An interview with Dr. Nora Ganim Barnes, a Chancellor Professor of Marketing and Director of the Center for Marketing Research at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. The Center recently released its 6th Annual Benchmark Study of the Inc. 500
Based on your Inc. 500 study what are you finding that’s changing in social media?
It appears that the Inc. 500 are settling in and getting comfortable with their social media efforts. They are looking for tools that help move their companies forward and are considering social media measurement, ROI and future investments in these new communications strategies.
Existing employees are assuming the responsibility for handling the social media efforts, in most cases, while 4 out of 10 are planning to maintain the same level of investment they made last year in this area. These fast growing companies are trying new tools and looking to their CEO’s to help provide content.
The social media function, often housed in Communications or PR, according to previous studies, is now almost exclusively managed by the Marketing Department.
Any ideas about why Marketing is driving social media now?
The social media function is more intricately involved with the sales and customer service pieces than ever. Initially, PR and Communications handled the messaging when most of the tools were used more for broadcasting than engagement. As we’ve learned more about the strategic use of social media, it became clear that Marketing had to play a central role.
Whether you call it e-commerce, digital marketing, interactive marketing or social media marketing, these new tools are central to the marketing function and an important component of the marketing plan.
Social media is important for branding, customer experience and feedback, product innovation and development as well as promotion. I think it’s a good fit for this stage of our social media development.
What is the CEOs new role in providing content? Why are they more involved?
Most of the companies in the Inc. 500 are relatively young, 78% were founded after 2005. These companies tend to have younger CEO’s than their revenue-base counterparts in the Fortune 500.
These innovators seem to be both comfortable and anxious to engage their constituents. It may be that these small, fast-growing businesses are defining themselves, positioning their company, creating an image and/or taking a stand in their industry.
We are seeing Inc. 500 CEOs providing content for official company blogs as well as for Twitter. They are also very active on LinkedIn.
What’s hot? What’s down?
LinkedIn is hot! 81% of the Inc. 500 use this tool and attribute a decrease in recruiting costs to their presence on this site. This is the #1 tool used by the Inc. 500. Blogging is up with 44% using this mature tool.
The use of Facebook dropped 7% in the past year, putting it even with Twitter at 64% usage. YouTube also lost ground (45% in 2011, 30% in 2012). Use of Foursquare more than doubled (13% to 28%) and Pinterest debuted in this study with 18% of companies using it.
Monitoring activity around the company name or its brands is down. Two years ago, 70% of the Inc. 500 monitored the online conversation as it relates to them. This year that number is 63%. Given the amount of time and energy it takes to diffuse an online crisis, this may be a problem for some companies who become the target of an online firestorm of some sort.
Why do you think fewer companies are monitoring their social media mentions, given the potential downside?
I think it is directly related to who manages their social media function. We’ve studied businesses and colleges/universities.
We found that those that hired a social media specialist into a dedicated position were far more likely to monitor online buzz as it relates to their organization. When existing employees “take over” the social media function, or when students, interns or part time hires manage the social media, there is less monitoring activity.
There is a good deal of activity in terms of posting, but far less monitoring. Additionally, there is less measurement. Use of analytics is also related to the social media hire in the same way.
The message here is that social media professionals are more likely to look beyond the tools. They understand social media strategy, implement social media policy and think in terms of social media planning.
Your data shows a resurgence of blogging? Why?
I think the pure ownership of a blog has made it more attractive. There are no restrictions on length, content, format or appearance.
The company owns the blog and is free to express itself in a human voice. Social media experts agree that there is no better tool to distinguish your company as a thought leader in an industry than the effective use of blogs.
The Inc. 500 report that 63% of CEOs contribute to content, making this vehicle truly the voice of the organization.
It is interesting to note that usage of this mature tool had not been as prevalent in recent years with about 24% the Fortune 500 adopting it and 37% of the Inc. 500 using blogs last year. The adoption by 44% of the Inc. 500 might indicate an interest in providing more extensive content and bringing the ideas of the CEO to the forefront.
These companies are looking at the blog advantage in SEO, anchoring the social media effort and being the centerpiece of their online presence.
How are companies measuring their results on social media?
Early discussions of measurement as it applies to social media, often indicated that it was difficult or impossible. In this study over one third of the Inc. 500 felt they could financially determine ROI for their business through measurement tools they employed.
Respondents point to Google Analytics, Radiant 6, HubSpot and others as useful tools for evaluation. This is a significant change from studies in prior years when companies cited hits, comments, likes and followers as primary measures of effectiveness for their social media efforts.
Tangible examples were provided connecting social media to sales, leads or exposure using the analytics cited. LinkedIn was credited with bringing down the cost of recruiting through its professional networking opportunities.
Dr. Nora Ganim Barnes has worked as a marketing consultant for many national and international firms including the National Pharmaceutical Council, the National Court Reporters Association, and the Board of Inquiry of the British Parliament, Scotts Lawn Care Co, Distilled Spirits Council of the US, Thomson Reuters and others. Business Week, CNN, Inc. Magazine, Computer World, Washington Post, NY Times, LA Times, Wall Street Journal and Fox News have covered her work on social media adoption.