The 2017 Fortune 500 Go Visual and Increase Use of Instagram, Snapchat, and YouTube

Conducted by:

Nora Ganim Barnes, Ph.D.
Shannen Pavao, 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 including Google+, Instagram, YouTube, Pinterest, and for the first time this year, Snapchat. In addition, the study includes business networking platforms (LinkedIn) as well as indicators of engagement such as the number of Twitter followers and Facebook “likes”. 

 

Methodology

The following definition was used to locate 2017 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.  This was determined by examining both the date of the last post and the patterns of posting.  Typically, a post in the last 30 days qualified for an active account, but in rare cases there were patterns of posting every 45 days. These were considered active as well.

It is worth noting that there is evidence of usage of social media tools such as blogs, Twitter, Facebook etc. inside branches of these corporations (i.e. “Apple” at the corporate level does not utilize Twitter, but an active “iTunes” Twitter account is in use). This research did not look at that subject, but instead focused on public-facing corporate blogs and social media tools 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 2017 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 2017 F500 there are 3 companies who do not use any of the social media platforms or tools examined in this study.  These include:

  • Liberty Interactive Rank: 269, Industry: Internet Services and Retailing
  • A-Mark Precious Metals Rank: 395, Industry: Miscellaneous
  • HRG Group: 418, Industry: Household and Personal Products

Key Findings:

  • LinkedIn remains the number one most used social networking site since the study began recording its usage in 2014, currently at 98%
  • Active Google+ usage was cut in half
  • ¾ of the F500 are now using YouTube as a social networking platform
  • Instagram continues to grow rapidly, jumping up another 8% this year
  • Blogging increased 6%, going from 36% to 42%
  • 48 F500 companies are now using Snapchat

 

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 demonstrated an increase in use for the second time since 2013. In fact, blog usage has doubled since its all-time-low was recorded in 2015 at 21%.

This year 210 (42%) 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 two fifths of the 2017 Fortune 500 companies.

Although blogging has shown a steady increase for the past two years in the F500, it is important to note that many companies are adopting different methods to showcase their announcements of new products or services, news reports, philanthropic involvement, etc. by placing this information in press releases or “newsroom” sections of their website. At times, blog and newsroom posts often appear quite similar, and can likely be used interchangeably. It’s interesting to note that in the 2017 F500, 62% of companies had either blogs, or Newsroom/Press Release posts similar to blogs. For the scope of this study, the focus was placed solely on actual corporate “blogs”, which totaled 42% usage among the 2017 Fortune 500. 

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 and checking the date of the last post to determine how current it was. In 2017, 107 (51%) of active corporate blogs allowed readers to make comments on their posts, down 10% from last year.

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 attempting engagement with their audience at a higher level, but are falling short in doing so. Many of the blogs which allow comments have little to no interaction on the comment threads, which could explain why companies are increasingly doing away with the comment feature on their blogs.


 

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 2017, 51% of the top 200 companies used blogs, while 35% of the bottom 200 companies did.

 

 

1d. Corporate Blogs by Industry

Some of the top industries using blogs in 2017 include:

  • Computer Peripherals
  • Temporary Help
  • Semiconductors & Other Electrical Components
  • Computer Software
  • Securities
  • Telecommunications
  • Computers, Office Equipment
  • Information Technology Services

In contrast, some of the Fortune 500 industries without corporate blogging include:

  • Medical Products and Equipment
  • Pipelines
  • Metals
  • Food Production
  • Apparel
  • Home Equipment, Furnishings
  • Tobacco
  • Railroads

 

2a. Corporate Twitter Accounts

Four hundred and thirty-eight companies (88%) in the 2017 F500 have active corporate Twitter accounts. Eight of the top ten corporations (Walmart, Exxon Mobil, McKesson, UnitedHealth Group, CVS Health, General Motors, AT&T, and Ford Motor) consistently post on their Twitter accounts. Berkshire Hathaway, ranked number two on the F500 list, as well as Apple, ranked number three, do not have corporate Twitter accounts.

2b. Corporate Twitter Followers

Four hundred and thirty-eight companies (88%) in the 2017 F500 have active corporate Twitter accounts. Eight of the top ten corporations (Walmart, Exxon Mobil, McKesson, UnitedHealth Group, CVS Health, General Motors, AT&T, and Ford Motor) consistently post on their Twitter accounts. Berkshire Hathaway, ranked number two on the F500 list, as well as Apple, ranked number three, do not have corporate Twitter accounts.

The main measure of engagement on Twitter is the number of followers. Facebook, in only its fourth year on the F500 list, continues to dominate with 14 million followers, followed by Starbucks, Microsoft, Nike, Disney, Whole Foods Market, and Intel; the exact rank as in 2016. It is interesting to note that Nike has gained more followers in the past year than any other company in this category (500,000 followers at a 7.6% growth rate) but Disney has gained followers at the quickest rate (419,700 at an 8.4% growth rate).

Corporation

2017 Twitter Followers

Facebook

14,000,000

Starbucks

11,900,000

Microsoft

8,080,000

Nike

7,060,000

Disney

5,420,000

Whole Foods Market

4,860,000

Intel

4,700,000

 

2c. Corporate Twitter Accounts by Industry

For the third consecutive year in, all 73 industries represented in the 2017 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 Utilities: Gas and Electric and Commercial Banks industries have 100% of their F500 companies on Twitter, as do Food Consumer Products, Insurance: Life, Health (Stock), Pharmaceuticals, Automotive Retailing Services, Financial Data Services, and Semiconductors & other Electrical Components.

 

Corporate Twitter Accounts by Industry

Number of Corporations with Twitter Accounts

Percent

Utilities: Gas and Electric

22/22

100%

Commercial Banks

19/19

100%

Food Consumer Products

13/13

100%

Insurance: Life, Health (Stock)

12/12

100%

Pharmaceuticals

10/10

100%

Automotive Retailing Services

9/9

100%

Financial Data Services

9/9

100%

Semiconductors & other Electrical Components

9/9

100%

 

3a. Corporate Facebook Pages

Four hundred and twenty-three (85%) of the 2017 F500 have Facebook pages. In 2017, eight of the top ten companies (Walmart, Exxon Mobil, McKesson, UnitedHealth Group, CVS Health, General Motors, AT&T and Ford Motor) have a Facebook page while 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 remains well ahead of the other companies with over 189 million “likes”. The next most liked company is McDonald’s with over 72 million. Disney, Netflix, Starbucks, Intel, and Walmart follow. It is interesting to note that Netflix jumped up two spots from the 6th “most liked” company on the 2016 F500 to the 4th in 2017, garnering a substantial 11,069,464 (29% growth) followers; versus the second fastest growing “liked” company of Facebook, whose followers increased 9% in the past year.

Corporation

2017 Facebook “Likes”

Facebook

189,352,413

McDonald’s

72,235,374

Disney

50,938,670

Netflix

37,977,423

Starbucks

36,942,107

Intel

35,658,353

Walmart

33,225,723

 

3c. Corporate Facebook Pages by Industry

One hundred percent of the 73 industries represented in the 2017 F500 have at least one company with a Facebook page. A partial list is presented below showing those industries with the most companies in their industry with Facebook pages. All companies in the Automotive Retailing Services industry have a corporate Facebook page, as do the Financial Data Services, General Merchandisers, and Health Care: Insurance and Managed Care industries.

Corporate Facebook Pages by Industry

Number of Corporations with Facebook Pages

Percent

Automotive Retailing Services

9/9

100%

Financial Data Services

9/9

100%

General Merchandisers

9/9

100%

Health Care: Insurance and Managed Care

8/8

100%

Specialty Retailers: Other

20/21

95%

Commercial Banks

18/19

95%

Utilities: Gas and Electric

19/22

86%

 

4a. 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 rose 8% in the year 2017, increasing from 227 (45%) to 263 (53%) active users. Six of the top ten F500 companies are using Instagram, (Walmart, McKesson, CVS Health, General Motors, AT&T, and Ford Motor) while four (Berkshire Hathaway, Apple, Exxon Mobil, and UnitedHealth Group) are not.

 

 

4b. YouTube (Video Sharing Site)

Three hundred and seventy-seven (75%) corporate YouTube accounts were found in the 2017 F500, a 9% jump from last year. Nine of the top ten companies on the F500 list were also reported to have active YouTube accounts; Berkshire Hathaway was the only company who did not.

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

Since its debut in 2010 Pinterest usage has fluctuated within the F500 and in 2017, Pinterest usage dropped by 2%. An estimated one hundred and fifty-six companies (31%) on the F500 list are actively using Pinterest, as the actual activity was difficult to pinpoint since Pinterest does not utilize dated posts.

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

Ninety-one (18%) of the 2017 F500 have active Google+ accounts. Of the top ten corporations, five have active Google+ accounts, while Berkshire Hathaway, Apple, Exxon Mobil, McKesson, and UnitedHealth Group do not. Since the study began tracking Google+, it has consistently been the platform with the most inactive accounts. It is not surprising to see that now its adoption has fallen off to less than half the users from the 2016 F500 list (40%). This is likely due to the fact that companies found their needs met with other social platforms such as LinkedIn and Facebook or their effective use of this platform just never materialized.

4e. Snapchat (Image Messaging and Multimedia Mobile Application)

In an effort to stay relevant in a fast-paced digital era, it is important to include new and emerging social networking sites that are popping up in the F500. For the first time, the 2017 F500 social media benchmarking study included Snapchat. Companies are utilizing Snapchat to help build an engaged following, increase loyalty, and boost brand visibility. Snapchat is predominately geared towards capturing the Millennial audience, and according to comScore, 69% of U.S. smartphone users ages 13-24 are on Snapchat. It’s no wonder why companies are joining Snapchat to capture an audience with so much long-term potential. In fact, 48 companies in the 2017 F500 are on Snapchat.

4f. LinkedIn (Business Oriented Social Networking Site)

LinkedIn remains the most popular social media platform among the 2017 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-eight companies (98%) on the F500 list are using LinkedIn in 2017.

Conclusion

The 2017 Fortune 500 are demonstrating that they are critically evaluating their social media usage. Although the top social networking platforms of LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter remain strong, other social networking platforms are getting noticed such as YouTube, Instagram and Snapchat. All three are attracting attention from these wealthy corporations as they turn to younger audiences and move to engage with Millennials.  For these younger consumers, pictures and video are their communications tools.  We are beginning to see the Fortune 500 using these highly visual platforms even as they look to shed others that may not have paid dividends for them like Google+.

It is interesting to note both the resurgence of blogging over the past few years.  It is possible that companies are looking to engage consumers in a personal way, but also on their own terms.  Blogs are the only tool included in our research that have the advantage of being totally under the control of the company using it.  With no restrictions on content, length or format, blogging may continue to be a strong piece of a social media plan.

Just as last year, these successful companies are adopting Instagram at a record pace and are active in posting, using hashtags and replying to comments.  They are using Snapchat in the same ways as 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. A difference between Snapchat and Instagram, however, is that Snapchat is better suited to display raw and unpolished footage. It helps to portray companies in a fun and highly engaging manner. Additionally, it’s important to note that Snapchat is no longer a “niche photo messaging service,” but rather an established media platform valued at over $19 billion according to The Wall Street Journal and Hubspot.   

Businesses are adopting these new tools and using them in addition to other, more mature tools to create a more comprehensive social media strategy. The 2017 Fortune 500 companies continue to adapt to changes and seize opportunities that are presented in the social networking environment.

 

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 and teaching awards. 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 at the Conference Board.

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

Shannen Pavao, MBA Candidate
Shannen Pavao works as a Graduate Assistant in the Center for Marketing Research at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. She has conducted research for local businesses and has studied the 2017 Fortune 500. She can be reached at spavao2@umassd.edu.

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