Why are America’s fastest-growing companies killing their blogs?

Are America’s fastest-growing companies shifting away from blogging as a primary social media platform?  “Maybe” could be a conclusion based on new research examining the INC 500 from The Center for Marketing Research at the University of Massachusetts.

For the first time in the five years that this research has been conducted, the use of blogging declined. Blogging had been steadily climbing as a corporate communications tool — 19% of the INC 500 blogged in 2007, 39% in 2008, 45% in 2009, 50% in 2010 and just 37% last year.

But there is an element of mystery here.  Despite the decline, blogging was considered the most “successful” social media platform for the fourth consecutive year!  In addition, among those companies not blogging, 62 percent are considering adding a blog.

How can we reconcile this seemingly inconsistent data?  Is corporate blogging really declining? I have a theory that would conclude “no,” but before I explain my rational, let’s look at a few more interesting trends from this study:

Facebook and LinkedIn lead the way. For the first time, the platform most utilized by the Inc. 500 is Facebook with 74% of companies using it. Virtually tied at 73% is the adoption of the professional network, LinkedIn.  As you can see in the graph above, video and podcasting use declined in this period. The researchers theorized that companies are spending more time on Facebook at the expense of blogs and video.

Social media tools are seen as important for company goals. 90% of responding INC 500 executives report that social media tools are important for brand awareness and company reputation. 88% see these tools as important for generating web traffic and 81% find them important for lead generation. 73% say that social media tools are important for customer support programs.

Social media investments will rise.  25% of the respondents said they plan to keep their social media budget the same in 2012, and 71% plan to increase their investment by 20% or more. Just one company had a plan to decrease the social media marketing budget.

Monitoring the social media buzz levels off. The 2011 study shows 68% of companies are using social media monitoring tools, down from 70% in 2010, which was the highest percentage of the past 5 years. Only 24% of the companies have a formal social media policy.

Measurement is inconsistent.  When asked how they measured the effectiveness of their social media efforts, executives reported using fans, followers and supporters (26%), web traffic (25%), lead generation (16%), reduced cost of customer support (10%), the value of sales generated through social media programs (7%).

The work is being handled inside. Executives were asked how social media resource needs were filled in their companies. Two-thirds of the companies reported retraining or repositioning existing employees to handle their social media efforts, 10% use external consultants or agencies, 7% have made new hires specifically for their social media efforts.

Are company blogs really declining?

If you just read the headline of this study and looked at the graph at the top of this blog post, you would be hearing a death knell for blogging. But let’s not bury blogging so fast. Let’s apply a little critical reasoning to this study …

  • It is important to consider that the data presented by the university researchers is not an apples-to-apples comparison. There is a tremendous “churn” of companies on the INC list. In fact, from 2007 when the survey started to 2011, the list of companies has almost completely changed.
  • The authors admit that these changes have impacted the overall statistics in “distinct ways.” Most notably, there has been an increase in companies providing Government Services (a result of “Obama administration initiatives”). The researchers state that Government Services companies are among the least likely companies to blog.  So in 2011, many traditional “blogging companies” were replaced on the list by companies that are unlikely to have blogs.  If the researchers surveyed the exact same sample group, blogging levels may have even gone up in 2011.
  • Also notable is that more than 60 percent of the companies on the INC 500 list did not exist in 2005. It is possible that these start-ups are not moving away from blogging to Facebook as the authors surmised.  I think a more likely scenario is that these young companies are STARTING with Facebook because the entry barriers are so low compared to blogging. This would reconcile the curious fact that the companies with blogs see them as successful (why would they quit?) and that most companies who are not blogging plan to do so.
  • Finally, another possible cause of the strange drop is sampling error. Only 34% of the INC 500 companies responded to the survey.  Within the stated sampling errors, it is possible to conclude that the 2010 data and 2011 data are nearly identical.

It’s also interesting to note that the UMass researchers also do similar studies for non-profits, universities and Fortune 500 companies. In these studies — which have a relatively stable group of comparison organizations from year to year — blogging rates are level or on the rise. Why would the INC 500 companies be so different?  I don’t think they are.

Is blogging dying?  We can’t tell for sure, but I would not make that conclusion from this study. What do you think? What does business blogging look like where you work?

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  • I definitely agree with your analysis that business blogging is NOT on the decline and on the contrary I see more an more companies just getting into tackling it.

  • I am seeing that too Laura, but of course my view is kind of limited. Thanks for adding to the discussion! 

  • IT companies are still blogging away, especially their subject level experts and marketers.
    I’m really curious about those FaceBook stats as I hear lots of ‘stories’ about FB being blocked in larger ($1B+ revenue) companies. Even LinkedIn is frowned upon in some orgs.

    Of course, ‘BYOD’-enabled employees have ways of getting around these restrictions…

  • Good points. Funny that a lot of employees probably can’t access their own company Facebook pages at work!

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  • Anonymous

    Interesting post, thanks. I will write a post about this as well, but what about the “newsroom”? Or the so called “social media newsroom”? Any idea where that one takes place in the communication mix? And the popularity?

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  • There are fewer active blogs in my sector (broadcast production), just as was the case in print and podcasting a few years back. But the quality is much better. Some have even found a way to become financial stable. The blog is great for news.  But it’s a horrible format if you’re in the business of sharing catalogues of material. 

  • The researchers seem to be a couple of years behind on stuff like that but an interesting question. Thanks!

  • That’s really a fascinating observation anditmakesso much sense. After a couple years, the sucky blogs die. Especially because they are expensive to maintain. That is such a great point. Great job Jonathan!

  • Anonymous

    I work for a pretty big company. We have 36 brands with more than 300+ locations. Know how many of them are on a blog? 1.

    Why? OMG, Why? many may ask.

    I have to tell you, we use analytics to mold our content strategy and to see what gets people in our stores. At the end of the day, we want to know what impacts our bottom line and where the customers are. We’ve found more success on Facebook, Twitter and microsites than we have blogs, mostly because our strategy isn’t only based on raising awareness or providing information. Tumblr is better suited for our needs as opposed to 250+ word blog posts.

    Each brand is different, and we have found success when our chefs tweet, Tumblr and use Instagram. It’s that personal touch that makes our repeat customers want to come back in and talk to Carlos (as an example – you can find him @c_e_rodriguez.) His personal Twitter ties into our overall content strategy, but I don’t police him. Him being him gets our loyal customers in the door every week. They love conversing with him and the open kitchen mentality we have for that brand.

    I think many brands have a hard time connecting their sales strategy into blogging.  Even further, they have no clue how to tie WOM into blogging. That’s the sweet spot on blogging – the WOM that will get people into stores. I might be more open to blogs if we could tie our brand ambassador programs into them and be able to show an increase in foot traffic because of efforts.

    At the end of the day, my execs want to see an increase in sales and an impact at the bottom line. They’d probably laugh at me if I went the awareness only route 🙂

  • I think in some ways, perhaps blogging isn’t going away at all.  It seems to me that more companies are using their Facebook pages *as* their blog.  Perhaps this shift has to do with Facebook as it evolves as a content platform, no?

  • Bryan Cromlish

    I have to agree with Lauren here. Looking at the rise and fall of social networks like commodities is fun, but every campaign is different. It is important to remember that everything should start with the goal of a campaign. Your channels should be determined by your goals and not the other way around. It is a common mistake with companies at the trial stages. How many times have you heard, “We have got to be Blogging”?

    I always go, well why? Usually get a response, other people are finding success there.Okay… What will blogging do for you? Ugh…

    I’ll be honest, I do think blogging is incredibly valuable in many cases if you can display some form of thought leadership. Great choice for many B2B companies where potential client representatives are searching the web for an answer. In these cases, a blog can be an extension of your home base (website) and a great way to build awareness, interest, discussion, leads and maybe even convert directly online.All I am trying to illustrate is that there one size shoe. Many B2C businesses may find that they want to create discussion and conversation. Creating a set entertaining Youtube videos may be more entertaining and shareable.

    Measurement practices mentioned in the post is another beast in itself.What do you think Mark?

  • Marketing / Schmarketing….here we go again. If all companies are using social media for is an attempt to generate traffic/sales via advertising, they’re missing the point and the real value.  Besides, has anyone really measured FB activity, store traffic generation and direct purchase activity? Or, are we slipping back to the old advertising world where the concept of “50% of our advertising works, we just don’t know which 50%”?

    Mark, I think what we are seeing yet again is the “hype” syndrome drowning out the reality.

  • Facebook is an insatiable content suck and companies are kidding themselves if they don;t think so. It seems to me that a blog should be a powerful “feeder” to the other social media outlets. Just makes sense. Thanks Jessica.

  • I think the study is OK, but the conclusions are not. I like their study but they tend to be a bit sensational in how they write it up. I have seen this as a pattern. That’s why I need to look a little deeper at this stuff!

  • I LOVE this comment Lauren and agree 100%.  There is no cookie-cutter social media strategy and I think it is great that you are using analytics to make smart marketing decisions. Well done and thanks for the superb contribution to the discussion!

  • You are spot-on my friend. The thing that many — maybe MOST — people in this field miss is that marketing is about numbers. It’s not about blogs or Facebook likes. It’s about moving the needle and letting the analytics be your guide. Of course there is room for creativity and promotion, butthe heart of marketing is data and analysis. That’s why I love @laurenfernandez:disqus     ‘s comment so much!  

  • Glad you posted about this, Mark.  I was looking at those study results too, which seemed to have some contradictions and was inconsistent with some other studies I’d read recently. Your analysis seems reasonable. I also agree with Lauren that a blog doesn’t make sense in every case. It’s a fairly big investment to make, so it needs to be one that actually adds the business value necessary. In the case of Lauren’s company, which seems to be food related, something like Facebook and Pininterest, providing a lot more visuals and probably less text, would likely be worth more time than a traditional blog…

  • Well said.

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  • Chris Higginbotham

    I’d like to see the executives asked for more detail about the retraining and repositioning of existing employees to handle corporate social media. What departments did these folks come from? I would think the obvious answer would be public relations, but I also would think that a lot of these companies would view social media as a part of PR.

    Also, who conducted the social media training?

  • Aboer

    Lauren,  as an agency that gets influential bloggers to create custom content for brands, your comments gave me pause. So I just looked up your company–it is a themed restaurant chain.  
    I think that matters.  What kind of relevant traffic would come from search for your restaurants?  And what could the brand ambassadors write about that would drive meaningful traffic.  I didn’t have a good answer. 
     But take a brand like Nike, or Burton, or Red Bull — and the answers come easily….the people who are avid runners or extreme sports enthusiasts are going to want informative, in depth content from blogs — from the folks who have relevant audiences and expertise.  In other words, blogs make a good interim content strategy for brands who are transform ing themselves into Publishers.  Not every brand fits into that paradigm — but any brand that wants to be a lifestyle brand — certainly does.

    – @aboer:twitter  

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for the thoughts. I’m well aware of content strategy and what works for our brands. You can’t have a band-aid approach to anything in social media. I can be viewed as a “Publisher” with a different type of approach.

    There is a BIG difference between brand ambassadors/blogger program than a corporate blog. I never said we didn’t have brand ambassador programs – actually, it’s quite the opposite. We find value in WOM and brand ambassadors, as opposed to corporate blogs.

    I’d like to correct an assumption of yours: My company isn’t a “themed restaurant chain.” Actually, only a few of our concepts are that out of 36. We actually just bought Morton’s, McCormick & Schmick’s and own hotels/casinos.

  • That really would be fascinating Chris. There is such a lack of real data out there!

  • Aboer

    Sorry if I didn’t characterize your company correctly. I agree with your position which makes sense for your company.  In fact,  I think corporate blogs are generally not effective –not because they don’t convert into sales (they probably don’t)– but because by and large they aren’t that helpful for readers, so they don’t attract an audience.  As a result they may not work well as marketing vehicles — and they aren’t as valuable in search as they once were.

    Blogs did have a nice role in making brands more communicative with their audience, but social tools today might work much better.I think we also agree that not every brand needs to be a Publisher of blog articles because not every brand is going to be able to create longer form content in a profitable way that is valuable to its audience (in your case, diners and hotel guests–although I think casinos are actually a great fit for deep blog content.)When I look at a company as a potential client  my  first question is  “Can this company reach an audience and solve their problems or be very useful with longer form blog content.   Not every company fits that model, but a lot do.  If so, then… the second test is “Does this approach convert into sales and bottom line…but with the caveat that the payoff on a content strategy is much different than the payoff on advertising or social media. 

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  • It was a very misleading headline, I think, but then most great headlines are. Personally, the podcasting figures caught my eye. A dramatic decrease in podcasts but a significant rise in the view of how successful they really are. 

    I’m definitely sure of that and would encourage other businesses to check out the value of podcasting. 

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  • Actually, this headline (or something like it) has dominated the blogosphere as bloggers posted the data without really reading the report. As usual. : (

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  • I talked about this topic a few days ago. The study really says that company’s that blog are finding success. http://marketingdirectorblog.com/2012/01/companies-that-blog-are-finding-success/

    I wish they would not have buried this information in the article.

    I totally agree from that standpoint!

  • Kristina Weis

    Great post!  One thing confused me though.  You said “blogging was considered the most “successful” social media platform for the fourth consecutive year” but it seems clear in the graph that video was higher (deemed more successful) than blogging in 2010.

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  • I agree with you, Jessica. Anyone remember that Twitter was called “microblogging” on launch? And as you pointed out, Facebook really is a great platform for short posts, and for inviting comment from your public.

  • Thanks for sharing that Brent. Great job! 

  • You’re exactly right. I took that from the study but it doesn’t seem to jive with the numbers. Something is amiss. Well done Kristina! 

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