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International Journal of Market Research Vol. 57 Issue 2

Measuring the degree of corporate
social media use
Thomas Aichner

University of Padova

Frank Jacob
ESCP Europe

This article aims to provide a model with which to measure the degree of
corporate social media use or, in other words, the extent to which companies
are exploiting the potentialities of single or multiple social media platforms. This
is, however, explicitly different from using metrics to assess the success of social
media activities, as it is purely measuring how intensively a pre-defined group
of social media is utilised, taking into account the frequency of social media
activity by the brand as well as the related user reactions. The degree of corporate
social media use helps companies and market researchers analyse single brands
or companies and compare them with other brands, competitors or industry
averages. The degree of corporate social media use is a useful indicator, which
should be combined with social media metrics in order to draw better conclusions
about where to increase or intensify social media activities.

Social media is more than Facebook
As of January 2014, Facebook Inc.’s website, facebook.com (Facebook),
was the largest global social network, with a total of 1.19 billion active
users monthly and an annual growth rate of 18%. The company reports
that 728 million of its registered users log in to their account on a daily
basis in order to post, comment, share and ‘like’ stories, pictures and
videos about their own life, their friends, celebrities, organisations, brands
and companies. Even though Facebook itself estimates the number of fake
accounts to be around 8.7%, these figures prove the ongoing success story
of online social networks and social media. However, Facebook is just one
example of many social networks, all of which represent merely one out of
13 different types of social media that are described herein.
Received (in revised form): 24 June 2014

© 2015 The Market Research Society
DOI: 10.2501/IJMR-2015-018

257

Measuring the degree of corporate social media use

The purpose of this article is to provide a model with which to measure
the degree of corporate social media use. The degree to which a company
is using a specific social media platform or a combination of social media
platforms is the basis for a number of analyses, such as performance
analyses and advertising success analyses, as well as for the planning of
future social media activities. The scope of application includes but is not
limited to self-assessment of companies, competitor analyses and market
research.

The different types of social media
The following typology defines the scope and applicability of the proposed
model, and describes how companies use the 13 different types of social
media. In addition, market researchers and practitioners may refer to it
with regard to their study design, e.g. which social media platforms to
include or exclude in their research, and as a source of definitions.
Generally speaking, social media are web-based applications and
interactive platforms that facilitate the creation, discussion, modification
and exchange of user-generated content (Kaplan & Haenlein 2010;
Kietzmann et al. 2011). Social media are therefore not limited to social
networks like Facebook but include blogs, business networks, collaborative
projects, enterprise social networks, forums, microblogs, photo sharing,
product/services reviews, social bookmarking, social gaming, video sharing
and virtual worlds. According to the web metrics website, alexa.com, nine
out of the top 20 and 395 of the top 100 most visited websites in January
2014 were social media sites. Table 1 gives an exhaustive overview of all
the different types of social media, and provides two popular examples for
each category.
Many researchers point out that social media is different from Web 2.0
(Kaplan & Haenlein 2010; Weinberg & Pehlivan 2011; Berthon et al.
2012). Web 2.0 essentially enables social media and serves as an
umbrella term to describe the many different technologies running in the
background of social media applications and platforms. Table 2 provides a
brief description of each type of social media.

Companies are measuring their success in social media
Social media have become crucial for companies in a growing number
of their value chain activities. In marketing, social media is not just an
optional element in the promotional mix, but a mandatory element within

258

International Journal of Market Research Vol. 57 Issue 2

Table 1  Types of social media with examples
Examples
Type of social media

Name

Website

The Huffington Post
Boing Boing

huffingtonpost.com
boingboing.net

Business networks

LinkedIn
XING

linkedin.com
xing.com

Collaborative projects

Wikipedia
Mozilla

wikipedia.org
mozilla.org

Enterprise social networks

Yammer
Socialcast

yammer.com
socialcast.com

Gaia Online
IGN Boards

gaiaonline.com
ign.com/boards

Twitter
Tumblr

twitter.com
tumblr.com

Flickr
Photobucket

flickr.com
photobucket.com

Products/services review

Amazon
Elance

amazon.com
elance.com

Social bookmarking

Delicious
Pinterest

delicious.com
pinterest.com

World of Warcraft
Mafia Wars

warcarft.com
mafiawars.com

Social networks

Facebook
Google+

facebook.com
plus.google.com

Video sharing

YouTube
Vimeo

youtube.com
vimeo.com

Virtual worlds

Second Life
Twinity

secondlife.com
twinity.com

Blogs

Forums
Microblogs
Photo sharing

Social gaming

Table 2  Descriptions of social media
Type of
social media
Blogs

Business
networks

Description
A blog (from ‘web’ and ‘log’) is a chronological list of postings, which can be read
and commented upon by visitors. Blogs are run by both individuals and companies,
which post news or other informational material, such as product tests.
Individuals use business networks to establish and maintain professional contacts.
Registered users create a personal profile and share personal details such as
the type and duration of their education, professional experience and expert
knowledge. Companies use professional networks primarily to position themselves
as an employer and to search for new employees or experts.
(continued)

259

Measuring the degree of corporate social media use

Table 2  Descriptions of social media (continued)
Type of
social media Description
Collaborative Collaborative projects bring together internet users with a common interest
projects
and/or certain knowledge in order to plan, develop, improve, analyse and/
or test technological, academic, scientific or fun-oriented projects. The results
(e.g. programs, codes, findings, results, games) are usually distributed as open
source and made available to the public for no charge.
Enterprise
social
networks

Enterprise social networks are open for registration only to employees of a specific
company or group, offering similar features as social networks, including personal
profiles, profile pictures, etc. Companies want to ensure that their employees
know one another and exchange experiences and ideas. This helps to increase the
efficiency of knowledge management within the firm.

Forums

A forum is a virtual discussion platform where users can ask and/or answer other
users’ questions and exchange thoughts, opinions or experiences. Communication
here does not happen in real time, like in a chat, but is time delayed and usually
visible to the public.

Microblogs

Microblogs restrict the length of postings to approximately 200 characters, which may
be the major reason for their popularity. Postings may include pictures or weblinks.
Users can subscribe to news from other users, companies, brands or celebrities.

Photo
sharing

Photo-sharing websites offer services such as uploading, hosting, managing and
sharing of photos. Often, the photos can be edited online, organised in albums and
commented upon by other users.

Products/
services
review

Product and service reviewing websites sell and provide information about
products. Customers can evaluate products or certain attributes (e.g. product
quality) and write or read product reviews.

Social
Social bookmarking describes the concept of saving and organising internet
bookmarking bookmarks at a centralised platform in order to share them with friends and other
users. Social bookmarks are a valuable indicator for popular websites and other
web content.
Social
gaming

Social games are online games that allow or require social interaction between
players, e.g. card or multiplayer games.

Social
networks

Social networks connect people that know one another, share common interests or
would like to engage in similar activities. Users have an individual profile; they can
be found by other users using their full name, and they upload pictures and videos.
Companies use social networks by creating a corporate profile in order to position
certain brands and to inform and support existing or to win new customers.

Video
sharing

Video-sharing platforms allow users to upload and share personal, business or
royalty-free videos and to watch them legally. Most websites offer the opportunity
to comment on specific videos. Companies use these social media to share
commercials, to test unconventional promotional videos or to save costs, which are
much lower compared to TV advertising.

Virtual
worlds

Virtual worlds are populated by many users who can create a personal avatar,
and simultaneously and independently explore the virtual world, participate in its
activities or communicate with others. In contrast to computer games, time continues
even when the user is not logged in. Virtual worlds often use virtual currencies, which
have an actual value, and allow companies to sell virtual or real products.

260

International Journal of Market Research Vol. 57 Issue 2

many companies’ marketing strategy (Hanna et al. 2011). However,
companies who decide to enter the world of social media must be prepared
to encounter a number of difficulties, and face both reputational and
economic risks. First of all, the world of social media is fast moving and
users expect their questions to be answered within hours. If companies
ignore their users or react too late on critics this may evolve to global
discussions about the weaknesses of the company itself or of its products,
which eventually results in an economic damage for the company. What is
more, when companies take their first steps into the digital world they tend
to rely on traditional schemes in terms of marketing and communication,
which may be considered to be antiquated and have no positive or even
negative effects in terms of brand awareness and reputation. Companies
should therefore be both careful and adopt suitable, innovative ways
to reach potential customers on social media. It can be very helpful for
companies to set themselves objectives in terms of number of posts,
number of interactions and average response time to enquiries, to mention
just a few.
When using social media on a corporate level, it is not only important
to set objectives, but also to measure its success by using relevant metrics
(Hoffman & Fodor 2010; Peters et al. 2013; Smith 2013). Such metrics
for social media applications include but are not limited to the number
of visits, tags, page views, members/fans, impressions, incoming links,
impressions-to-interactions ratio, and the average length of time visitors
spend on the website.
Of course, not all social media platforms are relevant for business.
While social networks, video-sharing platforms and business networks
are of high interest, other types of social media, such as photo sharing,
social bookmarking or social gaming, might be less important in absolute
terms and of less interest to companies because the scope of application
is limited. As more and more customers inform themselves online
about product attributes and product performance, product reviewing
websites are significant for companies, although they can usually not be
influenced by the company itself, in contrast to all other social media.
However, product reviewing websites as well as blogs, forums and social
networks are a vehicle for learning for companies, as customers share
their individual positive and negative experiences or provide solutions
to the problems they have experienced. Even though these social media
provide valuable information for research and development, collaborative
projects and enterprise social networks are the primary source for new
product development. When it comes to recruitment and headhunting,

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Measuring the degree of corporate social media use

business networks are the most important source for companies. An
increasing number of companies, however, post certain job openings on
their microblog or in social networks, especially if the target group for
the job is young with a high affinity to the internet, technology and social
media. Table 3 provides an overview of how important different types of
social media (e.g. blogs or social networks) are for each of a company’s
operational functions (e.g. marketing or human resources), which is
especially important for market researchers when their research interest is
focused on a specific corporate function or activity.
Depending on the individual importance of the company’s value chain
activities, the model presented in this article may be adjusted by including
or excluding certain types of social media that are of low or no importance
to the specific activity. For example, a B2B company may exclude products/
services review platforms from their analysis.
It is not enough for companies to simply ‘be there’ and to have a social
media account. They need to update their profiles and websites regularly
and be highly reactive to customer requests in social media in order for
their presence there to be effective. Several market studies show that, on
average, customers expect response times of a few hours to a maximum
of one day, which is a serious challenge for most companies, regardless of
their size. Posts, competitions, content uploads and other activities have to
Table 3  Importance of social media for different corporate functions

Type of social media
Blogs

R&D

Market­ing

Corporate function
Customer
service
Sales

HR

Business networks
Collaborative projects
Enterprise social networks
Forums
Microblogs
Photo sharing
Products/services review
Social bookmarking
Social gaming
Social networks
Video sharing
Virtual worlds
Importance: (empty) none or almost none;

262

low;

medium;

high;

very high

Organi­sation

International Journal of Market Research Vol. 57 Issue 2

be planned well in advance and require companies to coordinate their use
of different social media. On the corporate level, social media activities
therefore require strategic plans, clear internal rules, dedicated staff and
adequate monitoring. In order to meet these requirements, companies
need to invest relevant amounts of money. Therefore, a growing number
of companies are increasing efforts to measure the success of their social
media activities. Hoffman and Fodor (2010) call this the ‘ROI of social
media marketing’, and suggest relevant and easily measurable metrics
for analysing social media efforts. However, they do not include a
number of social media in their paper, and limit the suggested metrics to
marketing-related areas such as brand awareness and brand engagement,
not taking into account research and development, customer service,
human resources and organisation. The identification of metrics for all
social media in these functional areas would be an interesting area for
further research.
This article does not suggest additional metrics, but proposes a method
of how to measure the extent to which companies are using a pre-defined
group of social media, called the ‘degree of corporate social media use’.
This indicator is useful and should be combined with social media metrics
in order to draw better conclusions about where to increase or intensify
social media activities. In addition, it can be used to easily compare the
degree of social media use by companies and brands.

Corporate social media use: the model
It is important for both practitioners and academics to be able to measure
the degree of corporate social media use (CSMU), which is defined as
the degree to which companies or brands are utilising a pre-defined
group of social media. It is essential to have a standardised ratio scale
in order to simplify the measurement, and to allow a reliable, clear and
transparent comparison of companies’ and brands’ social media use.
The scope of application includes but is not limited to self-assessment of
companies, competitor analyses and market research. This article provides
a corresponding model, which is developed using a four-step approach.

Step 1: monthly active users
First, the five leading global social media in terms of monthly active
users are identified, which are facebook.com (Facebook), youtube.com
(YouTube), plus.google.com (Google+), linkedin.com (LinkedIn) and

263

Measuring the degree of corporate social media use

twitter.com (Twitter). An active user is defined as a registered user who
logs in to his or her account, irrespective of whether or not he or she
actually reads, posts or shares something, and regardless of how long he or
she remains on the social media website. For those platforms that do not
require a registration to use the most important functions, e.g. YouTube,
the number of unique page visitors is taken instead. The list in Table 4
includes the most recent official data available in January 2014.
Table 4  Monthly active users of the five most important social media as of January 2014
Social media name
Facebook
YouTube
Google+
LinkedIn
Twitter
Total

Website
www.facebook.com
www.youtube.com
plus.google.com
www.linkedin.com
www.twitter.com

Active users/month
1,190,000,000
1,000,000,000
540,000,000
259,000,000
232,000,000
3,221,000,000

It should be mentioned that some regional platforms, such as the Chinese
social network Qzone (qzone.qq.com), would have a sufficiently high
number of active users to be included in this list. However, this list refers
exclusively to global social media. It may be adjusted according to need
by other researchers, especially when assessing regional markets, which is
generally considered to be a challenging task (Aichner & Perkmann 2013).
Of course, the list of the five most used social media will change over time
and will have to be updated on a regular basis. In addition, the list can
easily be extended to include more than five social media.

Step 2: social media impact factor
Second, the social media impact factor (SMIF) is calculated. It is based on
the monthly active users of the five social media included in the analysis,
and may change according to the number of active users over time and if
more platforms are added to the model. The SMIF is calculated by dividing
the active users of each platform (AUplatform) by the sum of the active users
of all platforms (∑AUplatform) included in the model.
SMIFplatform =

264

A U platform

∑A U

platforms

International Journal of Market Research Vol. 57 Issue 2

As of January 2014, the respective SMIF of the five most important social
media in terms of monthly active users, namely Facebook (social network),
YouTube (video sharing), Google+ (social network), LinkedIn (business
network) and Twitter (microblog), is:
SMIFFacebook =

1, 190, 000, 000
= 0.37
3, 221, 000, 000

SMIFY ouTube =

1, 000, 000, 000
= 0.31
3, 221, 000, 000

SMIFGoogle+ =

540, 000, 000
= 0.17
3, 221, 000, 000

SMIFLinkedIn =

259, 000, 000
= 0.08
3, 221, 000, 000

SMIFTwitter =

232, 000, 000
= 0.07
3, 221, 000, 000

The SMIF determines the relative importance of each social media platform
in the given framework. This is the basis with which it is possible to assess
the use of multiple social media by companies or brands and to show the
big picture, rather than simply the use of a single platform. The number
of social media can easily be reduced or expanded by taking into account
fewer or more websites, e.g. when companies want to exclude irrelevant
social media and include regional or niche platforms in their individual
calculations. When more platforms are included in the model, the relative
importance of each is reduced.

Step 3: social media use
Third, each of the individual social media platforms is assessed and
individual criteria are established as how to calculate the corporate use of
the respective platform. This index may not only change depending on the
type of social media, e.g. social networks versus microblogs, but differences
also surface between platforms of the same type based on the tools and
range of functions offered by the platform. This article provides specific

265


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