2017 Small Business Social Media [Research]

2017 Social Media and Inc 500 Explained

2017 Small Business Social MediaWere you one of the 82% of small businesses that used at least one form of social media in 2016?

If you’re like the Inc 500, you’re investing in a variety of social media platforms. 


You still haven’t figured out how to maximize your social media return.

Let’s examine research by UMass Dartmouth on social media and the Inc 500 to see how your business stacks up and where you can improve your social media marketing. (Note: 2017 research reflects 2016 data.)


Top 7 Social Media Platforms Inc 500 Businesses Use2017 Small Business Social Media

Small businesses kept their social media usage constant in 2016.

No surprise.

Social media is a marketing mix must-have.

But it’s no longer the high-growth shiny new thing.

While small businesses need social media, they haven’t figured out how to maximize their investment to yield ROI.

2017 Small Business Social Media

Inc 500 Use of Social Media In 2016 via UMass Dartmouth-Chart

94% of Inc 500 businesses used LinkedIn in 2016

LinkedIn remained the Inc 500’s most popular social media platform for the fifth consecutive year.

From a small business perspective, this makes sense. Many executives view LinkedIn as the only professional social media network. It’s your rolodex on steroids. Every small business management team must leverage its connections.

Further LinkedIn Publishing broadens your content reach and positions you as a thought leader.

LinkedIn Experts:


88% of Inc 500 businesses used Facebook in 2016, up 6 percentage points from 2015

Facebook continues to be a major digital force that all companies regardless of size must use.

UMass Darthmouth’s Inc 500 research is consistent with Buffer’s 2016 State of Social Media research. Buffer’s research revealed that small businesses continue to post on Facebook at the same or higher levels despite reduced Newsfeed visibility.

Further, 91% of small businesses used Facebook advertising according to Buffer. (Here’s full analysis of Buffer’s 2016 State of Social Media Research.)


40% of Inc 500 executives contacted said Facebook was the most effective social media platform. It would be useful to know if these executives also paid for Facebook advertising.

Facebook Experts:



79% of Inc 500 businesses used Twitter in 2016

Inc 500 Twitter usage remained constant. Despite Twitter’s management challenges, small businesses used the platform to distribute content and engage with peers and followers.

Twitter Chats continue to contribute to community building.

Take a page from Content Marketing Institute’s Cathy McPhillips. She’s created a weekly chat at #CMWORLD (Tuesdays at noon Eastern time). Content Marketing Institute interviews content marketing experts.

Fortune 500 companies use Twitter at a slightly higher rate than Inc 500 businesses. This is attributable to larger budgets and social customer service.

Twitter Experts:


46% of Inc 500 businesses used Instagram in 2016, up from 32% in 2015

Instagram was the fastest growing social media platform among Inc 500. Instagram’s exponential growth among the Inc 500 reflects user trends.

As the new kid on the block, Instagram has great small business potential, especially with visual appeal. It’s a great way to build community. Additionally, Instagram has added video ability.

Instagram Experts:


30% of Inc 500 businesses used Pinterest in 2016

Pinterest growth has remained flat. Many businesses, large and small, consider it a female ghetto. (Newsflash: Women use most social media platforms at higher rates than men.)

Small businesses pay attention!

Pinterest can help generate long-term value. Beyond it’s core interests of DIY, decorating, food and clothes, customers turn to Pinterest for online window shopping. They use Pinterest to find stuff they didn’t know they wanted.

For long-tail search Pinterest is also powerful. Make your products and content visually appealing and useful to your Pinterest audience. (BTW—If you’re selling product on Pinterest, redirect your expired product pages to similar current products.)

Lastly, Pinterest is useful for curation including ideas for further content and offerings.


Pinterest Experts:


53% of Inc 500 businesses used Google+ in 2016

Google+ usage by the Inc 500 declined 11 percentage points

Google+ is the only social media platform Inc 500 businesses (53%) use more than Fortune 500 businesses (40%). This may be attributable to the fact that Inc 500 businesses have left their social media strategies in place while better-resourced Fortune 500 companies are more proactive with their social media strategies.

48% of Inc 500 businesses used YouTube in 2016

YouTube usage declined slightly for small businesses.

YouTube is under-utilized by small businesses. A number of small businesses, notably Blendtec (the company behind the Will It Blend videos) and Orabrush, used YouTube to grow their businesses.

Video is a white-hot trend that due new social media options, such as Facebook, continues to explode.

Unfortunately, video can be costly and requires specialized skills.

Convince and Convert’s Jay Baer tested low-cost YouTube videos with his series Jay Today. (Note: Baer ended the series after 149 episodes.)

Small Business Social Media-YouTube

Jay Today- Jay Baer’s Low Budget Short Video Experiment on YouTube

Spin Sucks’s Gini Dietrich just pivoted her Friday interview column to use live video interviews, lovingly dubbed Fireside Chats.

Spin Sucks Uses Video Interviews – Fireside Chats


Dietrich also taps into the power of YouTube with her Saturday YouTube curation called Gin & Topics. She doesn’t create any videos for this column! (Here’s how to use content curation on your blog.)


Since YouTube is the second biggest search engine after Google, it’s worth ensuring that your business, regardless of size, has a presence there. People search YouTube to see how to use your products.

Fortune 500 companies use YouTube at 67% versus Inc 500 businesses at 48%. This is attributable to larger marketing and content budgets for high quality video content.


2017 Social Media Usage; Inc 500 vs Fortune 500

2017 Social Media Use – Inc 500 Versus Fortune 500 – UMass Dartmouth Research Chart


Inc 500 Experiences Blogging Renaissance

Small businesses increased their blogging investment during 2016. This is aligned with the blogging renaissance led by Copyblogger’s Brian Clark and Problogger’s Darren Rowse.

42% of Inc 500 businesses used blogs in 2016, up 5 percentage points from 2015.

Business Blogging use 2010- 2016 - UMass Dartmouth


210 Inc 500 blogs gave as their main objectives:

  • 34% use blogs to provide business information.
  • 32% use blogs to establish thought leaders
  • 10% use blogs to provide product information. (I call this Customer FAQ content.)


Interestingly, Dr. Nora Ganim Barnes and her UMass Dartmouth team consider blogs a form of social media. (BTW: I agree!)

Given small businesses’ limited resources it’s surprising that more Inc 500 businesses don’t invest in blogging. Your blog should be integrated into your content and social media marketing plans. Even more important, this can be accomplished without corporate-speak or sounding promotional.

As owned media, blogs aren’t subject to algorithm changes or disappearing overnight like third party social media networks.


2017 Small Business Social Media In The Digital Marketing Mix

In 2016, Inc 500 executives thought social media had the biggest potential for yielding increased sales over the next year. Note: It’s not clear which category these executives place Facebook advertising.

2017 Small Business Social Media In Marketing MixInc 500 Use of Digital Marketing Tactics – UMass Dartmouth Research – Chart (and typo)


  • 94% of Inc 500 executives believe social media effectively builds brand awareness.
  • 85% of Inc 500 executives believe social media effectively creates relationships with customers.
  • 83% of Inc 500 executives believe their social media efforts are effective.
  • 81% of Inc 500 executives believe being active on social media is essential for business success.
  • 78% of Inc 500 executives believe social media effectively generates leads and/or sales.


62% of Inc 500 executives track sales conversations.

But look deeper and you’ll see a lack of results.

  • About a quarter of the Inc 500 can track less than 1% of their sales to social media.
  • About one-tenth of the Inc 500 can track more than 10% of their sales to social media
  • About a third of the Inc 500 can track any results.


2017 Small Business Social Media sales results


There’s a disconnect between what’s tracked and the information executives need to manage social media activities. A company blog would improve these results.

  • 59% of Inc 500 executives are concerned about Return on Investment (aka: ROI).
  • 52% of Inc 500 executives are concerned about resources or time devoted to social media.
  • 41% of Inc 500 executives are concerned about social media analytics.


2017 Small Business Social Media Strategies

As social media becomes a more important element within the Inc 500’s marketing mix, companies are documenting their strategies. In addition to ensuring employees understand what needs to be done, stated goals require related metrics and the means to track them.

  • 21% of Inc 500 companies have a stand-alone social media plan, up 9 percentage points from last year.
  • 50% of Inc 500 companies have a documented social media strategy incorporated into their marketing or business plan, up 17 percentage points from last year.
  • 23% of Inc 500 companies have no documented social media plan. This is a problem. Without a documented plan there’s no accountability for handling or measuring social media results.


2017 Small Business Social Media Policies

Since social media activity may extend beyond corporate accounts, the Inc 500 businesses have documented their social media policies. This enables employees to know what they can and can’t post about their company on social media.


Given how easy it is to document a set of policies and the need to maximize each marketing effort, it’s surprising that less than half of the Inc 500 have social media policies.


2017 Social Media and Inc 500 Conclusion

Social media is a small business marketing staple.

Small businesses need social media to build brands, amplify content distribution, and generate sales and/or leads.

Small businesses no longer get the David versus Goliath boost from social media.

What can you do to maximize your social media investment?

  • Document your social media strategy with related metrics.
  • Rethink your blogging strategy to support your business sales with quality content.
  • Integrate Facebook, both organic and paid advertising. You need its data and reach.
  • Leverage LinkedIn for professional visibility and content distribution.
  • Test videos for social media, especially YouTube.


Before you tell me you don’t have time, answer this:

Are you willing to achieve the same or worse social media results next year?

I thought so.

Then focus your small business social media on the strategies and tactics that will yield the maximum results.

If you don’t, your competitors might.

Go on.

You can do it.

Your business depends on it.

Happy Marketing,
Heidi Cohen

Heidi CohenHeidi Cohen is the President of Riverside Marketing Strategies.
You can find Heidi on , Facebook and .

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