Use of Popular Tools Remains Constant as Use of Instagram Expands Quickly Among the 2016 Fortune 500

Conducted by:

Nora Ganim Barnes, Ph.D.
Jessica Griswold, 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 Spring 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 and Pinterest), business networking platforms (LinkedIn) as well as indicators of engagement such as comments on blogs, the number of Twitter followers and Facebook “likes”.

 

Methodology

The following definition was used to locate 2016 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 onhow 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 2016 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:

In the 2016 F500 there are 6 companies who do not use any of the social media platforms or tools examined in this study.  These include:

  • Cablevision Systems Rank: 399, Industry: Telecommunications
  • Fidelity National Financial Rank: 311, Industry: Insurance: Property & Causality (Stock)
  • Genuine Parts Rank: 183, Industry: Wholesalers: Diversified
  • Icahn Enterprises Rank: 184, Industry: Diversified Financials
  • PBF Company Rank: 217, Industry: Petroleum Refining
  • Targa Resources Rank: 387, Industry: Pipelines

 

Key Findings:

  • Instagram enjoys double-digit leaps in adoption for the 4th year in a row
  • Blogs get a boost from new comers to the Fortune 500 list
  • Twitter continues to be preferred over Facebook, although the gap is closing
  • LinkedIn is used by 97% of the Fortune 500, primarily for recruiting, networking and gathering industry specific information

 

1a. Corporate Blogs

Traditional blogging has had its ups and downs since we began tracking corporate blogs in 2009.  This year, public facing corporate blogs have enjoyed an increase in use mainly due to those new to the Fortune 500 list.  These new additions bring with them this enduring tool in their social media arsenals.

This year 181 (36%) of the Fortune 500 are using their blogs for thought leadership, product promotion and engagement.  The range of topics include announcements of new products or services, news reports about the company or the industry and philanthropic involvement through special events. Blogging continues to be a part of the social media strategy for about one third of the fortune 500 companies.

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 2016, 61% 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. In the year 2016, 50% of the top 200 companies used blogs, while only 29% of the bottom 200 companies did. Rank continues to be a tool utilized more by higher ranking companies on the F500 list.

1d. Corporate Blogs by Industry 

Some of the top Industries using blogs in 2016 include:

  • Computer software
  • Computer Peripherals
  • General Merchandisers
  • Information Technology Services
  • Entertainment
  • Telecommunications
  • Specialty Retailers: Other
  • Food and Drug Stores

In contrast, some of the fortune 500 Industries without corporate blogging include:

  • Home Equipment Furnishings
  • Transportation Equipment
  • Food Production
  • Apparel
  • Railroads
  • Metals
  • Pipelines

 

2a. Corporate Twitter Accounts

Four hundred and thirty-two companies (86%) in the 2016 F500 have corporate Twitter accounts with a tweet in the past thirty days. Nine of the top 10 corporations (Walmart, Exxon Mobile, Apple, McKesson, United Health Group, CVS Health, General Motors, Ford Motor, and AT&T) consistently post on their Twitter accounts. Berkshire Hathaway, ranked number four on the F500 list, does not have a corporate Twitter account.

2b. Corporate Twitter Followers

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

Corporation

2016 Twitter Followers

Facebook

14,000,000

Starbucks

11,700,000

Microsoft

7,730,000

Nike

6,560,000

Disney

5,000,3000

Whole Foods Market

4,840,000

Intel

4,530,000

2c. Corporate Twitter Accounts by Industry

For the second year in a row all 74 industries represented in the 2016 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 General Merchandisers and Chemicals Industries have 100% of their F500 companies on Twitter, as do Information Technology Services, Wholesalers: Health Care, Computer Software, Pharmaceuticals, and Entertainment.

Corporate Twitter Accounts by Industry

Number of Corporations with Twitter Accounts

Percent

General Merchandisers

9/9

100%

Chemicals

13/13

100%

Information Technology Services

6/6

100%

Wholesalers: Health Care

5/5

100%

Computer Software

4/4

100%

Pharmaceuticals         

11/11

100%

Entertainment

8/8

100%

 

3a. Corporate Facebook Pages

Four hundred and nineteen (84%) of the 2016 F500 have Facebook pages. In 2016, seven of the top ten companies (Walmart, McKesson, United Health Group, CVS Health, General Motors, Ford Motor and AT&T) have a Facebook page while Exxon Mobile, Berkshire Hathaway and Apple do not.

3b. Corporate Facebook “Likes”

The main measure of engagement on Facebook is the number of people who “like” the company. Facebook is the first company with over 172 million “likes” on its own site. The next most liked company is McDonald’s Corporation with over 67 million. The Walt Disney Company, Starbucks, Wal-Mart, and Netflix follow.

Corporation

2016 Facebook “Likes”

Facebook

172,300,864

McDonald’s Corporation

67,177,272

Disney

50,696,489

Starbucks

36,437,859

Walmart

32,679,015

Netflix

26,907,959

3c. Corporate Facebook Pages by Industry

Seventy-three of the 74 industries represented in the 2016 F500 have at least one company with a Facebook page. The only industry not represented is Tobacco. A partial list is presented below showing those industries with the most companies in their industry with Facebook pages. All companies in the Chemicals Industry have a corporate Facebook page, as do the Insurance: Life, Health (Stock), Packaging Containers, and Hotels, Casinos, Resorts industries.

Corporate Facebook Pages by Industry

Number of Corporations with Facebook Pages

Percent

Chemicals

13/13

100%

Insurance: Life, Health (Stock)

11/11

100%

Packaging, Containers

8/8

100%

Hotels, Casinos, Resorts

6/6

100%

Specialty Retailers: Other      

21/22

95%

Commercial Banks    

16/17

94%

Utilities: Gas and Electric

16/22

73%

 

4a. Instagram (Photo-Sharing and Social Networking Site)

Instagram is used both 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 shot up 15% this year, increasing from 150 (30%) to 225 (45%) active users. Eight of the top 10 F500 companies are using Instagram, (Walmart, Exxon Mobile, Berkshire Hathaway, McKesson, CVS Health, General Motors, Ford Motor, and AT&T) while two (United Health Group and Apple) are not.

4b. YouTube (Video Sharing Site)

Three hundred and thirty-two (66%) corporate YouTube accounts were found in the 2016 F500. All of the top 10 companies on the F500 list are reported to have an active corporate YouTube channel in 2016.  There is little change fromprevious years.

4c. Pinterest (Pin Board-Style Photo Sharing and Social Networking Site)

Since its debut in 2010 Pinterest has consistently gained users among the F500. Six years later in 2016, one hundred and sixty-four companies (33%) on the F500 list are actively using Pinterest. There have been modest gains in the past few years.

4d. Google+ (Multilingual Social Networking and Identity Service Site)

One hundred and ninety-eight (40%) of the 2016 F500 have active Google+ accounts. Of the top ten corporations, eight have active Google+ accounts, while Apple and United Health Group do not.

4e. LinkedIn (Business Oriented Social Networking Site)

LinkedIn remains the most popular social media platform among the 2016 F500 by far. Businesses have set up shop on the site to tell their story, network, stimulate word of mouth and recruit. Four hundred and eighty-seven companies (97%) on the F500 list are using LinkedIn.

 

Conclusion

In many ways the news in this year’s study is that, with one exception, the Fortune 500 have not made dramatic changes in the social media tools they choose to use. There is little fluctuation in usage patterns over the past few years.

The use YouTube, Pinterest, Twitter and Facebook along with the networking tool LinkedIn, has not varied more than a few percentage points since last year.  Whether this is an indication of satisfaction with their current social media strategy or simply a resignation that new tools have learning curves and take time to launch, is unclear.  There is one new tool that appears, however, to have caught their attention.

These successful companies are adopting Instagram at a record pace and are active in posting, using hashtags and replying to comments.  They are using Instagram to inform consumers and promote products, as well as to make a name for themselves, especially if they are a newer or lesser known company.

There is no doubt that the excitement among these corporate giants in the social media arena revolves around Instagram.  Instagram is projected to bring in $2.81 billion in mobile advertising revenue world-wide by 2017.  One third of American teens consider Instagram the most important of their social networking sites.  Businesses are adopting this tool and using it in addition to other tools to create a more comprehensive social media strategy.  The Fortune 500 are diving in to connect with some of its 300 million active users.

 

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, the NY Times, Washington Post, CNN, Reuters, Wall Street Journal, Fox News, Computer World, Time Magazine and the Harvard Business Review among others. She has been named Co-chair of Research by the Society for New Communications Research.

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

Jessica Griswold, MBA Candidate
Jessica Griswold works as a Graduate Assistant in the Center for Marketing Research at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.  She had conducted research for local businesses and has studied the 2016 Fortune 500. She can be reached at jgriswold@umassd.edu

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