New report shows the majority of the Fortune 500 embrace social media usage through Facebook and Twitter

Posted on November 11, 2010

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Here is a new report from CMR at UMass. Lots of good information on current trends in social media at the big companies. You can get a copy here.

Interesting to note that although Blogging by F500 has appeared to level out year over year (1% growth; 23% have corporate Blogs), Facebook and Twitter have grown tremendously (56% F500 have Facebook pages and 60% have Twitter accounts).

It just goes to show, apparently, that engaging customers through social outreach strategies that are easily shared, have a stronger impact to the business than Blogs.

The Fortune 500 and Social Media:  A Longitudinal Study of Blogging, Twitter and Facebook Usage by America’s Largest Companies

Conducted By: Nora Ganim Barnes, Ph.D.

University of Massachusetts Dartmouth Center for Marketing Research

Introduction

Fortune Magazine annually compiles a list of America’s largest corporations, aptly named the “Fortune 500” given their size and wealth. Due to the hugely influential role that these companies play in the business world, studying their usage of new technological tools like social media offers important insights into the future of commerce.  While these companies may not always be the first to innovate, they do provide a look at emergent trends among America’s most successful companies.

In 2008, the Center for Marketing Research at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth released one of the first studies of the Fortune 500 (F500) adoption and in 2009 repeated that study expanding it to include the usage of one of the fastest growing social media tools – Twitter.

This new study (2010) revisits those prior in-depth studies and expands again to look at the F500’s usage of another popular and fast growing social media platform – Facebook.

This research also builds on the Center’s work since 2007 examining social media in a variety of organizations including the Inc. 500, US colleges and universities and the Forbes list of the 200 largest charities. (http://www.umassd.edu/cmr)

Each May the list of the top 500 companies is released in a special issue of Fortune Magazine.  The Fortune 500 (F500) list includes publicly and privately held companies for which revenues are publicly available. For more information on the F500, please visit http://money.cnn.com/magazines/fortune/fortune500/.

A detailed summary of the findings of this study and the methodology follows. To be added to the email distribution list so that you can stay abreast of our research and papers, please email nbarnes@umassd.edu.

Methodology

For purposes of this research, the following definition was used to locate 2010 F500 companies with blogs:   A company was counted as having a blog if they had a public-facing corporate blog from the primary corporation with posts in the past 12 months. This is the same definition used in the 2008 and 2009 studies (http://www.umassd.edu/cmr/studiesresearch/welcome.cfm)

Due to the complexity of corporate legal structures in this group and no clear methodology on how subsidiaries have been located or analyzed by others, the research presented here continues to focus on the primary/listed corporation.  While we acknowledge that mergers and acquisitions along with expansions have resulted in segments or subsidiaries with blogs, our focus has consistently been at the corporate level.

In addition, it is worth noting that there is evidence of usage of social media such as blogs inside of large companies like the F500. This research did not look at that subject but instead focused on public-facing corporate blogs as a barometer of social media usage to engage the public.

All companies were analyzed using multiple steps. First, working from the published 2010 F500 list, all corporate home pages were examined for links to, or mention of, corporate blogs. If none were found, a search on the company’s site was conducted using the key word “blog”. Any links resulting from that search were followed and evaluated using the established criteria.

If no blogs were located on the home page or through a site search, other search engines were used. Both Google and Technorati (a leading blog-focused search engine) were employed to check for corporate blogs using key words that included the primary/listed company name and the word “blog”. This proved to be an effective method since additional blogs were located.  A search of other sites gathering information on the F500 was also reviewed for any mention of blogs in that group.

Similarly, all companies were analyzed through multiple steps to locate corporate Twitter accounts. First, working from the 2010 F500 list, all corporate home pages were examined for links to, or mention of, a corporate Twitter account. If none were found, a search on the company’s website was conducted using the keyword “Twitter.” Any links resulting from that search were followed and evaluated using the established criteria.

If no Twitter accounts were located on the home page or through a site search, Google was used to search for Twitter accounts using keywords that included the primary/listed company name and the word “Twitter.” If no Twitter accounts were found this way, a search on the Twitter website was conducted using the primary/listed company name. These additional approaches proved to be effective as some Twitter accounts were located using this method.  The same methodology was used to locate Facebook profiles for each company in the 2010 F500 using multiple searches on multiple platforms.

All 500 companies on the list were researched using this process. This is the only known attempt to examine the entire F500 list for use of the microblogging tool, Twitter and the popular social networking platform Facebook.

The data was collected in August/September 2010 at the University of MA Dartmouth Center for Marketing Research and the results follow.

1.  Blogs in the 2010 F500

One hundred and sixteen (23%) of the primary corporations listed on the 2010 F500 have a public-facing corporate blog with a post in the past 12 months. These include four of the top five corporations (Wal-Mart, Exxon, Chevron and General Electric).

The only company in the top 5 in 2010 without a public facing blog is Bank of America.  They do have a URL for a blog that is described as a “blog beta” called Future Banking, but no active blog could be located at this time.

Included in those companies adding blogs in 2010 is Exxon.  The company launched a blog in June of this year, shortly after the BP oil spill in the Gulf region of the US.  Conoco Philips, now ranked 6th in the F500, does not have a blog at this time. See Appendix 1.

In our 2008 study of F500 blogs, 81 companies (16%) had blogs that met the criteria for this study.  In 2009, 108 F500 companies (22%) had blogs.  In both years, 3 of the top 5 ranked companies had blogs.  Exxon and Conoco Philips were the exceptions.  In 2010, 116 companies (23%) have blogs meeting our criteria for an increase of just 1% from 2009.

2. Blogs by Industry

The 116 companies with blogs come from a cross section of industries. A partial list is presented below showing those industries with the greatest presence in the blogosphere.

Blogging varied by industry type. As might be expected, companies in the industry of computer software, peripherals and office equipment have had the most blogs in all three years of our study (8, 11, and 11).  Companies in this category include Hewlett-Packard, Dell, Microsoft, Apple, Oracle and Xerox.

The specialty retail industry saw an increase in the number of companies blogging (such as Home Depot, Best Buy, Toys “R” Us and BJ’s Wholesale) from 4 companies on the 2008 list to 7 from the 2009 list and 8 in 2010. The telecommunications industry represented by companies like AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and Comcast had 7 of the blogs studied this year. Last year’s list had 6.  Food-related companies like Safeway, McDonald’s, Tyson, General Mills, Whole Foods Market and Hershey had 9 blogs, up from 6 1n 2009 and 5 in 2008.

Three industries had 5 blogs in 2009 and 4 in 2008. These, with some company examples, include: commercial banks (JP Morgan Chase), insurance (Progressive, NY Life), and semiconductors (Intel, Texas Instruments). Commercial Banks and Semiconductors each have 6 blogs in 2010, while the insurance industry has dropped to 3 blogs in 2010.  The information technology industry (IBM, SAIC, Computer Sciences etc.) and motor vehicle industries (Ford, GM, Goodyear Tire and Rubber etc.) both had 4 blogs in 2009.  Information technology blogs have decreased to 3, while motor vehicle blogs have increased to 6.

3.  Blogs by Rank

In 2008, 38% of the total number of blogs came from the top 100 followed by 39% of the blogs in the 2009 F500. Rank continues to influence the adoption of blogging by the F500 but in 2010 that number drops to 32%.   Almost one third of the F500 blogs can be located among the top 100 ranked companies, making rank a factor in use of this particular tool.

In 2010 the top 200 companies account for 53% of corporate blogs and the bottom 200 ranked companies (those listed 301-500) make up 29% of the total number of blogs.  The top 200 companies in 2009 accounted for 58% of the F500 blogs, while the bottom 200 accounted for 29% of the 2009 F500 blogs. The findings were consistent using the 2008 list with the top 200 having 63% of the F500’s blogs while the bottom 200 had 26%. It is interesting to note that adoption remains lower in the bottom 200 for the third year in a row with no real change since last year (29%).

4. Level of Interaction on the Blogs

All 116 blogs were examined to determine the level of interactivity the blog allowed. This was done by looking at the blog to see if comments were accepted, if RSS feeds or email subscriptions were available and checking the date of the last post to determine how current it was.  Consistent with the findings in the past two years, 90% of the F500 blogs take comments, have RSS feeds and take subscriptions.

These blogs are kept current with frequent posts on a range of topics. It appears that those companies that have made the decision to “blog” have utilized the tool well. There is frequent posting, on-going discussion and the ability to follow the conversation easily through RSS or email subscriptions.

5.  Comparison with the Inc. 500

The F500 companies are blogging at a lower rate than other business groups, specifically the Inc. 500. The Inc. 500 list is composed of the fastest-growing, private companies in the US, while the F500 is based on total revenue (not growth) and may include public and private companies.  That list is published in a special issue of Inc. Magazine published in September of each year.

While data is not yet available on blogging for the 2010 Inc. 500, in 2009 that group had 45% of the companies on the list hosting corporate blogs.  With 23% of the F500 companies hosting corporate blogs in 2010, that gap is likely to continue.  It is possible that the difference is related to size of the company, internal structure or corporate philosophy regarding open communication with its stakeholders. Regardless of the motivation, the F500 companies have been less likely to adopt social media tools than their smaller, fast-growing counterparts.

6.  Corporate Twitter Accounts

For purposes of this research, the following definition was used to locate 2010 F500 companies with Twitter accounts. A company was considered a user of Twitter if they had an official corporate account with posts (a.k.a. a “tweet”) made within the past thirty days.

Two hundred ninety-eight (60%) of the new F500 have corporate Twitter accounts with a tweet in the past thirty days.  This number is up dramatically from 35% last year.

Of these companies, 9 of the top 10 corporations (Wal-Mart, Exxon, Chevron, General Electric, Bank of America, ConocoPhillips, AT&T, Ford and HP) consistently post on their Twitter accounts.  No Twitter account could be located for the number 9 ranked company, JP Morgan Chase.

Four companies in the medical or healthcare industries had Twitter accounts with no activity on them (Humana Health Care, Boston Scientific, United Health Care and Cardinal Health Care).  This was also true for the food chain Winn Dixie, and the diversified financial service Freddie Mac. These companies were not included in our final tally. The 298 F500 companies from the 2010 list that met our criteria, and their Twitter accounts, are listed in Appendix 2.

6A.  Twitter Accounts by Industry

The 298 companies with Twitter accounts come from a cross section of industries. A partial list is presented below showing those industries with the greatest presence on Twitter.

Tweeting differed by industry type with Specialty Retail (Home Depot, Lowe’s) having the most Twitter accounts (23), taking first place from the Insurance Category. The food-related industry represented by companies like Kroger, Walgreen and McDonald’s had 22 of the Twitter accounts studied, double the number in that group last year.   Insurance companies also increased their use of this tool dramatically moving from 13 corporate Twitter accounts to 20.

Many industries had 10 companies with a Twitter account in 2009. These, with some company examples, include: computer software, peripherals and office equipment (Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft), telecommunications (AT&T, Verizon Communications) and utilities (Dominion Resources, Duke Energy).   One year later we see those industries move to 14, 12 and 16 Twitter accounts respectively.

6B.  Twitter Accounts by Rank

Two hundred and ninety-eight (60%) of the 2010 F500 companies now have corporate Twitter accounts meeting the criteria of this study.  Rank appears to influence the use of Twitter by the F500.  Nine of the top 10 companies have corporate Twitter accounts.  A Twitter account could not be located for J.P. Morgan Chase, the 9th ranked company. Half of the Twitter accounts belong to the companies in the top 200 on the list, while 33% come from those ranked in the bottom 200.  Similar to the adoption of blogs, those ranked higher in the 2010 F500 are more likely to adopt Twitter than their counterparts ranked lower.

6C.  Level of Interaction on Twitter

All 298 companies with Twitter accounts were examined to determine the level of interactivity with readers by examining @replies or “retweets” and by checking the date of the last post to determine how current it was. One hundred and three companies (35%) consistently responded with @replies or retweets within 72 hours, many more often. These Twitter accounts are kept up-to-date with current news and information. There is consistent interaction with other users and on-going discussions that are easy to follow.

7.  Corporate Facebook Profiles

Two hundred and eighty (56%) of the 2010 F500 are now on Facebook.  This is the first year Facebook was included in this study, and the first time any systematic review of the entire Fortune 500 has been conducted on this issue. One hundred and forty-seven companies (29%) have neither a Twitter account nor a Facebook presence.

Insurance companies are most likely to be on Facebook, followed by Specialty Retail, and Food, Drug and Consumer Products.

Conclusion

The adoption of blogs in the 2010 F500 appears to be leveling off with only a 1% increase in the past year.  Twenty-three percent (116) of the 2010 F500 have corporate public facing blogs.  During the same time, there has been explosive growth in the use of Twitter (60% have corporate Twitter accounts) along with significant use of Facebook (56% with corporate profiles) among the 2010 F500 companies.

This clearly demonstrates the growing importance of social media in the business world. These large and leading companies drive the American economy and to a large extent the world economy. Their willingness to interact more transparently via these new technologies with their stakeholders is a clear. It will be interesting to watch as they expand their adoption of social media tools and connect with their constituents in dramatically new ways.

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