Oversaturation & Disengagement: The 2019 Fortune 500 Social Media Dance

The effects of high level social media interactions across media platforms

Conducted by:

Nora Ganim Barnes, Ph.D.

Ashley Mazzola, MBA Candidate

Mae Killeen, 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, 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 https://money.cnn.com/magazines/fortune/global500/2013/faq/.

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. Social media platforms have been added or deleted as the study attempts to reflect the current trends. 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 2019 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. 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 2019 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 2019 F500 there is 1 company who is not using any of the social media platforms or tools examined in this study.

  • HollyFrontier Rank: 175, Industry: Petroleum Refining
  • Alphabet Inc. replaced Google Inc. as the publicly traded entity.
  • Since the study began tracking Google+, it has consistently been the platform with the most inactive accounts with only 3 companies this year having accounts. Due to the ambiguity of its use, we did not include it in the current study.
  • Due to the low percentage of usage for Snapchat in previous years, and a platform redesign, we eliminated Snapchat from this year’s study. Meanwhile, Instagram and Facebook have created features similar to the ones Snapchat offers that users enjoy, such as image and video messaging. Only 5 of the 2019 F500 companies have a Snapchat account.

Highlights:

  • Blogs: Corporate blogs are steadily becoming more prevalent on company websites. Up 1 percentage point increase from the previous year, 54% of companies now have a public-facing corporate blog.
  • Twitter: With 96% of the Fortune 500 companies actively using Twitter, up 5 points this from last year, it has proven to be a platform in which companies should focus their social media efforts. Through engaging content, and word-of-mouth, Twitter metrics can lead to a higher email subscription rate, as well as an overall growth in sales for the company.
  • Facebook: 95% of the fortune 500 companies are actively using Facebook, which is up 6 percentage points from 2018. Facebook “likes” can be beneficial when advertising to targeted segments.
  • Instagram: With its constant innovations, Instagram proves to be an important marketing tool for companies. The steady increase in usage over the past five years (up 10 points from last year), makes it a platform to watch going forward. 73% have corporate Instagram accounts.
  • YouTube: YouTube has been ranked among the top destinations for domestic and global web traffic. With more than 1 billion users, and more than half of those users utilizing YouTube from a mobile device, having a YouTube presence can provide a strong ROI. 90% of the F500 have a YouTube account.
  • LinkedIn: LinkedIn continues to keep its #1 spot on the social media usage chart for the sixth year in a row with 99% using the platform (up 1point from the previous year). Our studies suggest that LinkedIn will maintain its popularity as a business networking and recruiting tool going forward.

Key Findings:

  • YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Blogs all experienced growth
  • 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+, Pinterest, and Snapchat. It is apparent that most Fortune 500 companies are all in on bigger social media platforms (i.e. Twitter and Facebook) and consciously pulling away from other platforms or tools where they do not have as big of a following (i.e. Google+ and Pinterest).

1a.Corporate Blogs

Traditional blogging has had its ups and downs since we began tracking corporate blogs in 2008. This year, public-facing corporate blogs have demonstrated an increase in use for the fourth time since 2013. In fact, blog usage has increased approximately 2.5 times since its all-time-low was recorded in 2015 at 21%.

This year 270 (54%) 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 54% of the 2019 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 are being used interchangeably. For the scope of this study, the focus was placed on corporate “blogs”, which totaled 54% usage among the 2019 Fortune 500. 

This increase in blogging will continue to grow because of the unique benefits that blogs have for businesses.  

1b. Level of Interaction on Corporate Blogs

 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.

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 2019, 49 (18%) of active corporate blogs allowed readers to make comments on their posts, down 22 points from last year.

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 our 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 2019, 81% of the top 200 companies used blogs and 35% of the bottom 200 companies used them. Perhaps the top companies are effectively demonstrating a strong consumer or B2B engagement attitude that impacts their bottom line.

 

1d. Corporate Blogs by Industry 

Some of the top industries using blogs in 2019 include (in order of frequency):

  • Commercial Banks
  • Specialty Retailers: Other
  • Semiconductors and Other Electronic Components
  • Utilities: Gas and Electric
  • Pharmaceutical
  • Diversified Financials
  • Insurance: Property & Casualty (Stock)
  • Health Care: Insurance and Managed Care

In contrast, some of the Fortune 500 industries without corporate blogging include (in order of frequency):

  • Metals
  • Household & Personal Product
  • Healthcare: Pharmacy & Other
  • Metal Products & Equipment
  • Mail, Packaging & Freight
  • Temp Help

2a. Corporate Twitter Accounts

Four hundred and eighty-two companies (96%) in the 2019 F500 have active corporate Twitter accounts, which is up 5 points from 2018. Each of the top ten corporations (Walmart, Exxon Mobil, Apple, Berkshire Hathaway, Amazon, UnitedHealth Group, McKesson, CVS Health, AT&T, and AmerisourceBergen) consistently post on their Twitter accounts.

2b. Corporate Twitter Followers

The main measure of engagement on Twitter is the number of followers. Facebook, in its sixth year on the F500 list, continues to dominate with 13.5 million followers, followed by Starbucks, Microsoft, Discovery, Nike, Netflix, and Walt Disney. It is interesting to note that Netflix has gained more followers in the past year than any other company in this category (1,410,276 followers), whereas Starbucks experienced a negative growth rate, losing 500,000 followers. A potential reason for Starbuck’s decline in followers could be attributed to a recent 2018 controversy sweeping the internet including the hashtag “#boycottStarbucks”.


Having a large following on Twitter can eventually lead to increased sales for a company. A single follower can ‘retweet’ or ‘like’ a company’s ‘tweet’ which can increase awareness for the brand. Followers are more likely to sign up to receive promotional offerings, or drive traffic to their website.

Corporation

2018 Twitter Followers

Facebook

13,500,000

Starbucks

11,400,000

Microsoft

8,610,000

Discovery

8,400,000

Nike

7,900,000

Netflix

6,500,000

Walt Disney

6,380,000

2c. Corporate Twitter Accounts by Industry

For the fifth consecutive year in a row, all 75 industries represented in the 2019 F500 had at least one company with a corporate Twitter account. The percent of corporations with Twitter accounts varies by industry. There are 14 industries that did not have 100% of their corporations with an active Twitter account. A sample of those 14 industries are represented below

Corporate Twitter Accounts by Industry

Number of Corporations with Twitter Accounts

Percent 

Utilities: Gas and Electric

21/22

95%

Food Consumer Products

13/14

93%

Mining & Crude Oil Productions

12/13

92%

Chemicals

11/12

92%

Food Consumer Products

12/13

92%

Insurance: Property & Casualty (Stock)

16/18

89%

Internet Services & Retailing

7/8

88%

Specialty Retailer: Other

6/7

86%

Apparel

6/7

86%

3a. Corporate Facebook Pages

Four hundred and seventy-seven (95%) of the 2019 F500 have Facebook pages. Like last year, all of the top ten companies (Walmart, Exxon Mobil, Apple, Berkshire Hathaway, Amazon, United Health Group, McKesson, CVS Health, AT&T, and Amerisource Bergen) have a Facebook Page. It is interesting to note that the percentage of companies with Facebook pages is up 6 points from the previous year.

3b. Corporate Facebook

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 214 million “likes” (roughly 5 million more than the previous year). The next most-liked company is McDonald’s with over 79 million. Netflix, Walt Disney, Discovery, Intel, and Starbucks follow. It is interesting to note that Netflix moved from 4th to 3rd, taking Disney’s old ranking. The number of Facebook “likes” is used to measure engagement on the platform, and the overall performance of the company. Over the years, research has shown that the underlying meaning of a Facebook “like” has evolved. With a change in the algorithm, and an ever-increasing volume of inorganic Facebook posts, the meaning of a Facebook page “like” should be viewed differently. Every time a consumer ‘likes’ a Facebook page, they are building their own psychological profile. This profile can be used to map out correlations between Facebook likes of many consumers, creating segments within the company’s overall audience. This psychological profile can increase the effectiveness of marketing efforts for the company

Corporation

2019 Facebook "Likes"

Facebook

214,524,064

McDonald's

79,466,486

Netflix

59,716,285

Walt Disney

52,416,967

Discovery

39,290,695

Intel

38,175,564

Starbucks

36,902,900

3c. Corporate Facebook Pages by Industry 

One hundred percent of the 75 industries represented in the 2019 F500 have at least one company with a Facebook page. There are 20 industries of 75 that have at least one company that does not have a corporate Facebook page. A sample of those twenty industries are represented below

Corporate Facebook Pages By Industry

Number of Corporations with Facebook Paged

Percent

Utilities: Gas & Electric

21/22

95%

Mining, Crude-Oil Production

12/13

94%

Insurance: Property & Casualty (Stock)

17/18

94%

Food Consumer Products

13/14

93%

Diversified Financials

13/14

93%

Entertainment

9/10

90%

Telecommunications

8/9

89%

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 is up 10 points in the year 2019, increasing from 315 (63%) to 367 (73%) active users. Nine of the top ten F500 companies are using Instagram, (Walmart, Exxon Mobile, Apple, Berkshire Hathaway, Amazon, UnitedHealth Group, McKesson, CVS Health, and AT&T while one (Amerisource Bergen) is not.

 4b. YouTube (Video Sharing Site)

Four hundred and fifty-three (91%) corporate YouTube accounts were found in the 2019 F500, up 12 points from last year. All of the top ten companies on the F500 list have active YouTube accounts. Businesses are utilizing this video content-driven platform in many ways. YouTube stories, similar to Snapshot and Instagram stories, is a new feature being utilized on the platform.

Over the past year, there has been a shift away from companies using paid advertising on both YouTube and Google; both companies that utilize ad exchange technology. Targeted search advertising is still intact and gives brands more control over where their ads appear.

4c. LinkedIn (Business-Oriented Social Networking Site)

LinkedIn remains the most popular platform among the 2019 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 ninety-six companies (99%) on the F500 list are using LinkedIn in 2019.

Takeaways

YouTube has been ranked among the top platforms for domestic and global web traffic. With more than 1 billion users, and more than half of those users utilizing YouTube from a mobile device, having a YouTube presence can prove to be financially beneficial for a company.

Due to previous declines in usage and inactive accounts, Pinterest, Google+, and Snapchat were excluded from this year’s study. This may be a reflection of companies’ consolidating their social media efforts and focus on those tools and platforms which yield the greatest benefit.

There was a steep decline in the number of companies allowing comments on corporate blogs from 2018 to 2019. It is possible that comments on corporate blogs are becoming obsolete due to the overwhelming presence of other social media sites where customers/clients can share their opinions.

Conclusion

The 2019 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 and Instagram. 

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 videos are their communication tools.

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 replacing Snapchat with 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. It helps to portray companies in a fun and highly engaging manner.

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 2019 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. Barnes is a frequent speaker at corporate meetings and keynote at conferences. She can be reached at nbarnes@umassd.edu. 

Ashley Mazzola, MBA Candidate

Ashley Mazzola is a graduate student at UMass Dartmouth after receiving her BS in Marketing with a concentration in Management Information Systems and Communications from UMass Dartmouth. She is continuing her education at the University in pursuit of a Master’s in Business Administration with a concentration in Marketing. Currently, she works as a Graduate Assistant in the Center for Marketing Research at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. She had conducted both qualitative and quantitative research for a range of business clients. She can be reached at amazzola1@umassd.edu 

Mae Killeen, MBA Candidate

Mae Killeen works as a Graduate Assistant in the Center for Marketing Research at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth where she obtained a BS in Marketing with minors in Management and Communications. She is continuing her education at the University in pursuit of a Master’s in Business Administration with a concentration in Marketing. She has conducted both qualitative and quantitative research for a range of business clients. She can be reached at mkilleen@umassd.edu. 



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