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The 2014 Fortune 500 and Social Media: LinkedIn Dominates As Use of Newer Tools Explodes

Conducted by:

Nora Ganim Barnes, Ph.D., Ava M. Lescault, MBA

Charlton College of Business Center for Marketing Research

University of Massachusetts Dartmouth

 

Introduction

Fortune Magazine annually compiles a list of America’s largest corporations, aptly named the “Fortune 500” (F500) given their size and wealth. Due to the hugely influential role that these companies play in the business world, studying their adoption and use of social media tools offers important insights into the future of commerce. These corporations provide a look at emergent social media trends among America’s most successful companies.

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

In 2008, the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth Center for Marketing Research released one of the first studies on social media adoption among the F500 and has repeated that study every year since. The study has been expanded over the years to include the usage of the fastest growing social media platforms and tools (Instagram, Google+, Foursquare and Pinterest), the business networking platform LinkedIn as well as indicators of engagement (such as the number of Facebook fans and Twitter followers).

Methodology

The following definition was used to locate 2014 F500 corporations with blogs: A company was counted as having a blog if they had a public-facing corporate blog from the primary corporation with current posts.

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.

It is worth noting that there is evidence of usage of social media tools such as blogs inside these corporations. 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 corporations were analyzed using multiple steps. First, working from the published 2014 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. 

The same methodology was used to locate corporate Twitter accounts and Facebook pages. In each case the appropriate sites for each platform was utilized. As in last year’s study, the number of corporate YouTube and Pinterest accounts was studied. The same methodology was employed as described above for blogs, Twitter and Facebook, Google+, Foursquare and Instagram. LinkedIn was added for the first time this year and treated in the same way.

Key findings of this study include:

  • In 2014, 157 companies (31%) had corporate blogs showing a decrease of 3% in use of this tool in the past year.
  • Companies blogging include two of the top five corporations (Wal-Mart Stores and Exxon Mobil), leaving the other three (Chevron, Apple and Berkshire Hathaway) without a public-facing blog.
  • 413 companies (83%) of the Fortune 500 have corporate Twitter accounts with a tweet in the past thirty days. This represents a 6% increase since 2013. 
  • Facebook, in its second year on the Fortune 500 list, has the highest number of followers on Twitter, followed by Starbucks, Microsoft, Walt Disney Company, Whole Foods Market, Inc., Nike, Inc., and Intel Corporation.  They also have the most Facebook fans along with Coca-Cola, The Walt Disney Company and Starbucks Corporation.
  • 401 companies (80%) of the Fortune 500 are now on Facebook. This represents a 10% increase since 2013.
  • In the past year, Foursquare enjoyed the largest increase in adoption (42%), while Pinterest use increased by 27% and Instagram by 12%.

1a. Corporate Blogs

Our 2011 F500 study drew attention for the leveling off of blogging with only 23% hosting a public facing corporate blog.  After that, things changed. In 2012, there was a leap forward and 28% hosted public facing blogs. That surge continued in 2013 showing 34% of these corporate giants creating and sharing content through blogs. 

Adoption of this mature social media tool by these great companies seemed to signal the return of the online in depth conversation, thought leadership and original content development that was popular a decade ago with early corporate adopters of blogging like IBM and Ford Motors. In this latest iteration however, we document a 3% decline in blogging with 157 companies using the most mature social media tool.  Two of the top 5 companies this year have a blog, Wal-Mart Stores and Exxon Mobil.  The remaining three, Chevron, Berkshire Hathaway and Apple do not have public facing corporate blogs.  It remains to be seen if this is the beginning of a movement away from this iconic tool, replacing it with newer communications tools.  At this time, there is no indication that blogging in other business sectors is waning.

 

1b. Corporate Blogs by Industry

The 157 corporations with blogs come from 58 of the 72 industries represented in the 2014 F500. A partial list is presented below showing the companies with the largest presence on the list and the percent that have a corporate blog.  The Specialty Retail industry has 44% of their companies blogging. Food Consumption Products has 31% of their companies with corporate blogs.  In contrast, only one (7%) of the 15 companies in the Mining Crude-Oil Production industry has a blog. Industries with no blogs include Tobacco, Pipelines and Railroads.

Corporate Blogs by Industry

Number of Companies w/Blogs

Percent

Specialty Retailers

11/25

44%

Food Consumer Products

4/13

31%

Chemicals

3/15

20%

Commercial Banks

3/18

17%

Utilities: Gas and Electric

2/23

9%

Mining Crude-Oil Production

1/15

7%

1c. Corporate Blogs by Rank

Since our first study in 2008, we have documented that rank influences adoption of blogging in the F500. Those corporations ranked in the top 200, have consistently out blogged those in the bottom 200. This continues to hold with 45% of all F500 blogs coming from the top 200 corporations and 36% coming from those ranked 300-500 on the list. With nearly half of all F500 blogs coming from the top 200 corporations, rank continues to be a factor in the use of this tool.

1d. Level of Interaction on Corporate Blogs

All 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. In 2014, 78% of the F500 blogs are kept current, take comments, have RSS feeds and take subscriptions.

These blogs have 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. While there are fewer blogs this year, this level of engagement has been typical. Those companies that choose to blog use the tool effectively.

2.  Comparison with the Inc. 500

In the past, the F500 companies were 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. The Inc. 500 list is published in a special issue of Inc. Magazine in September of each year.

In 2012, 44% of the Inc. 500 had corporate blogs while the 2012 F500 had 28%. Thirty-four percent of the F500 companies were hosting corporate blogs in 2013 while 52% of the Inc. 500 used the tool.  In this study, the use of blogging dropped 3%, yielding the first decline in the use of this tool among the F500 since our studies began in 2008.  The decline may signal a shift away from more mature tools to newer ones. Data on the 2014 Inc. 500 is not yet available for comparison. 

3a. Corporate Twitter Accounts

Four hundred and thirteen companies (83%) of the F500 have corporate Twitter accounts with a tweet in the past thirty days. This represents a 6% increase over last year. Seven of the top 10 companies (Wal-Mart Stores, Exxon, Chevron, Phillips 66, General Motors, General Electric and Ford Motors) consistently post on their Twitter accounts. Berkshire Hathaway, Apple and Valero Energy do not tweet.

3b. Corporate Twitter Accounts by Industry

For the first time in our studies, the 413 corporations with corporate Twitter accounts come from all 72 industries represented in the F500. Even those industries that have typically shunned social media like Tobacco, Pipelines, Forest and Paper, now have at least one of their F500 companies with a Twitter account.

A partial list is presented below showing those industries with the greatest presence on the list and their use of Twitter. The percent of corporations with Twitter accounts varies by industry.  The Food Consumer Products industry has 100% of their F500 companies on Twitter. Commercial Banks has 94%, followed by Chemicals (93%), Utilities: Gas and Electric (91%), Specialty Retailers (84%), while the Mining Crude-Oil Production industry has 67% of their F500 companies on Twitter. 

Corporate Twitter Accounts by Industry

Number of Companies w/Twitter Accounts

Percent

Food Consumer Products

13/13

100%

Commercial Banks

17/18

94%

Chemicals

14/15

93%

Utilities: Gas and Electric

21/23

91%

Specialty Retailers

21/25

84%

Mining Crude-Oil Production

10/15

67%

3c. Corporate Twitter Accounts by Rank

Rank appears to influence the use of Twitter by the F500. Seven of the top 10 companies have corporate Twitter accounts. Forty-two percent of the Twitter accounts belong to the companies in the top 200 on the list, while 38% come from those ranked in the bottom 200. Those ranked higher in the 2014 F500 are more likely to adopt Twitter than their lower ranked counterparts, following the same pattern as blogging.

3d. Corporate Twitter Followers

On Twitter, one measure of engagement is followers. Ironically it is the popular Facebook (in only its second year on the F500 list) that has the highest number of followers on Twitter, followed by Starbucks, Microsoft, The Walt Disney Company, Whole Foods Market, Inc., Nike Inc. and Intel Corporation.

Corporation

2014 Twitter Followers

Facebook, Inc.

13,800,000

Starbucks Corporation

6,330,000

Microsoft

4,290,000

The Walt Disney Company

3,760,000

Whole Foods Market, Inc.

3,750,000

Nike, Inc.

3,410,000

Intel Corporation

3,400,000

4a. Corporate Facebook Pages

Four hundred and one (80%) of the F500 are now on Facebook. This represents a 10% increase over last year. All of the top 10 companies (Wal-Mart Stores, Exxon Mobil, Chevron, Berkshire Hathaway, Apple, Phillips 66, General Motors, Ford Motors, General Electric and Valero Energy) have corporate Facebook pages. 

4b. Corporate Facebook Pages by Industry

The 401 corporations with corporate Facebook pages come from all 72 industries represented in the F500. A partial list is presented showing those industries with the greatest presence in the F500. The percent of corporations with Facebook pages varies by industry. The Chemicals industry has 93% of their F500 companies on Facebook.  The Food Consumer Products industry has 92%, followed by Commercial Banks (89%), Specialty Retail (88%), Utilities: Gas and Electric (83%), while Mining Crude-Oil Production has 67% of their F500 companies on Facebook.

 

Corporation

2014 Facebook Fans

Facebook, Inc.

154,900,000

Coca-Cola

87,079,000

The Walt Disney Company

48,200,000

Starbucks Corporation

37,000,000

Wal-Mart Stores

34,600,000

McDonald's Corporation

31,500,000

5.  New 2014 Corporations

Twenty-nine companies are new to the Fortune 500 list. Seven of those were unranked last year. They are listed below with their 2013 rank in the Fortune 1000. 

Industry

Corporation

2014 Rank

2013 Rank

Increase in Rank

Homebuilders

PulteGroup, Inc.

446

501

55

Apparel

Coach, Inc.

489

504

15

Automotive Retailing, Services

Asbury Automotive Group, Inc.

472

506

34

Insurance: Property & Casualty (Stock)

Alleghany Corporation

497

507

10

Chemicals

Airgas, Inc.

498

509

11

Real Estate

Realogy Holdings Corp

476

512

36

Specialty Retailers: Other

Tractor Supply Company

480

513

35

Petroleum Refining

Calumet Specialty Products Partners, L,P.

467

514

47

Airlines

Alaska Air Group, Inc.

482

515

33

Tobacco

Lorillard, Inc.

496

516

26

Insurance: Property & Casualty (Stock)

First American Financial Corporation

499

527

28

Hotels, Casinos, Resorts

Wyndham Worldwide Corporation

494

528

34

Entertainment

Discovery Communications, Inc.

460

531

71

Household and Personal Products

Harbinger Group Inc.

456

533

77

Mining, Crude-Oil Production

Noble Energy, Inc.

491

535

44

Pipelines

Buckeye Partners, L.P.

485

544

59

Homebuilders

D.R. Horton, Inc.

418

545

127

Industry

Corporation

2014

Rank

2013

Rank

Increase in Rank

Utilities: Gas and Electric

Integrys Energy Group Inc.

450

559

109

Trucking, Truck Leasing

LKQ Corporation

490

568

70

Miscellaneous

United Rentals

500

569

69

Homebuilders

Lennar Corporation

431

573

142

Diversified Financials

The Blackstone Group, L.P.

391

585

194

Pipelines

Plains GP Holdings, L.P.

70

-

-

Wholesalers: Food and Grocery

US Foods, Inc.

133

-

-

Pharmaceuticals

AbbVie, Inc.

152

-

-

Specialty Retailers: Other

Murphy USA Inc.

175

-

-

Specialty Retailers: Other

CST Brands, Inc.

266

-

-

Hotels, Casinos, Resorts

Hilton Worldwide Holdings, Inc.

289

-

-

Securities

Oaktree Capital Group, LLC

354

-

-

6a. YouTube (Video Sharing Site)

Three hundred and thirty-seven (67%) corporate YouTube accounts were found in the 2014 F500. This is a 2% decrease from last year. In 2013, YouTube was as popular with the F500 as Facebook (69% vs 70%).  This year the use of Facebook has jumped 10% while the use of YouTube declined by 2%. Every company ranked in the top 10 has its own YouTube channel.

6b. Pinterest (Pin Board-Style Photo Sharing and Social Networking Site)

Pinterest has grown in membership since its public debut in 2010 and has taken hold in the F500. In 2012, 11 (2%) F500 companies had Pinterest accounts. That grew to 45 companies (9%) in 2013.  This year, 178 (36%) have corporate Pinterest boards.  This increase of 27% is one of the largest we have documented, second only to the jump in the use of Foursquare by 42%.  Six of the top 10 ranked companies have Pinterest boards including Wal-Mart Stores, Exxon Mobil, Apple, General Motors, Phillips 66 and Ford Motors.  Pinterest has been linked to an increase in social commerce given the ease of purchasing items pinned to boards with very few clicks.  Its increased adoption may be related to its strong visual appeal, loyal followers and efficiency of making a purchase.

6c. Google+ (Multilingual Social Networking and Identity Service Site)

One hundred and eighty-nine (38%) of the 2014 Fortune 500 have active Google+ accounts including Wal-Mart Stores, Phillips 66, Apple, General Motors, General Electric and Ford Motors.  Additionally, 93 (19%) have Google+ corporate accounts that have not yet become active.  This is the only platform studied where there were a significant number of open, but inactive accounts.  It may be that corporations are still learning about Google+ or have not yet found the best use of this platform in their social media mix.

6d. Instagram (Photo-Sharing and Social Networking Site)

Instagram is owned by Facebook, a second time F500 company.  Forty-four (9%) of the 2013 F500 had a corporate Instagram Account, although 1 was inactive.  This year, 101 companies (20%) are using Instagram yielding an increase of 11%.  Wal-Mart Stores, Exxon Mobile, Apple, Philips 66, Ford Motors and General Electric have a presence on Instagram.

6e. Foursquare (Location-Based Social Networking Site)

Last year, 44 (9%) of the 2013 F500 had corporate Foursquare accounts for use on mobile devices. Currently, 254 companies are using Foursquare or 51% of the F500.  Wal-Mart Stores, Chevron, Apple, General Motors and General Electric all have a Foursquare site.  For any business with a physical location, Foursquare can serve as almost a Yellow Pages or Yelp-like outlet providing a business with a landing page for contact information, directions, descriptions,

coupons, pictures etc. This network can be leveraged to build customer base and reward loyal customers.  With only a $10 fee to verify claim to a site, it provides a footprint on a platform that claims 20 million visitors using their mobile devices to locate businesses. This may account for its new found popularity among companies like Starbucks, Best Buy, AT&T and CVS Caremark.

6f. LinkedIn (Business Oriented Social Networking Site)

Since LinkedIn created “company pages”, many businesses have set up shop on the site to tell their story, network, stimulate word of mouth, recruit etc.  The F500 are fully entrenched on this platform with 97% of them having a corporate presence on LinkedIn.  This adoption exceeds that of the Inc. 500 where 88% of companies have LinkedIn company pages.

Conclusion 

The 2014 Fortune 500 has now fully embraced new communications tools that have taken so many other sectors by storm. In the past year, these business giants have increased their adoption of newer tools (introduced in the past 5 years) by 12%-42%.  Foursquare enjoys the largest increase in adoption, while Pinterest use increased by 27% and Instagram by 12%. Two older tools saw slight declines with blogging down by 3% and YouTube with a 2% decrease in use. 

The F500 has consistently showed a preference for Twitter over Facebook, while the Inc. 500 has preferred Facebook.  This continues in 2014 with 80% of the F500 on Facebook and 83% using Twitter, although the gap is narrowing.  Last year, 70% of the F500 used Facebook and 77% had Twitter accounts.

The use of LinkedIn is virtually universal among the F500 (97%).  This is clearly a platform that provides undisputed utility for them in terms of access to vendors, customers, potential employees etc.

These giant corporations are demonstrating an interest in experimenting with new tools.  Only Google+ shows evidence of a significant number of open, but inactive, accounts.  In every other case, there is current activity and vibrant engagement of their audiences.  New strategies around the use of Foursquare and Pinterest for these businesses are quickly evolving.

It is clear that these business titans are choosing from a myriad of new communications tools.  These behemoths prefer Twitter to Facebook and are experimenting with new tools such as Pinterest, Foursquare and Instagram.  This is a group that now seems comfortable and even excited with its newfound ability to engage its vendors, partners, customers and others in ways that could not have been imagined when most of their corporations began.  Judging by the increased use of tools, fans and followers, they are making some very powerful new connections. 

 

Bios

Nora Ganim Barnes, Ph. D. 

Nora Ganim Barnes 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.  Working closely with businesses in the Northeast US, Nora and her students have provided marketing research assistance to hundreds of small businesses.

She has published articles in academic and professional journals and proceedings, has contributed chapters to books, and has been awarded numerous research grants. Her work has been covered online and in print by Business Week, Forbes, USA Today, Financial Times, NY Times, Washington Post, CNN, Reuters, Wall Street Journal, Fox News and Computer World among others. She has been named Co-chair of Research by the Society for New Communications Research.

Nora is a frequent speaker at corporate meetings and keynote at conferences. She can be reached at nbarnes@umassd.edu

 

Ava M. Lescault, MBA

Ava M. Lescault is Senior Research Associate and Associate Director of the Center for Marketing Research at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. Ava graduated from UMass Dartmouth with a BS in Marketing and a Master's Degree in Business Administration with a concentration in Marketing Research. She recently completed a Certificate in Marketing Research from the University of Georgia.  Ava has worked on approximately twenty-five extensive research projects and is a published author. Her clients include the cranberry industry, the shellfish industry, a national juice manufacturer, the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources and a Fortune 500 company. She was the first person to hold the position of Senior Research Associate in the Center. Ava can be reached at alescault@umassd.edu.

 

Fortune 500 and Social Media (Infographics) 

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