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 fifth annual study into the usage of social media by Inc. 500 companies.

The survey asked participants about thirteen particular types of social media: blogging, message/bulletin boards, online video, podcasting, Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, Foursquare, LinkedIn, YouTube, texting, discount sites and mobile apps.

The data presented in the study is compared to the numbers from the version released for the previous year or two years (I covered last year’s study), where available. LinkedIn, YouTube, texting, discount sites and mobile apps are all new this year.

The survey tapped 34% of Inc. 500 companies, 170 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.

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

Blogging: 37% (down from 50%)
Message/Bulletin Boards: 15% (down from 33%)
Online Video: 24% (down from 33%)
Podcasting: 6% (down from 16%)
Facebook: 74% (up from 71%)
Twitter: 64% (up from 59%)
MySpace: 1% (down from 6%)
Foursquare: 13% (up from 5%)
LinkedIn: 73%
YouTube: 45%
Texting: 15%
Discount Sites: 5%
Mobile Apps: 14%
Do Not Use Any: 9% (down from 18%)

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

Blogging: 56% (up from 42%)
Message/Bulletin Boards: 25% (down from 33%)
Online Video: 34% (down from 39%)
Podcasting: 28% (up from 27%)
Facebook: 32% (down from 34%)
Twitter: 37% (up from 26%)
MySpace: 4% (up from 2%)
Foursquare: 13% (down from 18%)
LinkedIn: 40%
YouTube: 39%
Texting: 15%
Discount Sites: 13%
Mobile Apps: 38%

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, 15% said that they currently use message/bulletin boards. That 15% was asked if their use had been successful and 96% of that 15% said that they had.

Blogging: 92% (up from 86%)
Message/Bulletin Boards: 96% (up from 93%)
Online Video: 90% (down from 93%)
Podcasting: 80% (up from 71%)
Facebook: 82% (down from 85%)
Twitter: 86% (up from 81%)
MySpace: 0% (down from 36%)
Foursquare: 68% (down from 75%)
LinkedIn: 90%
YouTube: 87%
Texting: 84%
Discount Sites: 88%
Mobile Apps: 91%


When looking at studies like this, it is easy to over analyze it. But, from the perspective of an online community builder, all of these tools can help you to build community in different ways. They all can be useful and beneficial – it all depends on your particular situation. So, while it is interesting to note trends, it is important to keep them in that context and not simply chase popularity.

It is important to consider how a “yes” might be qualified, as well. For example, the LinkedIn use seems kind of high. It seems plausible that some of those surveyed answered yes because they have used LinkedIn for hiring or because they or their employees maintain profiles – not because they are engaging with people in a way a company might commonly engage with people through Twitter, Facebook or forums.

Speaking of that, use of “message/bulletin boards” was down substantially, but among those who use them, they are given the highest success rate of any of the tools featured in the study. I do think that it is possible that the wording “message/bulletin boards” may be antiquated and it may be good to make it “message boards/forums” or similar because more and more people know them as forums. Putting aside that this functionality exists in some of the other tools mentioned.

Perhaps, though, it would simply be better to change to “hosted community platform” or similar – just because, more and more, that is what forums are. They are often part of some larger community package, but that threaded, text based discussion really serves as the backbone of the package and it seems like those packages may be neglected by the study.

That said, the categories can never be perfect and it’s easy for me to nitpick, when I don’t have to make 500 calls to compile the data. I appreciate the work done by Dr. Barnes. I was happy when I discovered it last year and will look forward to next year’s update as I looked forward to this year’s.