Are top US corporations embracing social media technologies? The new research study on 2010 Fortune 500 companies and their use of blogs, Twitter and Facebook seems to positively confirm this trend.
Photo credit: Kheng Ho Toh and Dmitriy Shironosov
Each year Fortune Magazine compiles a list of the largest US corporations, which are named the Fortune 500 given their size and wealth. Due to the hugely influential role that these companies play inside the corporate world, their use of social media technologies does provide valuable insights of emergent trends to monitor.
The new 2010 study revisits the 2009 study while also expanding its research focus by looking at the Fortune 500 companies use trends of Facebook.
These are the reported highlights:
Given that Fortune 500 companies stand as an established model for business success, it is indeed strategically critical for you to examine all the data shared in this report to extract solid insights that may help you develop an effective social media strategy.
by Nora Ganim Barnes and Eric Mattson
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 five 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.
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, three of the top five 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.
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 (eight, 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 four companies on the 2008 list to seven from the 2009 list and eight in 2010.
The telecommunications industry represented by companies like AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and Comcast had seven of the blogs studied this year. Last year's list had six.
Food-related companies like Safeway, McDonald's, Tyson, General Mills, Whole Foods Market and Hershey had nine blogs, up from six in 2009 and 5 in 2008.
Three industries had five 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 three 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 three, while motor vehicle blogs have increased to six.
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%).
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.
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.
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, nine 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 nine 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 publicfacing 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.
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.
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.
Originally written by Nora Ganim Barnes and Eric Mattson for the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, and first published on November 1st, 2010 as The Fortune 500 and Social Media: A Longitudinal Study of Blogging, Twitter and Facebook Usage by America’s Largest Companies
About Nora Ganim Barnes
Nora Ganim Barnes earned a Ph.D. in Consumer Behavior from the University of Connecticut and is a Chancellor Professor of Marketing and Director of the Center for Marketing Research at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. Nora has worked as a consultant for many national and international firms including the National Pharmaceutical Council, the National Court Reporters Association, and the Board of Inquiry of the British Parliament, Scotts Lawn Care Co, Distilled Spirits Council of the US and others. She has been named a Senior Research Fellow and Research Chair by the Society for New Communications Research.
About Eric Mattson
Eric Mattison is the CEO of Financial Insite Inc., an independent social media scholar whose research has appeared in BusinessWeek, Inc. Magazine and a number of other publications. Prior to his current endeavors, Eric ran direct marketing, market research and marketing analytics for SanMar. Eric is a graduate of the University of Washington where he earned dual degrees in business administration and mathematics as a Washington Scholar.
Nora Ganim Barnes and Eric Mattson -
Graphs - Elia Lombardi
Level of Interaction on the Fortune 500 Corporate Blogs - Xiao Fang Hu
Fortune 500 Companies Vs. the Inc. 500 - Aleksandr Ugorenkov
Fortune 500 Companies Corporate Twitter Accounts - Jay Simmons
Fortune 500 Companies Level of Interaction on Twitter - Mikhail Mishchenko
Methodology - Andrey Burmakin