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FedEx logoIt’s clear “everyone’s doing it” when it comes to marketers and social media – but that doesn’t mean everyone understands why. Examples of social media successes and failures abound, but with minimal standardization, it's not easy to benchmark one company's strategy against a competitor's, or the industry at large.

FedEx and PR and marketing agency Ketchum have a new study on the matter. Surveying more than 60 brands such as AT&T, Cisco, Southwest Airlines, Chevron and GM, their research found marketers fall into three distinct buckets in terms of their social media efforts.

Ketchum FedEx social media benchmarks

Most companies are participants

A majority (75%) of the companies surveyed were actively participating in social media. This participation was defined as

  • Having at least one social media specialist on staff, in addition to adding social media responsibilities to communications personnel
  • Relying on agency expertise in addition to the in-house staff
  • Integrating new social media tools only after they've been validated by market leaders or competitors
  • Integrating social media in some aspects of communication

Other companies are observers

Some 15% of the companies surveyed were considered social media observers, as opposed to actively participating. This observation was defined as

  • No in-house social media specialists - the focus is on agency expertise, and expanding the responsibilities of communications staff to include social media
  • Less usage of social tools and more emphasis on understanding the overall social landscape and how to operate in it effectively
  • Integration of social media in very few aspects of communication

Very few companies are social media leaders

Just 10% of the study respondents fell into the category of social media leadership. Being a social media leader was defined as 

  • Having an in-house team of three or more social media specialists
  • Identifying and using new social media tools on an ongoing basis
  • Integrating social media in every aspect of communication


The three categories serve as one way to compare the strategies of various companies, as well as potentially benchmarking one's own efforts. For example, Skittles would definitely fall into the leadership category, with its test using social media content as its homepage and all the press that experiment generated. But being a leader doesn't always guarantee campaign efficacy, as we saw with the Update the Rainbow campaign.

So where does your company fall on the spectrum in terms of social media engagement? Are you a market leader, a participant, or an observer? Is there an advantage to being a leader vs. an observer? Do you think it varies by industry?

Tameka Kee

Published 29 November, 2010 by Tameka Kee

Tameka Kee has been covering digital media with a focus on online advertising, social media and gaming since 2007. Find her at tamekakee.com or follow her on Twitter

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Comments (2)

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Mikko Rummukainen

Thank you for the classification. I think it helps with distinguishing the level of understanding among brands who might be in need of assistance through social media monitoring and analysis.

One of the key challenges has been to first assess the level of social media savvy of a client, and starting to build on that level from there on in, so that the client's needs are understood and plausible objectives can be set.

Although, as the distribution shows, I would agree that only a handful of companies are able to achieve the 'leader' status, and that the majority are 'participating', but even within this group the level varies quite a lot. 

I think it will still take some time, a year or two even, until we will be able to make a sharper assessment of companies' 'level of being social'.

almost 6 years ago

Corrie Davidson

Corrie Davidson, Social Media Manager at Sisarina, Inc

Great points. Forrester has dome some excellent research with similar categories addressing how internet users participate on the worldwide web which i think could correlate a lot to this article. A lot of how a company participates (or doesn't) in social media over the long run has to do with their audience - or customers - and how they in turn prefer to interact. What works for one brand or company very often does not work for another one. Customization and a knowledge of your intended receiver is critical.

almost 6 years ago

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