Do top US corporations use social media? Is the business world leveraging new media technologies to engage customers? The answer is definitely positive according to a new research study on 2009 Fortune 500 companies and their use of social media tools, like blogs and Twitter and authored by Nora Ganim Barnes and Eric Mattson.
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 in the corporate world, studying their use of new media technologies offers valuable insights into the future of social media communication technologies and approaches.
That is why every year, Nora Ganim Barnes and Eric Mattson take Fortune 500 companies as a testing ground to analyze the use of blogs and Twitter inside the corporate world.
In their latest report, published here, these are their reported highlights:
What emerges from this research is the steady adoption of blogs and the explosive growth of Twitter among Fortune 500 companies, which emphasizes the increasing importance of social media inside the business world.
Specifically, this report suggests that Fortune 500 companies leverage social media technologies like blogs and Twitter as a mean to:
Given that Fortune 500 companies stand as an established model for business success, it is indeed strategically critical for you to examine the data inside this report and extract valuable, solid insights that may help you develop an effective social media marketing strategy.
by Nora Ganim Barnes and Eric Mattson
One hundred-eight (22%) of the primary corporations listed on the 2009 Fortune 500 have a public-facing corporate blog with a post in the past 12 months. These include three of the top five corporations (Wal-Mart, Chevron and General Electric). The two remaining in the top five, Exxon / Mobil and Conoco Philips do not have public-facing blogs at this time.
In our 2008 study of Fortune 500 blogs, 81 companies (16%) met the criteria. At that time the top five included General Motors who was replaced in 2009 by General Electric (both have blogs). In both years Exxon Mobil and ConocoPhillips did not have a public-facing blog.
The end result is a 6% increase in public-facing blogs. Three of the top five ranking companies in both years have blogs.
The "Growth Index" column has been added by MasterNewMedia Editors to quickly express the difference in blog use among Fortune 500 companies from 2008 to 2009
The 108 companies with blogs come from a cross section of industries. A partial list is presented above 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 the most blogs (11). This group was also the industry with the most blogs in the 2008 listings. Companies in this category include Hewlett-Packard, Dell, Microsoft, Apple, Oracle and Xerox.
The specialty retail industry saw an increase in blogging by companies 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.
The telecommunications industry represented by companies like AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and Comcast had six of the blogs studied. Last year's list had five.
Food-related companies like Safeway, McDonald's, Tyson, General Mills, Whole Foods Market and Hershey also had six blogs, up from five on 2008 list.
Three industries had five blogs in 2009. These, with some company examples, include: Commercial banks (Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase), insurance (Progressive, NY Life), and semiconductors (Intel, Texas Instruments). All three had four blogs each last year. The information technology and motor vehicle industries both had four blogs in 2009.
Rank continues to influence the adoption of blogging by the F500. The top 100 companies on the list represent 39% of the 108 blogs in the 2009 F500.
In 2008, 38% of the total number of blogs came from the top 100.
The group ranked 101-200 makes up 19% of the 2009 F500 with a corporate blog.
The top 200 companies in 2009 account for 58% of the F500 blogs, while the bottom 200 (those listed 301-500) account 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 however, that while adoption is lower among the bottom 200 in both years, the latest data shows a significant increase in adoption among the lower-ranked group.
Of the top five corporations on the list, three have blogs. These include Wal-Mart (#2), Chevron (#3) and General Electric (#5). Consistent with the 2008 list, Exxon Mobil (#1) and Conoco Phillips (#4) do not have blogs.
Added by MasterNewMedia Editors
All 108 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 on the 2008 Fortune 500, 90% percent of the Fortune 500 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 subscriptions.
Of the 108 blogs located, 93 (86%) are linked directly to a corporate Twitter account, that is more than three times as many as members of the 2008 list. Many more corporations do have Twitter accounts, but at this time they do not link to those from their blog.
The Fortune 500 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 Fortune 500 is based on total revenue not growth and may include public and private companies.
Although blogging increased by 6% from 2008 for both Inc. 500 and Fortune 500 the later is still blogging at a much lower rate. 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 Fortune 500 companies have been less likely to adopt social media tools than their smaller, fast-growing counterparts.
Added by MasterNewMedia Editors
For purposes of this research, the following definition was used to locate 2009 Fortune 500 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 30 days.
One hundred and seventy-three (35%) of the primary corporations listed on the 2009 Fortune 500 has a Twitter account with a post within the past 30 days. Of these companies, four of the top five corporations (Wal-Mart, Chevron, ConocoPhillips and General Electric) consistently post on their Twitter accounts.
The number one ranked company, Exxon Mobil, does not have a Twitter account at this time.
Four of the companies (Boeing, Footlocker, FPL Group and Winn-Dixie Stores) had their Tweets protected and required a request to view their profile. Because we could not verify posts within the last 30 days, they were not included in our tally.
Nine of the companies (Baker Hughes, CIT Group, Computer Sciences, Delta Air Lines, Ecolab, Manitowoc, Mattel, MeadWestvaco and Union Pacific) with corporate Twitter accounts had not posted within the past 30 days, so they were excluded from our analysis since they did not meet our definition.
The entire list of 2009 Fortune 500 companies (173) that met our criteria and their Twitter accounts are listed at the end of this article.
The 173 companies with Twitter accounts come from a cross section of industries.
A partial list is presented above showing those industries with the greatest presence on Twitter.
Rank appears to influence the use of Twitter by the 2009 Fortune 500.
Of the 173 twitter accounts that fit the definition for this study, 47% of them belong to Fortune 500 companies listed in the top 200 while 35% come from those listed in the bottom 200 (201-500) on the 2009 list.
Added by MasterNewMedia Editors
All 173 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 twenty companies (69%) consistently responded with @replies or retweets within the past 30 days. 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.
The 2009 Fortune 500 blogs were also examined to determine usage of additional social media tools. Researchers looked for the use of podcasting (audio files available for download) and video to enhance the blog.
19% of the 2009 Fortune 500 is podcasting and 31% are using video on their blog sites. The data collected previously on the 2008 Fortune 500 showed less involvement with 16% of that group podcasting and 21% using video in their blogs.
For purposes of this research, the following definition was used to locate 2009 Fortune 500 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 study.
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.
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 blogs as a barometer of usage.
All companies were analyzed using multiple steps.
All 500 companies on the list were researched using this process. This is the only known attempt to examine the entire Fortune 500 list for use of the microblogging tool, Twitter.
The data was collected in October and November 2009 at the University of MA Dartmouth Center for Marketing Research.
The continued steady adoption of blogs and the explosive growth of Twitter among Fortune 500 companies demonstrate 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. Surely a willingness to interact more transparently via these new technologies with their stakeholders is a good thing. Where it leads will be fascinating to watch!
Originally written by Nora Ganim Barnes and Eric Mattson for the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, and first published on March 1st, 2009 as The Fortune 500 and Social Media: A Longitudinal Study of Blogging and Twitter 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
Methodology - Hypermania