Decision-makers are using social media as knowledge and communication networks, primarily visiting these Web sites to access the wealth of available thought-leadership content, according to a report published Thursday by the Society for New Communications Research.
In the second annual New Symbiosis of Professional Networks Study, SNCR polled 114 executives across 10 countries, most of whom were key decision-makers at companies ranging in size from fewer than 100 to more than 50,000 full-time employees.
Interestingly, executives have decreased their use of all social networks other than LinkedIn, the report found. Almost all -- or 97% -- of those surveyed used LinkedIn in 2010, compared with 92% in 2009, according to the study, released Thursday. By contrast, Twitter use dropped to 33% last year vs. 40% in 2009; Facebook usage fell to 20% compared with 51% the year prior, and Plaxo decreased to just 5% from 14% a year ago, the report found.
"Hundreds of other networks were mentioned, many by only one or two respondents," wrote SNCR fellows Donald Bulmer, VP of global communications, industry, and influencer relations at SAP, and Vanessa DiMauro, CEO of Leader Networks.
Today, 55% of executives surveyed participate in three to five social networks, slightly up from the 50% who were involved in that number of social media sites in 2009. Eighty-four percent of respondents were either satisfied or very satisfied with online professional networks, the report found.
Apparently there is room for specialty social networks that focus solely on particular issues or vertical markets. Although most executives polled participate in large professional networks such as LinkedIn and 65% are active in open social networks like Yelp and Twitter, 48% of respondents said they were involved in "midsize or specialized membership-specific industry, roles, or interest-specific groups online" and 26% said they "prefer to engage with a smaller peer group in a private and confidential exchange."
These professional social networks have become a trusted environment for relationship management and decision support, the study said. In fact, 60% said one benefit of participation was increased competitive brand monitoring and performance; 60% said it was to establish or increase their professional network.
Professional collaboration is changing from a small professional exchange into an interaction with content in more public ways," said DiMauro, in a statement. "The consequence of sharing content online is enhanced influence."
Networks also give executives access to information they otherwise could not get, said many respondents. Eighty percent of respondents are able to accelerate decision processes and information or strategy development by participating in online communities, according to the study.
"Business professionals are changing how they collaborate as a result of online professional communities and peer networks," said Bulmer, in a statement.
Not surprisingly, almost all -- or 97% -- of executives log-on to social networks via a PC or Macintosh. Mirroring the consumer world, a growing number of professionals now visit these sites using mobile devices: In 2010, 59% used a mobile device compared with 44% in the prior year, according to the study. More than half, or 52%, used an iPhone; 37% used a BlackBerry; 15% relied on an Android; and 15% used an iPad, the report said.
To keep up with their colleagues, the world, and their business, executives check-in frequently, with 43% logging on more than three times per day, according to the study. More than one-third log-on once a day, and only 2% said they check-in occasionally, the report found.