Digital media and online tools remain a largely untapped resource for companies, according to a recent survey of marketing executives by McKinsey & Company. Most respondents agree that their online presence is important and that digital tools provide their companies with a major opportunity, but few are taking the structural steps required to benefit from selling online or engaging consumers through new technologies such as social media.

The survey asked marketing executives from around the world about the digital tools and channels their companies use and expect to use, the challenges they face and actions they have taken in response, and the metrics available to assess performance online.

Marketing executives overwhelmingly agree that an effective online presence is very or extremely important for staying competitive—81 percent of them say so. And more than half of respondents say that over the past two years, the increasing prevalence of digital media and tools has changed their companies’ ability to interact with and serve new customers.

Strong majorities of executives say that to connect with consumers today, their companies most often use two digital channels: their company home pages and e-mail. Looking ahead, however, there’s a clear shift in what respondents believe their companies should be using in two to four years: a broader range of tools, especially mobile applications and social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, while far fewer respondents say their companies should use their home pages and e-mail most often to communicate in the future.

Responses show that most are experimenting with social media: nearly three-quarters of respondents say their companies currently use social media to achieve business objectives in some way. A quarter of these respondents say these platforms are important tools, and 46 percent say their companies use some social-media tools to complement other marketing efforts.

Organizationally, a majority of executives (54 percent) say their companies have responded to the increasing prevalence of online tools and e-commerce by seeking to integrate them into existing business models. However, nearly one-third have established separate teams or departments to manage online opportunities.

The most important digital-related challenge for marketers and business leaders—ranked first by the largest share of respondents—is generating and leveraging deep customer insights. The good news is that more respondents say their companies either are taking or plan to take action on some of the higher-ranked challenges compared with those they ranked lower.

Notably, many companies seem to want to do it themselves: on many of these challenges, more respondents say the best approaches involve developing internal capabilities rather than relying on external resources. For example, of respondents who say managing brand health and reputation is an important challenge, 49 percent say creating content or services for customers on social-media sites and forums would help in addressing it, while just 14 percent cite the hiring of third-party service providers to manage online brand interactions.

Though measuring the effect of online tools isn’t the most-cited problem, other responses indicate that many marketers continue to struggle with developing the right metrics and translating insights into actions that influence consumer behavior. Nearly one-third of respondents say existing digital metrics don’t quantify the financial impact of those tools or channels on the business, and of the executives whose companies are using social media, almost half say quantifying the impact adequately is difficult.