Inc. 500 ratchets up social media engagement

Inc. 500 Ratchets Up Social Media Engagement

Social media engagement will surpass online advertising for the first time in the latest study of the Inc. 500 companies. These leaders say they will ratchet up their engagement with consumers. They forecast that social will generate more sales this year than advertising by 38% vs. 24%.           

This is a sharp departure from 2014 when online advertising garnered 40% support while social media platforms were favored by only 14%.

Key Findings

The Inc. 500 Study 2016, conducted by The Center for Marketing Research at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, found these key findings:

  • 93% of the Inc. 500 have a LinkedIn account, Facebook presence increased 2% to 82% and Twitter holds at 79%
  • Blogging declined among the 2015 Inc. 500 for the second year in a row. (A decline in blogging was also recorded among the 2015 Fortune 500.)
  • 12% of the 2015 Inc. 500 have a stand alone social media policy (up 5%), 33% have a written social media plan (up 16%) and 27% have an online crisis management strategy (down 7%).
  • Instagram continues its popularity among this group with a 7% increase, now at 32% adoption.

The top two concerns regarding the use of social media are time allocation for social media and the ROI while the top benefit is increased exposure and building brand awareness.

“There is still a lot of uncertainty surrounding the use of paid social vs unpaid social, social commerce, social media plans, and ROI. We can see movement in tool usage again with blogging continuing it’s decline and Instagram the new darling. The move to quicker, faster vehicles parallels the concern about the resources spend on social. This is still a moving target,” said Dr. Nora Ganim Barnes, director of the Center, and co-author of the study.

Twitter’s Rapid Decline

As to the most effective social media platform, Facebook is still number one, as reported by 48% of those interviewed. Only 14% of executives view Twitter as the most effective platform, which declined 36% after an 11% decline in 2014. (Twitter usage has declined by half according to Business Insider). Twitter’s market value has dropped from a high of $40 billion in 2013 to $10 billion today.

Building brand awareness is still the most important reason for using social media.

Inc, 500 social media usage

LinkedIn maintained the number one spot, as reported by respondents, for the 4th consecutive year with an adoption rate of 93% (down 1% from 2014). Twitter remained the same this year at 79%, Pinterest dropped 1% to 29%.

The following saw increases in adoption: Facebook (2%), YouTube (5%) and Instagram (7%). Google+ accounts increased from 43% to 64% but continue to be the most likely social media accounts to be inactive.

Most effective social media platorms

What Does This All Mean?

Social media ROI still remains an elusive target for many companies. While the Inc. 500 reports they are ratcheting up their social media engagement, they also say sales are measly from these platforms.

23% report that less that 1% of sales derive from social media, which is an improvement over last year, which came in at 44%. Only 7% report deriving more than 10% from sales, a slight improvement from last year.

On the other hand, more companies this year (32%) report they don’t know, almost double the number from last year (18%)

Inc. 500 sales from social media

This translates into a lot of uncertainty about the role and effectiveness of social media. If just 7% of the fastest growing companies in the U.S. can only achieve 10% + of their growth from social media, than what are the odds of success for smaller companies?

The Inc. 500 companies seem to be taking in on faith that social media will contribute a bigger portion of their sales mix as they step up their engagement on social media while decreasing their online advertising spend.

What are your plans for using social media next year? Primarily for engagement or to drive sales?

Leave a Reply


  1. Hi Jeannette, the stats on social media always amaze me. Wow things have certainly changed since just 2014. A second year decline in blogging leaves me wondering where this is going? And oh my Twitter looks like it’s on its way out, doesn’t it. It’s crazy how quickly the trends in social media change. It’s will be interesting to see how the next couple years pan out.

    • Susan — as you and I both know, blogging is a major commitment and companies don’t see an immediate ROI. But the smart companies — particularly professional services firms — understand the value of blogging for branding and developing an archive of intellectual capital. LinkedIn may be the most popular network but’s it’s losing money, too. I think that’s why they’ve made so many changes, for the worse, in my view.

  2. Hi Jeannette, the stats on social media always amaze me. Wow things have certainly changed since just 2014. A second year decline in blogging leaves me wondering where this is going? And oh my Twitter looks like it’s on its way out, doesn’t it. It’s crazy how quickly the trends in social media change. It’s will be interesting to see how the next couple years pan out.

  3. I plan to utilise social media for my business and blog. I am at the stage of not wanting to ram either down people’s throats. How much notice do people take of advertising via Twitter and Facebook? I receive more “likes” and comments when posting family photographs and motivational quotes. I would appreciate any tips!

    If I am going to be successful and reach out to many, I need to be more agressive in my approach.

    • Phoenicia — It’s difficult to be seen and heard on social media because there is just so much competition. But Facebook and Twitter also curate the news feeds of members, so only a fraction of what you post gets seen. No easy answers, I’m afraid.

  4. Jeannette, I am still learning to be effective on Twitter. I think managing social media accounts is very time-consuming or that could be because I still haven’t learned how to use free management tools yet (even learning about that is time-consuming).
    I do use Pinterest and want to learn to use it more effectively before moving onto Instagram which I’ve been told would be a very good platform for what I’m doing which is to increase exposure for my Etsy store.
    I find these social media posts you write extremely interesting and worthwhile – they always help me look at what I should be doing and how to prioritize it all.

    • Lenie — Managing social media accounts is so time-consuming. Instagram would be an excellent channel for you because it’s photo-centric and that would definitely help to promote your Etsy store. Maybe you shouldn’t bother with other networks when Pinterest and Instagram target your audences so well. Of course, you have to stay in our BHB LinkedIn Group!

  5. Hi Jeannette. It’s all so complicated, isn’t it? We can never rest on our laurels and hope that we will achieve success. We must be continuing evolving and innovating. that is all so time-consuming! I have a presence on all the sites listed in your graph, but am not active on youTube even though I have an account there. I love the visual sites like Instagram and do make a lot of great business connections in the chocolate industry there. But the amount of time and effort it takes to be active AND successful on social media is truly dumbfounding.

    • Doreen — so true, to be active and successful on social media is very demanding. That’s why I think we have to pick and choose. When Pinterest became the new rage a few years ago I joined. But my business isn’t about images and I knew I wouldn’t populate any boards, so — guiltily — I quit. Best decision I made.

  6. One of the things that is interesting about this is that while the survey positions advertising and social media as alternatives, I think it is likely that the distinction between the two is going to get blurrier as social media networks look to monetize through sponsored or promoted posts. My concept of social media, from a business perspective, is that it is a means of distribution. Whenever you publish to a Web site, write a blog post, issue a news release or hold an event, social media is a method for drawing an audience to that initiative.

    • Ken — yes, sponsored posts and native advertising posing as editorial content are on the increase. You’re right: the line is definitely blurring between the two.

  7. Fascinating information, though I can’t say I’m all that surprised to see the continuing decline on Twitter. I’m there because I need to be, but it’s certainly not a priority. Overall, I tend to use social media mostly for engagement and brand building, though there has been some business growth, mostly through Facebook. I’ve connected with new accounts and collaboration opportunities, and groups, in particular, have been a solid source to build traffic and grow my list. Surprisingly social media has also been effective when it comes to book sales. I’m about to shift into a new area of training and while social media isn’t #1 on my list of promotional strategies it definitely resides near the top. Thanks for the thoughtful read.

    • Marquita — Twitter is having issues of engagement but, in my view and the view of the “pundits,” Twitter is the most important social network. That’s because it is a source of immediate news and that’s helped to fan revolutions in the Middle East. No other network comes close.

      • Most interesting! I do not have a business but do use social media to share my blog posts and to help promote friends’ work. I had no idea of Twitter’s “rapid decline.” That you refer to it as “the most important social network” makes sense. Indeed, immediate news it does provide. In China the equivalent media, “wechat,” has issues go viral fast too. Thanks for all social media this food for thought.

        • Ramona — Glad that you found the information useful. Twitter will figure it out. Too important a network to disappear.

  8. These statistics are quite interesting. I was surprised to read that the percentage of companies with social media strategies was a low as it was, but maybe it isn’t so surprising when they are so uncertain about its role and effectiveness. And here I am, using Twitter more just as it is on the decline!

    • Donna — Twitter may be on the decline but it’s still a powerful network. If it’s working, why not keep using it?!

  9. Makes perfect sense to me. Unfortunately, however, I do believe a lot of that advertising money will go to Linkedin. Most likely ads in groups and maybe even on our profiles are coming up. The former is already being tested from what I understand and considerint that Linkedin is losing money ads in groups will be implemented.

    • Catarina — I’m not sure the advertising money will go to LinkedIn. B2B companies have much smaller budgets than B2C companies which will find a larger market on Facebook and Twitter.

  10. Jeannette, thanks for sharing this great information. I plan on sharing it with my small business clients.

  11. As a freelancer, Twitter continues to be a main source of the editing inquires I get after direct referrals. I have started to put more time into my FB page to up engagement but it’s so time consuming. In the coming year, my main goal is to be more inconsistent with promotion but it’s always an uphill battle, especially when I’m drowning in projects, but then the projects dry up if I don’t keep at it.

  12. As always a great post for someone like me who is learning to use social media to promote his novel.
    I know some of these, like Instagram, I have but have not used it on a regular basis. reading your post, I need to concentrate a more diligent effort in expanding the use of the sites you mentioned.
    Thanks for sharing this with us.