West Michigan social media survey finds disengaged channels


One metric social media pros use to measure engagement is Facebook likes. Image via fb.com

Social media has been around for what seems like an eternity in social media terms.

Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and LinkedIn are the most-popular platforms. But even a relative newcomer like Instagram recently reached 100 million users, according to an article in the Los Angeles Times.

But even as many individuals are adapting these technologies for self-expression and interpersonal communication, the question remains for professionals: how is social media being adapted and used by business and nonprofit organizations?

To answer that question I — representing the GVSU School of Communications — worked on a survey of West Michigan professionals along with Mike Yoder, a local social media influencer and owner of the LinkedUp GR group, and Jeff Gartner, of Gartner and Associates, a local marketing, research and advertising firm.

This is our second in what we hope to be an annual survey to track social media use patterns by area professionals.

We'll be sharing our results at a free LinkedUp GR meet up on Monday, March 4 at 6 p.m. at the Ramada Plaza Grand Rapids on the corner of 28th Street and the East Beltline.

The highlights are that there has been little movement in social media use from just last year.

This is telling, because we extended the survey to a larger group and had more than 500 respondents.

Similar responses show consistency and reliability. Another interesting result is that West Michigan professionals are not too far off some related national studies about social media use. For example:

Social Media Use National Surveys West Michigan
Use SM to sell 76% 60%
Use SM for customer service 46% 41%
Measure likes, followers 67% 38%
Measure conversion/objectives 42% 26%
Do SM on top of other duties 65% 75%
Objective is reputation 21% 33%
Objective is sales 11% 18%

Social media on the job

Given that the majority of respondents work in public relations, marketing, sales or general management, one interesting result is that 28% say social media is not at all a part of their job description, with 27% saying they are responsible for it “on top” of their other duties. There are 38% who say social media is specifically in their job description, with 6% indicating it is the most important part of their job. The latter group may be full-time social media managers, online community managers and so forth. But it is striking that so many in the communications fields are not given social media as a priority task.


This may explain why only 45% indicate they have a written social media policy in their organization and only 31% have a written social media strategy. The lack of focus on social media is likely related to the fact that 74% use social channels only to promote their organization as opposed to engaging key audiences in conversations (24%). 


Social media measurement is also lacking: 29% don’t measure social media results at all, while 38% merely count the number of followers or friends. About half are more sophisticated in measurement, with 26% assessing how social media helps achieve a specified objective and 29% noting the quality of dialogue and engagement.


Of course, many respondents know they and their organizations should do better with social media. But they feel there are limitations on doing so, including: time and staff available for social media (51%), knowledge of social media (16%) and budget (8%). Again, 27% admit that social media is not a priority strategy for their organization.


The specific platforms used by organizations in West Michigan are similar to adoption by national brands and by individuals. The most popular social media platforms are Facebook (83%), LinkedIn (79% — a little bias, because respondents include a large number from a LinkedIn group), Twitter (69%), YouTube (50%), and Google+ (30%). It’s also interesting to see that local organizations are adopting some of the newer platforms, such as Pinterest (26%), Foursquare (17%) and Instagram (12%).

Finally, as an academic, I study the causes or influences on types of organizational message content. Statistical analysis of our results shows some interesting factors associated with organizations using social media for its advocated purpose of conversations and engagement —  versus as just another promotional channel.

  • Those who indicated their job function is PR or marketing are more likely to use social media to engage publics than those who say their job function is sales or management
  • Those with a communications related college degree are more likely to use social media to engage than those with degrees in sales, marketing or business
  • The more social media is part of a professional’s official job description, the more likely the organization’s social media is conducted to engage publics
  • Similarly, when professionals are managers (i.e., have decision-making authority over social media use) as opposed to mere technicians, their organizations are more likely to be engaging audiences vs. merely promoting the organization

Overall, the respondents give a good picture of how and why West Michigan’s organizations use social media.

We’ll discuss the implications on March 4, and we’ll be asking for more input in a year.

Facebook Comments