36%)
Podcasting: 16% (up from 12%)
Facebook: 71% (up from 61%)
Twitter: 59% (up from 52%)
MySpace: 6%
Foursquare: 5%
Do Not Use Any: 18% (up from 9%)

If you are not currently using (this particular form) of social media, do you plan to?

Blogging: 43% (down from 42%)
Message/Bulletin Boards: 33% (up from 32%)
Online Video: 39% (up from 36%)
Podcasting: 27% (unchanged)
Facebook: 34%
Twitter: 26% (down from 27%)
MySpace: 2%
Foursquare: 18%

If you have been using (this particular form of) social media, has it been successful?

This question asked the companies who indicated (above) that they used a particular form of social media if their use of that particular tool had been successful. So, for example, 33% said that they currently use message/bulletin boards. That 33% was asked if their use had been successful and 93% of that 33% said that they had.

Blogging: 86% (down from 88%)
Message/Bulletin Boards: 93% (up from 91%)
Online Video: 93% (up from 87%)
Podcasting: 71% (down from 89%)
Facebook: 85% (up from 54%)
Twitter: 81% (down from 82%)
MySpace: 36%
Foursquare: 75%

Does your company use any of the following social media tools to communicate with other companies like vendors, supplies, partners, etc.?

Facebook: 31%
Twitter: 27% (up from 26%)
Blogs: 22% (up from 18%)
Message/Bulletin Boards: 13% (down from 14%)
Online Video: 7%


I found this research through eMarketer, but the way eMarketer presented the data confused me, especially pertaining to forums (message/bulletin boards).

“Eighty-five percent of companies viewed Facebook as successful, a significant jump from 54% in 2009,” they wrote. “Yet Facebook hasn’t matched message or bulletin boards, with 93% reporting it was a successful tactic.

This was a little vague and I reached out to Dr. Barnes for confirmation on my actual reading of the numbers. It’s not really 93% “of companies” that see message/bulletin boards as successful. It’s 93% of companies that use message/bulletin boards that see them as successful. 33% of the 171 respondents, roughly 56, use them. 93% of that 56, around 52, view their use as successful.

It’s an impressive number, but when you consider that Facebook use is more than double use of “message/bulletin boards,” it helps to put the numbers into context. The functionality of forums is represented in the use of Facebook, so we also have to note that while the categorization is helpful, some of these tools share a great deal in common.

On first glance, some of the numbers may appear a little low. But, they make more sense when you consider the industry related message included in the summary of the study:

Despite the fact that 83% of the 2010 Inc. 500 use at least one of the social media tools studied, adoption is skewed by industry.  Government Services companies make up 12% of the 2010 Inc. 500, but 27% of those who do not use social media tools. Energy companies comprise 3% of the 2010 Inc. 500 but 17% of the non-users.  Financial Services companies follow the same pattern holding 5% of the Inc. 500 slots, but 10% of the companies who have not yet adopted social media.

If you’d like to view previous iterations of the research, the 2007, 2008 and 2009 editions can be viewed online.