Are Fortune 500 Companies Too Busy For Social Media?

by on December 14, 2011

According to a study conducted by the Center for Marketing Research at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth nearly one-third of all Fortune 500 companies are not on the social media bandwagon – at least not the Twitter and Facebook bandwagon. 

That’s just one of the many key findings from this statistically sound study of the 2011 Fortune 500 list – the only statistically sound longitudinal study of its kind with every company in the Fortune 500 included.

I’ve written numerous posts discussing one finding after another which showed that Chief Marketing Officers – CMOs to you and me, realize the importance of social media yet are reticent to jump into the water. From IBM’s 2011 Global CMO Study… “The risk is huge, whether you touch it or not. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you reduce the risk by not trying to manage it.”

I agreed completely with the CMO who made this remark but I added another caveat in my post… “Never make the fatal, yes fatal, mistake of assuming you are reducing the risk by deciding not to manage social media.”

So I guess I should not be too surprised to read the findings of this particular survey which showed, in addition to the aforementioned 31% of all Fortune 500 companies not even having a Twitter or Facebook presence – that social media for those Fortune 500 companies who do actively participate may be leveling off.

Don’t Get Blogged Down…

In 2010 23% of all Fortune 500 companies had a public-facing blog, you know as opposed to one or many created specifically for internal use. In 2011 the percentage of all Fortune 500 companies with a public-facing blog is… 23%. Yes, the exact same percentage kids. Actually there are two less Fortune 500 companies with public-facing blogs which didn’t affect the percentage but the overall number is down from a year ago.

As you can see the percentages were going up from 2008 to 2009 and 2010 but in 2011… What happened? Why the plateau or in actuality, lowering of the number of public-facing blogs?

Well I’m quite certain it was a combination of things including out and out fear. Go back to the quote from that unnamed CMO “The risk is huge, whether you touch it or not.” There is a semblance of fear in his/her words, is there not?

I read an article about this very study on MSNBC and I want to share a portion of if because I think the author nailed, absolutely nailed it in explaining why the overall aversion and/or non-growth if you will, of social media among Fortune 500 companies.

“… very large companies like those ranked among the Fortune 500, have the most to lose by adding a fifth “P,” Participation, to their traditional marketing mix of Product, Price, Place, and Promotion. Inherently risk averse and overly protective of their market positioning, corporate leaders have far too many lawyers and others spinning cautionary tales laden with drastic potential outcomes as a result of directly engaging their customers and prospects in full view of one another.”

Catch some of those keywords and phrases the author uses?

  • Inherent risk
  • Overly protective
  • Far too many lawyers
  • Drastic potential outcomes of directly engaging their customers

Yes, yes and a resounding YES! How many companies, Fortune 500 companies all the way down to the mom & pop on the corner are deathly afraid of engaging their customers in the social media space? ‘Why we can’t do that because our customers may say something bad about us or our competition may discover one of our secrets.’ Give me a break…

You learn a new game, a new skill, a new whatever, you first learn the rules and how to play, right? Well social media is no different for crying out loud. Maybe if you took the time to actually learn social media, you wouldn’t be so afraid. Just a hunch…

Anyway, I’m getting way ahead of myself here. Sorry, kind of went off on a little mini-rant there and I want to share some of the findings with you.

Fortune 100 vs. Fortune 500…

Check out these two charts/graphs and tell me what trend you see…

What the good folks at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth did was separate out the Fortune first 100 from the next 100 and so on and so on… well they did this for Blogging and Twitter. They didn’t do it for Facebook for some reason but they did report that Forty-eight percent of the top 200 have a corporate Facebook page.

But go back and look at these two charts… Do you see the trend? Do you see the fact that the Fortune 100 companies, AKA the most successful of the Fortune 500 companies and much more involved in social media than the remaining 400? Do you think it’s a coincidence that the most successful of the Fortune 500 companies are the same ones who utilize social media the most? Clearly social media is the answer to all your marketing prayers!

Um, no…

As I wrote in Social Media’s Dirty Little Secret, if your product sucks, social media is not going to help you make more money. So let’s assume those same Fortune 100 companies, the ones who are using social media more than the rest of the pack, also have a very viable, useful and desired product, service or ware. But what they also have is an understanding. An understanding and acceptance of the fact that they are not in control… their customers are. And if these same folks want to use social media to engage in either a positive OR negative manner, so be it. ‘We’re here and we’re ready to engage’ is what they’re essentially saying.

Fortune 500 Vs. Inc. 500…

There’s one more finding I want to share with you and that is the difference between the Fortune 500 companies and the Inc. 500.

The Fortune 500 of course is comprised of the big boys, the ones generating the most revenue while the Inc. 500 is reflective of the fastest-growing companies.

I wonder how social media adoption and usage compares between the two lists..

In case you can’t make it out, the Yellow is for the Inc. 500 while the Green is for the Fortune 500. The other two colors, Red and Blue are for schools and charities, respectively.

Now look at the difference in blogging between the Inc. 500 and the Fortune 500 companies.

Could this be because the Inc. 500 companies value open lines of communications with their customers?

Or could it be a reflection of the internal culture and structure of these fast-growing companies?

I don’t know and there may very well maybe other reasons as to such the disparity in the use of blogs between Inc. 500 and Fortune 500 companies but I do know this…

And that is C-Level folks need to come grips with the cold hard truth and that is consumers, customers, people… however you want to classify them – the ones with the money, are going to talk about your brand, your product, your service or your ware whether you like it or not.

Don’t you think it would make more sense to be in the room when they do talk about you?

Steve Olenski is the Creative Director of Digital Services for The Star Group, a marketing communications firm dedicated to driving engagement with B2B and B2C brands operating in today’s hyper-competitive, rapidly evolving digital marketplace.