A brand new study from the University of Massachusetts Center for Marketing Research  compares adoption of social media over three years (2007-2009) by the Inc. 500, a list of the fastest-growing private U.S. companies.

In 2007, the Center’s first study of this group was released and revealed that the Inc. 500 was outpacing the Fortune 500 companies in their use of social media. For example, 8 percent of the Fortune 500 companies were blogging compared to 19 percent of the Inc. 500. This difference accelerated in 2008 with 16 percent of the Fortune 500 blogging vs. 39 percent of the Inc. 500. And in 2009, it was 45 percent versus 22 percent fo the Big Boys.

This research shows that social media has penetrated this part of the business world with tremendous speed:

Not just for customers and employees – As the graph above depicts, many companies are using the social platforms to connect to other stakeholders such as vendors and business partners. This was a new question for 2009 and the first time I have seen this kind of data. Interesting!

Social media marketing has been “successful” – When asked if the use of social media has been successful for their business, the overwhelming response is that it has. Twitter users report an 82% success rate while every other tool studied enjoys at least an 87% success level. Measuring success was investigated and most respondents report using hits, comments, leads or sales as primary indicators.

Policy use still low –  61 percent of the respondents did NOT have a corporate social media policy

Importance and adoption — When queried on the importance of social media, 44% of respondents felt that social media is “very important” to their business and marketing strategy, up from 26 percent.  And a walloping 91 percent of the Inc. 500 is using at least one social media tool in 2009 (up from 77 percent in 2008).

Monitoring gains –  68 percent of the companies formally monitor company and brand information on the social web.  That number is up from 60% in 2008 and 50% just two years ago.

Further immersion –  The companies clearly intend to continue immersing themselves in these tools.  44 percent of those without corporate blogs intend to have one. 27 percent of respondents who do not currently have a business presence on Twitter plan to move into that space.

Social networking leads –  The technology that continues to be the most familiar to the Inc. 500 is social networking with 75 percent of respondents in 2009 claiming to be “very familiar with it” (compared to 57 percent in 2008). Another noteworthy statistic around familiarity is Twitter’s amazing “share of mind” with 62 percent of executives reported being familiar with the new microblogging and social networking platform.

Adoption curves for social media technologies vary –  Interestingly, while social networking and blogging have enjoyed growth in actual adoption, the use of message boards, online video, wikis and podcasting has leveled off or even declined. The addition of Twitter for the first time in the latest study shows that an amazing 52 percent of the Inc. 500 companies are already using this tool for business.

What stands out for you in this research? Any big surprises? Or is it ALL a surprise? : )

Many thanks to the authors of this study, Dr. Nora Ganim Barnes,  and Eric Mattson.

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