The 2015 Fortune 500 and Social Media: Instagram Gains, Blogs Lose

Conducted by:

Nora Ganim Barnes, Ph.D.
Ava M. Lescault, MBA
Glenn Holmes, MBA Candidate 

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-June 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 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. Initially only focusing on the use of blogs, the study has been expanded over the years to include the use of Twitter and Facebook, two popular mainstays in social media, as well as other popular social media platforms and tools (Google+, Instagram, YouTube, Pinterest and Foursquare), business networking platforms (LinkedIn and Glassdoor) as well as indicators of engagement such as the number of Twitter followers and Facebook “likes”.

Methodology

The following definition was used to locate 2015 F500 corporations with a social media presence: A company was counted as having a presence on each platform studied if the primary corporation had an active account (activity within the past 30 days).

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.

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 social media, our focus has consistently been at the corporate level.

All corporations were analyzed using multiple steps. First, working from the published 2015 F500 list, all corporate home pages were examined for links to, or mention of, social media accounts. If a link wasn’t found on the company’s home page a search was performed using search engines. Any links resulting from these searches were followed and evaluated using the established criteria. This proved to be an effective method since additional social media accounts were located. The process was repeated for each social media platform.

Important Notice:

This year’s F500 included an acquisition of one F500 company by another: On July 1st MeadWestvaco (no.464) was officially acquired by West Rock (no.293). Though Fortune Magazine took note of this fact, it still included both companies since the acquisition had not yet taken place at the time of publication. For this study it was decided to remove MeadWestvaco. Therefore, this year’s report will be based on 499 companies.

In 2015 F500 there are 9 corporations who do not use any of the social media platforms or tools examined in this study.  These include: 

  • A-Mark Precious Metals
  • Berkshire Hathaway
  • CenterPoint Energy
  • Franklin Resources    
  • Icahn Enterprises
  • Liberty Interactive
  • Old Republic International
  • PBF Energy
  • Wynn Resorts
      

Key findings of this study include:

  • In 2015, 103 corporations (21%) had corporate blogs, down 10% from 2014.
  • Twitter is more popular than Facebook (78% vs 74%).
  • Glassdoor (87%) has joined LinkedIn (93%) as a popular business tool.
  • The use of Instagram has increased by 13% pointing to more interest in visually rich platforms.


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. A decline in blog use began in 2014 with a decrease of 3% from the 2013 numbers.

The decline continued with the 2015 list: 103 (21%) of the F500 companies have blogs, or 10% fewer than 2014. In last year’s report it was postulated that a movement away from blog use had begun, this year’s numbers continue to support that theory.  This study documents some movement towards visually rich platforms such as Instagram.  Instagram had a double digit increase (13%) in usage among the 2015 Fortune 500.  This shift may explain some decline in the more content dependent blogs.

1b. 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 2015, 73% (vs. 78% in 2014) of the active corporate blogs allowed readers to make comments on their posts.

The range of topics of these blog posts varies among corporations. Posts usually revolve around new and updated company products or services, news reports regarding the corporation or its products/services and reports on the industry at large. Those making use of this tool appear to be effectively engaging their audience.

1c. Corporate Blogs by Rank

Since the first study in 2008, it has been 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. Forty-four percent of 2015 F500 blogs belong to the top 200 corporations while 38% come from those ranked 300-499. Rank continues to be a factor in the use of this tool.

1d. Corporate Blogs by Industry

The 103 corporations with blogs come from 44 of the 74 industries represented in the 2015 F500. A partial list is presented below showing the industries with the most corporations’ blogging within it.  The Semiconductors and Other Electronic Components industry has 56% of their corporations blogging, followed by Entertainment (50%), General Merchandisers (40%), Telecommunications (36%), Commercial Banks (22%), Insurance:  Property, Casualty (Stock) 20%), Utilities:  Gas and Electric (17%) and Other Specialty Retailers (16%). 

Corporate Blogs by Industry Number of Corporations
with Blogs
Percent
Semiconductors and Other Electronic Components 5/9 56%
Entertainment 4/8 50%
General Merchandisers 4/10 40%
Telecommunications 4/11 36%
Commercial Banks 4/18 22%
Insurance: Property, Casualty (Stock) 4/18 20%
Utilities: Gas and Electric  4/24 17%
Specialty Retailers:  Other 4/25 16%

Some of the industries with no corporations blogging include the Aerospace & Defense industry who have 11 corporations in 2015 F500, followed by Wholesalers:  Diversified (11), Pipelines (8), Household & Personal Products (7), Metals (7), Insurance:  Life, Health (Mutual) (6) and the Oil & Gas Equipment, Services industry with 6 corporations.

Corporate Blogs by Industry Number of Corporations
with Blogs
Aerospace & Defense 0/11
Wholesalers: Diversified 0/11
Pipelines 0/8
Household & Personal Products 0/7
Metals 0/7
Insurance:  Life, Health (Mutual) 0/6
Oil & Gas Equipment, Services  0/6

 

2.  Comparison with the Inc. 500

In the past, the F500 corporations 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.

Thirty-four percent of the F500 companies were hosting corporate blogs in 2013 while 52% of the Inc. 500 used the tool.  In 2014 blogging declined in both groups.  The Inc. 500 dropped    6% while the Fortune 500 decreased by 3%. In 2015 the use of blogs by the F500 dropped by another 10%, the second decline in the two years. While data on the 2015 Inc. 500 is not yet available for comparison, this two year decline may signal a shift away from more mature tools to newer ones. It may also demonstrate the impact of a blogging feature now incorporated in other platforms like Instagram or LinkedIn.

 

3a. Corporate Twitter Accounts

Three hundred eighty-seven corporations (78%) in the 2015 F500 have corporate Twitter accounts with a tweet in the past thirty days. This represents a 5% decrease from last year. Eight of the top 10 corporations Ford Motors and CVS Health) consistently post on their Twitter accounts. Berkshire Hathaway and Apple do not have Twitter accounts. 

3b. Corporate Twitter Followers

The main measure of engagement on Twitter is the number of followers. Facebook, Inc. in only its third year on the F500 list continues to dominate with slightly under 14 million followers, followed by Google, Starbucks Corporation, Microsoft, Nike, Inc., Whole Foods Market, Inc. and The Walt Disney Company. 

Corporation

2015 Twitter Followers

Facebook, Inc. 13,939,022
Google 12,468,233
Starbucks Corporation 9,900,879
Microsoft 7,061,055
Nike, Inc. 5,373,783
Whole Foods Market, Inc. 4,715,941
The Walt Disney Company 4,505,642

3c. Corporate Twitter Accounts by Rank

Rank influences the use of Twitter by the F500.  Eighty-five of the top 100 corporations have an active Twitter account.  Forty-one percent of the Twitter accounts belong to the companies in the top 200 on the list, while 37% come from those ranked in the bottom 200. Those ranked higher in the 2015 F500 are more likely to adopt Twitter than their lower ranked counterparts, following the same pattern as blogging. 

3d. Corporate Twitter Accounts by Industry

For the second year in a row all 74 industries represented in the 2015 F500 had at least one company with a corporate Twitter account. A partial list is presented below showing those industries with the most corporations using Twitter. The percent of corporations with Twitter accounts varies by industry.  The Chemicals and General Merchandisers industries have 100% of their F500 corporations on Twitter. Food Consumer products has 92%, followed by Other Specialty Retailers (88%), Utilities:  Gas and Electric (88%), Commercial Banks (78%) and Insurance:  Property and Casualty (Stock) with 67% corporations on Twitter.

Corporate Twitter Accounts by Industry Number of Corporations
with Twitter Accounts
Percent
Chemicals 14/14 100%
General Merchandisers 10/10 100%
Food Consumer Products 12/13 92%
Specialty Retailers: Other 22/25 88%
Utilities: Gas and Electric 21/24 88%
Commercial Banks 14/18 78%
Insurance: Property and Casualty (Stock) 12/18 67%

 

4a. Corporate Facebook Pages

Three hundred and sixty-eight (74%) of the 2015 F500 have Facebook pages, a decrease of 6% from 2014 numbers. This decline has been attributed in large part to the introduction of twenty-six new corporations to this year’s F500. Seven of the top ten corporations (Walmart, Chevron, General Motors, Phillips 66, General Electric, Ford Motor and CVS Health) have a Facebook page while Exxon Mobile, Berkshire Hathaway and Apple do not.

4b. Corporate Facebook “Likes”

The main measure of engagement on Facebook is the number of people who “like” the company. Facebook, Inc. is the first company with just over 165 million “likes”. The next most liked company is McDonald’s Corporation with nearly 59 million, or 36% of the amount of “likes” Facebook has. The Walt Disney Company, Wal-Mart, Amazon and Intel follow.

Corporation

2015 Facebook “Likes”

Facebook, Inc. 165,211,700
McDonald's Corporation 58,805,519
The Walt Disney Company 50,763,476
Wal-Mart 32,699,915
Amazon 26,023,533
Intel 25,132,934

4c. Corporate Facebook Pages by Industry

Seventy-three of the 74 industries represented in the 2015 F500 have at least one company with a Facebook page. The only industry not represented is Tobacco. A partial list is presented showing those industries with the most corporations in their industry with Facebook pages. Ninety-three percent of the Chemicals industry has a corporate Facebook page, followed by Other Specialty Retailers (92%), Insurance: Life, Health (Stock) (83%), Motor Vehicles and Parts (79%), Commercial Banks (78%), Utilities: Gas and Electric (67%) and Insurance: Property and Casualty with 67% of their corporations with Facebook pages.

Corporate Facebook Pages by Industry Number of Corporations
with Facebook Pages
Percent
Chemicals 13/14 93%
Specialty Retailers: Other 23/25 92%
Insurance: Life, Health (Stock) 10/12 83%
Motor Vehicles and Parts 11/14 79%
Commercial Banks 14/18 78%
Utilities: Gas and Electric 16/24 67%
Insurance: Property and Casualty (Stock) 12/18 67%

 

5. New 2015 Corporations

Twenty-six corporations are new to the 2015 F 500 list, eighteen of which were included in the Fortune 1000 last year. The other eight corporations are shown as well. Popular companies like Netflix and Expedia have joined the F500 for the first time.

Some of the variation in usage of certain tools might be accounted for by the types of corporations coming into the F500. The 26 new comers include corporations from industries which typically are less involved with social media.

Industry Corporation

2015 Rank

2014 Rank

Increase
in Rank
Wholesalers: Food and Grocery Spartan-Nash 359 811 452
Network and Other Communications Equipment ARRIS Group 492 644 152
Packaging, Containers Packaging Corporation of America 451 640 189
Mining, Crude-Oil Production Pioneer Natural Resources 496 605 109
Automotive Retailing, Services Lithia Motors 482 602 120
Computer Software Salesforce.com 483 599 116
Electronics, Electrical Equipment Harman International Industries 486 576 90
Financial Data Services Alliance Data Systems 494 571 77
Specialty Retailers: Other Netflix 474 563 89
Transportation Equipment Trinity Industries 433 559 126
Wholesalers: Diversified NGL Energy Partners 299 556 257
Health Care: Medical Facilities LifePoint Health 495 555 60
Real Estate Jones Lang LaSalle 478 552 74
Network and Other Communications Equipment Amphenol 487 533 46
Utilities: Gas and Electric AGL Resources 465 532 67
Apparel Hanesbrands 490 530 40
Internet Services and Retailing Expedia 458 515 57
Insurance: Life, Health (Mutual) Western & Southern Financial Group 481 511 30
Wholesalers: Diversified Lansing Trade Group 411 - -
Publishing, Printing News Corp. 331 - -
Insurance: Property & Casualty (Mutual) Farmers Insurance Exchange 264 - -
Insurance: Life, Health (Stock) Voya Financial 268 - -
Diversified Financials Navient 463 - -
Petroleum Refining Delek US Holdings 345 - -
Aerospace and Defense Spirit AeroSystems Holdings 396 - -
Miscellaneous A-Mark Precious Metals 444 - -

 

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

Instagram is used both as a means to advertise a company’s products and services and as a call to action to purchase. A link can be included with a specific image, leading users to more information and a means of buying. Companies will also post images of products and representations of services without links, of their location(s) and of their employees; often participating in charitable events, business-related conferences and meetings, or receiving some form of recognition. Instagram helps to build a company’s brand and goodwill with consumers.

Instagram’s use by the F500 continued its rapid climb in 2015, increasing from 101 (20%) to 164 (33%) active users. This is an increase of 13% over last year’s numbers. Walmart, General Motors, General Electric and Ford Motor all have an active account, while Chevron’s is protected.

6a. YouTube (Video Sharing Site)

Three hundred and seventeen (64%) corporate YouTube accounts were found in the 2015 F500. This is a decrease of 3% from 2014. Seven of the top ten companies, except for Exxon Mobile, Berkshire Hathaway and CVS Health, have a corporate YouTube channel. 6b. Pinterest (Pin Board-Style Photo Sharing and Social Networking Site) Since its debut in 2010 Pinterest has gained users within the F500. In 2012, the first year data was gathered on its use, 2% of F500 companies utilized the platform. Use grew to 9% in 2013 and increased again in 2014 to 36%. In 2015, the platform lost adherents among the F500, dropping to 23% in usage. Like the decline in the use of Facebook, a majority of this decrease of 13% from 2014 numbers has been attributed to the addition of the 26 new listed companies (outlined above), and the loss of the 26 companies that were replaced by them.

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

One hundred and sixty-six (33%) of the 2015 F500 have active Google+ accounts, a decrease of 5% from last year. Additionally, 116 (23%) have Google+ corporate accounts that have not yet become active, an increase of 4%. Just as last year, Google+ is the only platform with a significant number of inactive accounts. Of the top ten corporations, Walmart, General Motors and Ford Motor have active Google+ accounts, while Phillips 66 and General Electric have inactive accounts.

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

The 2014 report stated that 254 (51%) of F500 companies had a Foursquare page. While that was correct, the majority of those were created by consumers wanting to share basic information about their favorite places. Once a page is created, it remains listed but does not become the official page of the business until the business “claims” the page. That process requires a request to claim the page and a verification process. After being verified, the business can add to its page and expand the contents by purchasing packages that provide advertising and other business tools.

It was decided that this year’s report would count only “claimed” pages in order to be consistent with all of the other official corporate social media accounts included in this report. This change in evaluation resulted in significantly lower numbers for business use of Foursquare. Forty-one, or 8%, of the 2015 F500 have official, company run, Foursquare accounts.

6e. LinkedIn (Business Oriented Social Networking Site)

LinkedIn remains the most popular social media platform among the 2015 F500 by far. Businesses have set up shop on the site to tell their story, network, stimulate word of mouth and recruit. Ninety-three percent currently maintain a Linked in account, a decrease of 4% from last year.

6f. Glassdoor (Business Oriented Social Networking Site)

New to the report this year is the inclusion of Glassdoor. Like LinkedIn, Glassdoor focuses primarily on a company’s past, present and future employees and job growth. Unlike LinkedIn, but similar to Foursquare, company Glassdoor accounts can be initially created by the company’s employees. The company is then able to “claim” the account in order to interact with reviewers and commenters. Four hundred and thirty-three (87%) of the 2015 F500 are active on their Glassdoor profiles. There are also 60 (12%) companies that, like Foursquare described above, have not yet claimed their user-created account.

 

Conclusion

There have been interesting changes in the use of social media among the 2015 F500. The decline noted last year in blogging continued, with blogs down an additional 10% this past year. As popular platforms begin to include blog like features, this mature tool has lost ground. We are seeing a movement to more visually rich and less labor intensive platforms like Instagram, which saw a double digit increase in adoption this year.

Twitter continues to be more popular with the F500 than Facebook, and Glassdoor has joined LinkedIn as a favorite business tool for recruiting, networking and gathering industry specific information.

Nine corporations (2%) do not use any social media. In addition, the 26 (5%) new corporations joining the F500 in 2015 include many that have demonstrated similar behavior. It appears that the composition of the F500 may be responsible for some of the declines in use reported in this study.

America’s largest companies are actively reevaluating the social media tools they employ. There is evidence of change in their preferred communications tools. These changes should be of major interest to both social media platforms – who rely heavily on corporate advertising and use – and to smaller companies, who typically follow the lead of their larger competitors and partners.


About the Authors

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. Nora 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.

Glenn Holmes, MBA

Glenn L. Holmes is completing his Master’s Degree in Business Administration with a concentration in Marketing at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. He earned a BS in Business Administration from Salem State College concentrating in Human Resources Management and minoring in Political Science. During his three semesters as a graduate student Glenn worked as a Graduate Research Assistant at the UMass Dartmouth Center for Marketing Research. Glenn can be reached at gholmes1@umassd.edu 

2015 Fortune 500 and Social Media

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