Nora Ganim Barnes, Ph.D.
Allison Kane, MBA Candidate
Kylie Maloney, MBA Candidate
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 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. Social media platforms have been added or deleted as the study attempts to reflect the current trends. In addition, the study includes a business networking platform (LinkedIn) as well as indicators of engagement such as the number of Twitter followers and Facebook “likes”.
The following definition was used to locate 2018 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 some corporations. This research did not look at that subject, but instead focused on public-facing corporate level 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 since 2008 has consistently been at the corporate level.
All corporations were analyzed using multiple steps. First, working from the published 2018 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.
- In the 2018 F500 there are 4 companies who do not use any of the social media platforms or tools examined in this study. These include:
- Liberty Media Rank: 377, Industry: Entertainment
- Alleghany Rank: 437, Industry: Insurance: Property and Casualty
- Old Republic International Rank: 450, Industry: Insurance: Property and Casualty
- Vistra Energy Rank: 499, Industry: Energy
- Blogs: Corporate blogs are steadily becoming more prevalent on company websites. With an 11% increase in blog usage from last year, more and more companies are taking ownership of their relationships with their customers. 53% now have corporate blogs.
- Twitter: With 91% of the Fortune 500 companies actively using Twitter, 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: 89% of the Fortune 500 companies are actively using Facebook. All of the top ten Fortune 500 companies are using Facebook. 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% from last year), makes it a platform to watch going forward. 63% 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. Over three quarters of the F500 have a YouTube account.
- LinkedIn: LinkedIn continues to keep its #1 spot on the social media usage chart for the fifth year in a row with 98% using the platform. Our studies suggest that LinkedIn will maintain its popularity as a business networking and recruiting tool going forward.
1a. Corporate Blogs
This year, public facing corporate blogs have demonstrated an increase in use for the third consecutive year.
This year 265 (53%) of the Fortune 500 are using their blogs for thought leadership, product promotion and engagement using a variety of techniques including storytelling. Blogging is a part of the social media strategy for 53% of the 2018 Fortune 500 companies.
Although blogging has shown a steady increase for the past three years in the F500, it is important to note that many companies also use blogs to make their announcements of new products or services, news reports, philanthropic involvement, etc. At times, blog and newsroom posts often appear quite similar, and are being used interchangeably. For the scope of this study, every attempt was made to include only those that included posts beyond company news announcements.
Data going back to 2009 shows limitied use of blogging for many years with a high in 2013 of 34%. After a brief 2 year decline, blogging has increased for 3 consecutive years. Over half of the Fortune 500 now have corporate blogs.
This steady increase in blogging may be the result of the benefits that blogs have for businesses. Blogs give companies an advantage in SEO which helps drive traffic to a company’s website. This traffic may be converted into leads for the company’s sales. With these leads from blog readers, authority is being established between the company and its readers. The blog readers become interested in the blogs and trust the information in the posts. This creates long term relationships between businesses and their customers. In addition, as some of the larger platforms struggle with terms and conditions of use, blogs are “owned” by their corporation. No limit can be imposed on length or type of post. No post can be removed or censured. Blogs are unique and may be gaining popularity because of it.
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 to see if comments were accepted and replies were posted. In 2018, 106 (40%) of active corporate blogs allowed readers to make comments on their posts, down 11% from last year. It is possible that the use of storytelling as posts is more emotional but less interactive.
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. Many of the blogs which allow comments have little to no interaction on the comment threads and some companies are 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 2018, 59% of the top 200 companies used blogs, 19% of the 100 companies in the middle used blogs, and 22% of the bottom 200 companies did as well. 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 2018 include:
- Insurance: Property and Casualty
- Utilities: Gas and Electric
- Commercial Banks
- Specialty Retailers
- Health Care: Insurance and Managed Care
- Insurance: Life, Health
- Financial Data Services
- General Merchandisers
- Semiconductors and Other Electronic Components
In contrast, some of the Fortune 500 industries without corporate blogging include:
- Motor Vehicles and Parts
- Wholesalers: Diversified
- Diversified Financials
- Aerospace and Defense
- Mining, Crude-Oil Production
- Food Consumer Products
2a. Corporate Twitter Accounts
Four hundred and fifty-five companies (91%) in the 2018 F500 have active corporate Twitter accounts. Each of the top ten corporations (Walmart, Exxon Mobil, Berkshire Hathaway, Apple, UnitedHealth Group, McKesson, CVS Health, Amazon.com, AT&T, and General Motors) consistently post on their Twitter accounts.
2b. Corporate Twitter Followers
The main measure of engagement on Twitter is the number of followers. Ironically, Facebook, in only its fifth year on the F500 list, continues to dominate with 13.5 million followers, followed by Starbucks, Microsoft, Discovery Communications, Nike, and Netflix. It is interesting to note that Netflix has gained more followers in the past year than any other company in this category.
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|
2c. Corporate Twitter Accounts by Industry
For the fourth consecutive year, all 73 industries represented in the 2018 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 have 100% of their F500 companies on Twitter, as do Specialty Retailers.
|Corporate Twitter Accounts by Industry||Number of Corporations with Twitter Accounts||Percent|
|Utilities: Gas and Electric||21/21||100%|
|Aerospace and Defense||13/14||93%|
|Food Consumer Products||12/13||92%|
|Insurance: Property & Casualty (Stock)||15/19||79%|
|Motor Vehicles & Parts||10/13||77%|
3a. Corporate Facebook Pages
Four hundred and forty-five (89%) of the 2018 F500 have Facebook pages. Unlike in the previous year, where eight out of the top ten companies had a Facebook page, this year’s study shows all of the top ten companies (Walmart, Exxon Mobil, Berkshire Hathaway, Apple, UnitedHealth Group, McKesson, CVS Health, Amazon.com, AT&T, General Motors) have a Facebook page. It is interesting to note that Berkshire Hathaway was not actively using Facebook but has been active this year.
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 209 million “likes”. The next most liked company is McDonald’s with over 77 million. Disney, Netflix, Intel, Starbucks, and Walmart follow. It is interesting to note that Intel was able to move from 6th to 5th, taking Starbuck’s previous 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 effectiveness of marketing efforts for the company. Likes have evolved from primarily a popularity indicator to a strategic tool for market segmentation.
|Corporation||2018 Facebook “Likes”|
3c. Corporate Facebook Pages by Industry
One hundred percent of the 73 industries represented in the 2018 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 Commercial Banking industry have a corporate Facebook page, as do the Specialty Retailers: Other, Aerospace and Defense, and Insurance: Life, Health (Stock).
|Corporate Facebook Pages by Industry||Number of Corporations with Facebook Pages||Percent|
|Specialty Retailers: Other||19/19||100%|
|Aerospace and Defense||14/14||100%|
|Insurance: Life, Health (Stock)||12/12||100%|
|Food Consumer Products||12/13||92%|
|Utilities: Gas and Electric||19/21||90%|
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 10% from last year, increasing from 263 (53%) to 315 (63%) active users. This follows significant increases every year since 2013, making Instagram, and Blogging, the fastest growing tools in this study. Nine of the top ten F500 companies are using Instagram, (Walmart, Exxon Mobile, Berkshire Hathaway, Apple, McKesson, CVS Health, Amazon, AT&T, and General Motors) while one (UnitedHealth Group) is not.
4b. YouTube (Video Sharing Site)
Three hundred and ninety-three (79%) corporate YouTube accounts were found in the 2018 F500, a 4% jump from last year. All of the top ten companies on the F500 list have active YouTube accounts.
YouTube offers a potential for exposure and sales. There are over a billion users on YouTube, which generates traffic towards company's channels. Once traffic is directed to a company’s channel, the next more desirable activity is to have consumers subscribe to their YouTube Channel. This allows their audience to stay updated with their activity. YouTube stories, similar to Snapchat and Instagram stories, is a new feature that has recently been integrated into the video platform. This feature can allow companies to reach their audience every day.
YouTube is also used as a form of video advertising for companies. 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 2018 F500. Businesses have set up shop on the site to tell their story, network, stimulate word of mouth and recruit. Four hundred and eighty-nine companies (98%) on the F500 list are using LinkedIn in 2018.
4b. Pinterest (Pin-Board Style Photo Sharing and Social Networking Site)
Since its debut in 2010 Pinterest usage has fluctuated by only 1%. About one third of the 2018 F500 use Pinterest. One hundred and fifty-nine companies (32%) on the F500 list are actively using Pinterest, as the actual activity was difficult to pinpoint since Pinterest does not utilize dated posts. Companies can be considered “active users” by pinning content from other boards. This does not mean all active users are posting original content. For example, Penske Automotive Group has eight boards with their own content from about four years ago. However, they continue to add to their hundreds of pins.
The 2018 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 attracting increased attention such as Blogging and Instagram. It is not surprising that these wealthy corporations are turning to younger audiences and move to engage with Millennials. For these younger consumers, pictures, storytelling, and video are their communications tools. We are beginning to see the Fortune 500 using these highly visual and content friendly platforms even as they look to shed others that may not have paid dividends for them like Google+ and Snapchat.
It is interesting to note 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 will 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.
Businesses are adopting these new tools and using them in addition to other, more mature tools to create a comprehensive social media strategy. The 2018 Fortune 500 companies continue to adapt to changes and seize opportunities that are presented in the social media 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.
She can be reached at email@example.com.
Allison Kane, MBA Candidate
Allison Kane works as a Graduate Assistant in the Center for Marketing Research at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth where she obtained a BS in Marketing. Currently, she works as a Graduate Assistant in the Center for Marketing Research. She has conducted both qualitative and quantitative research for a range of business clients. She has also conducted research for local businesses, and has studied social media usage among the 2017 Fortune 500.
She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kylie Maloney, MBA Candidate
Kylie Maloney is a graduate student at The University of Massachusetts Dartmouth after receiving her A.B.A from Bristol Community College, and BS in Marketing from The University of Massachusetts 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. She has conducted both qualitative and quantitative research for a range of business clients. She has also conducted research for local businesses, and has studied social media usage among the 2017 Fortune 500. Her skillset also includes producing any graphics/promotional collateral for the Center.
She can be reached at email@example.com