Posted April 4, 2014 10:14 am by with 0 comments

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Every year, Inc. Magazine posts a list of the 500 fastest-growing private companies in the U.S.. You gotta figure that these guys are doing something right so The Center for Marketing Research at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth set out to find out what.

Specifically, they wanted to know about social media marketing. They examined every company’s website, social channels and web presence and they received survey responses from 118 of the 500.

With all of that data in hand, they measured and filtered and came up with some very interesting conclusions about how America’s hottest companies are handling themselves in public.

Inc500 Social Media Usage

It begins with this chart comparing social media usage numbers from 2012 and 2013.

LinkedIn was and still is the top choice. Facebook was a close second leaping upwards to 84% from a measly 67% in 2012. Care to wager on 2014? I’m betting that number is going to drop down to the 70’s or lower given the near ban on branded posts in the newsfeed.

Twitter has a 7% increase which isn’t much but when asked about the sales growth potential Twitter beat Facebook and Pinterest.

Blogging (not dead yet) rose 8%, Pinterest rose 15% and YouTube jumped up from 30% to 50%.

Google+ came out of nowhere to claim the 4th highest spot on the chart with Instagram slipping in for the first time.

The only social media marketing option to see a decline in usage? FourSquare.

But Does It Convert?
The good news: almost half of the companies who responded said they have a means of tracking sales through social media.

The bad news: half said that social media delivers less than 1% of their annual sales.

The better news: a handful of companies estimated their return to be closer to 10% which is very encouraging.

Of the social media options, Facebook was voted mostly likely to send customer sales. An interesting choice since earlier these same people said Twitter had the most sales growth potential.

Social Marketing Ennui
Clearly, social media is more important than ever to the Inc. 500 but when you dig a little deeper you find signs of ennui.

One in five companies doesn’t have a social media plan. 31% have put together employee guidelines for acceptable online behavior but in 2009 that number was 36%.

Here’s the real telling stat:

The executives were asked if their company has a strategy in place in the event of an online crisis (negative attack online). In 2012, 54% of executives reported having such a strategy in place. That number has dropped to 39% this year.

All executives were asked if their company monitors its brands, products or company name in the social media space. Fifty-nine percent of companies do monitor, down from 70% in 2010.

That’s an enormous drop at a time when more companies are getting called out for inappropriate posts. Do companies simply not care anymore? Are they tired of tiptoeing through the social media minefield?

Or maybe they figure that since social media is returning so little on their investment, they need to stop investing. . . time. . . energy. . . concern?

If that’s the case, it’s a very bad decision. That’s your reputation out there on Facebook and Twitter. A Pinterest board or Facebook post might be the very first introduction a potential customer has to your company. Do you want it to be sloppy or offensive or do you want it to properly reflect your mission?

If you only take one thing away from this article, take this. You need a plan. How do you respond to public complaints? Who responds to messages on Facebook and how often? What’s an appropriate post for a solemn holiday like Memorial Day and what isn’t it?

Take a half hour and make sure everyone on your team is on the same page. Better to spend the time now then spend two weeks cleaning up the mess later.