If the Fortune 500 Don’t Have a Social Media Strategy, Should You?

UMass Fortune 500 Social Media Usage

In its 7th annual survey of the Fortune 500’s social media usage, UMass-Dartmouth found that newer tools like Instagram and Pinterest are exploding in use.

Companies are grabbing tools that are hot and popular. But do they have an actual social media strategy in place?

Evaluating the Tools

“You wonder if there is an actual understanding how these new tools can help them,” said Nora Ganim Barnes, Director of the Center for Marketing Research at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, in a phone conversation.

“Having a Facebook or Twitter account is as common as having a website. The high end, mature tools are starting to look alike,” she said. The Center added LinkedIn to its study for the first time this year, at my suggestion. LinkedIn dominates all tools at 97% adoption, even while the newer networks are getting all the attention.

In discussions with a number of these companies Dr. Barnes said she didn’t find a clear-cut social media strategy. “If you ask if they have a social media strategy, they reply that it’s part of their business and marketing strategy. But I’m not sure they know how to use these tools once they have them.”

She cited a conversation with a marketing executive at one of the major consumer products companies. Its Foursquare account gets a significant number of traffic and Likes but he claimed, “We don’t do much with it.”

Foursquare, Barnes said, is “becoming almost like a Yellow Pages or Yelp. You can find a location but also a list of their products and a link to the corporate website.”

Interestingly, while pundits have forecast a bleak future for Foursquare, the study disclosed that Foursquare enjoyed the largest increase in adoption (42%).

More than half the Fortune 500 have adopted the tool, including newcomers this year Starbucks, Best Buy, AT&T and CVS Caremark. The role of this tool may be morphing from simply a location-based app to a storefront for a company’s products.

As to Google+, 93 (19%) of the Fortune 500 have opened accounts that are inactive. This indicates, said the study, that corporations are still learning about Google+ or have not yet found the best use of this platform in their social media mix.

Surprisingly, the use of corporate blogs declined. In 2014, 157 companies (31%) had corporate blogs, showing a decrease of 3% in use of this tool in the past year.

Supporting Your Brand

Create a specific social media strategy for yourself and your company. Know what tools your target audience’s are using, Barnes said.

“Whether you’re an individual or a Fortune 500 company, you need to define who you are. The platforms you choose should define your brand. Everything you use should support your professional objective,” she said.

“Evaluate the usefulness of each tool. Where should I be? If your answer is that this takes more time than what I’m going to get from it, then don’t use that tool.”

Key Findings

  • In 2014, 157 companies (31%) had corporate blogs showing a decrease of 3% in use of this tool in the past year.
  • Companies blogging include two of the top five corporations (Wal-Mart Stores and Exxon Mobil), leaving the other three (Chevron, Apple and Berkshire Hathaway) without a public-facing blog.
  • 413 companies (83%) of the Fortune 500 have corporate Twitter accounts with a tweet in the past thirty days. This represents a 6% increase since 2013.
  • Facebook, in its second year on the Fortune 500 list, has the highest number of followers on Twitter, followed by Starbucks, Microsoft, Walt Disney Company, Whole Foods Market, Inc., Nike, Inc., and Intel Corporation. They also have the most Facebook fans along with Coca-Cola, The Walt Disney Company and Starbucks Corporation.
  • 401 companies (80%) of the Fortune 500 are now on Facebook. This represents a 10% increase since 2013.
  • In the past year, Foursquare enjoyed the largest increase in adoption (42%), while Pinterest use increased by 27% and Instagram by 12%.

What Tools Are You Using?

As a blogger, I was surprised and disappointed that blogs have declined in usage. Blogging is my principal tool. Barnes wondered whether LinkedIn’s new Pulse feature – essentially the ability to have your own blog within the most used social media network – might be serving as a substitute.

I decided early on to drop Pinterest from my arsenal. I couldn’t see why anyone would be interested in sharing stock photos. Visitors to my site would be consumers looking for products, which I don’t sell.

They would be disappointed and I would be glowing at my increase in traffic. But what good is traffic that isn’t my target audience?

I also have a Tumblr account that I hadn’t looked at in months. Talk about being inactive. As far as I can tell, I’ve never gotten any traffic from Tumblr (why would I?) so I just closed my account. Hurray!

I’m glad I deleted Tumblr. The meager content certainly didn’t reflect well on my brand.

How about you? Do you have a social media strategy? Are you on networks you barely use?


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  1. Makes me wonder how long this finding your niche process will take. Stands to reason that your social media strategy would depend on your customer or audience. LinkedIn might not be the best choice for a restaurant. It almost feels as if we need more history as to what people are looking for, where. I have narrowed mine down too. No Pinterest for me…I don’t think it’s the best place for a fiction writer. So I don’t know that I agree that your platform should define your brand. I think your brand needs to find it’s platform.

    • Jacquie — I agree that your brand needs to find its platform. I don’t think there is any argument there at all. That’s why I dropped Pinterest and now Tumblr. Yet, people who are selling consumer products are thriving on Pinterest. To each his own.

  2. Hi Jeannette; I was surprised to find that that many companies in the fortune 500 had blogs to start with. they seem to be more effort intensive and require more intelligent employees to maintain. to me its all part of my over all efforts. there is the website promoted by the blog which is supported by the major social media networks. I did decide that google hangouts were not working for me and have discontinued them. I think they could work once I build up a mailing list and if I can cultivate a list of people who will participate as guests to drive traffic to them. basically, people weren’t tuning in just for me and weren’t going to. but it was a good experiment that I enjoyed until other activities started taking more of my time. I have also given up on merchant circle mainly because updates to it have made it a site I can no longer use effectively. I have seen expansion in my network on referral key and I’m fascinated by new networks like biz sugar and kingged. thanks for sharing this info and your advice, max

    • Max — how wise of you to experiment with Google Hangouts and then learn they weren’t for you just yet. I believe in trying new things — that’s how I started blogging five years ago and it turned into a business. So I believe in trying things out but also knowing when to quit.

      • Hi Jeannette; I actually think hangouts could be good in the future especially after i build up the mailing list. I also think they have more potential for my coaching and speaking than they do for selling rides. and my ride sales has a use for Pinterest but don’t see a use for it for the blind blogger. but i liked that you said yet. you know me I have to always leave myself the possibility that something will change or that I will improve in some way to make the impossible possible. it doesn’t always happen, but you have to have faith it will most of the time. I’m glad to hear a successful person like yourself admits to trial and error. and I hope to get some pointers from you as to how to make my blog a financial success along with the feelings of personal accomplishment. thanks again and take care, Max

  3. How fitting that Facebook should have the most twitter followers of all the Fortune 500 companies! I wonder how many Twitter and Facebook followers Fortune has. Your article is right on, though. Strategy is the hardest part about all marketing – so people tend to skip it altogether. I don’t believe they are blind to the need, though. Do you think it is a matter of priorities in most cases – where they are putting their energies to get the greatest return?

    • Sue — it is ironic that Facebook has the most followers on competitor Twitter. I just think that strategy is not only hard, but social media is still so new that most companies, even the very largest, are not sure how to integrate into their marketing mix.

  4. Whether a big company or a freelancer such as myself, it’s safe to say so many of us jump on this or that social media bandwagon. I’ve resisted Instagram for some reason, but do use Pinterest as a mix of personal and business. Since I’m an author, I suppose I can get a way with a bit of that 😉 I do have a tumblr, but it’s still in progress. Like my photo hobby blog, it will have images watermarked with my main website name, but it will be for a more personal nature.

    • Jeri — Instagram is another account I have, but don’t use, now that you remind me. I opened it because my nieces and nephews are using that now more than Facebook (which owns Instagram) and I like to keep up with them. However, I note that their Instagram images appear in their Facebook timeline. It really gets too confusing!

  5. Hi Jeannette – I really needed this post. I was looking for ways to expand from my point of view – I feel comfortable with LinkedIn, Twitter and Google+, but I wasn’t thinking about my audience at all. I know many of them are on Pinterest and/or Facebook, yet I’m not on either. More things to consider and check into.

    • Lenie — I’m glad the post helped. Your advice and photos are so well done that I think Pinterest and Facebook would be good target audiences for you. Luckily, there is a plugin so that you can “pin” your images automatically on your blog.

  6. Lately I’ve been re-evaluating my social media presence and platforms I use. I simply try to show up in the right places rather than just everywhere. That’s just too much work, especially because I wouldn’t rely on social media as my No #1 lead gen strategy.

    It was pretty easy to build a strong following and presence when I was already a celebrity in a niche, but starting “from scratch” it’s a whole other story. That requires a whole lot more planning and effort and strategizing.

    • Eve — You make an important point that you don’t rely on social media as your #1 lead generating strategy. I think too many entrepreneurs think social media is the “silver bullet” that is going to drive droves of customers. I believe social media should be in addition to your other marketing efforts, including reaching out to individuals, either in person or online.

  7. Everything changes so quickly I wonder, your article made me think this, how LONG does someone – individual business owner or a corporation – wait to change their social media strategy?

    My strategy revolves around just 3 social media tools, and anything else I might add in to “try” is usually for some specific timeframe like 90 days, or specific project.

    It’s about being able to keep up with the changes with a flexible strategy.

    • Pat — you’re smart to focus on 3 tools and do them well. I don’t know the answer to your question, especially if you use social media for branding, as I do. My blog is my principal tool and has served me well in new business.

  8. It’s safe to say many, individuals and big corporations alike, jump on the bandwagon when anything new emerges. Whether there is a working strategy is doubtful. I’m no different… LOL. I do use Instagram to promote coming attractions, and Pinterest to promote newly published items. I definitely could use a better more formalize plan for sure. I do have a Tumblr, but lack the necessary how to’s to make it work well for me. As for my images, I watermarked all of them with my URL for obvious reasons. Just my bit of rambling on the subject. 🙂

    • Susan — Agreed. I think we feel we’re missing something if we don’t jump on the next big thing like Instagram. For you, I’d think Instagram and Pinterest would be ideal because of your wonderful illustrations. They don’t work for me, unless someone is interested in stock photos!

  9. As this is not yet a business for me I have taken the trip down social media lane pretty slowly. Right now I have only Facebook, Twitter (which I am still trying to wrap my head around), and of course a blog and website. Pinterest, Google +, yadha yadha will come eventually I am sure but for now I am loving the response and the work. I can see it being beneficial to big business but I am always waiting for the other shoe to drop. Maybe it’s because I still have one foot in the past a little 🙂

    • Tim — slow wins the day. Whatever works for you is best. And, you know what, we all have one foot in the past because social media is moving so fast we can’t keep up!

  10. We definitely need to have a social media strategy. More than Fortune 500 companies do. Compared to them we are nobodies and will remain nobodies on social media if we don’t figure out what our goals are with it.

    The majority of people in the world know what, say, Coca Cola, is even if they don’t have a social media strategy. But the same doesn’t apply to us:-)

    • Catarina — words of wisdom. When we think what specks we are on the world stage it can be humbling. When I first started blogging LinkedIn was my primary source of traffic. I stood out because the membership was still small. Not so now, by a long shot. Maybe it doesn’t matter if we remain nobodies to the vast universe as long as we’re somebodies to the people and companies that are most important to our success.

  11. One thing I’ve noticed is small businesses can sometimes make better use of social media than bigger ones, if they have a good plan.

    I started using Pinterest because I like imagery – I’ve noticed I get tons and tons of re-pins. One must go with one’s strengths – and in my case, imagery is definitely a strong point.

    I have had a number of clients start and stop with blogging – it’s just too much to take on for most of them. The social media platform one chooses for focus must be a good fit.

    • Leora — so true. You deal in imagery so traffic from Pinterest is valuable to you. For me, it made no sense and wasn’t a good fit. I think we’re all getting a little smarter about where we place our efforts on social media.

  12. Lisa — I couldn’t agree more that social media is but one tool in a marketing strategy. I’m afraid some people think social media is the silver bullet that will get them to their goals.

  13. There is an old saying that a jack of all trades but a master of none. I really don’t have time for all the social media so I focus on Google+, Blogging and Linkedin. The jury is still out for me on FaceBook. Until the day comes that we are noticed for our name we have to use the tools at end which is social media to get noticed.

    • Arleen — better to be master of the tools you’re already on. I’d think Pinterest might be a good network because you could share images of your promotional items. But, as you say, only so much time in the day.

  14. Fabulous post, Jeannette, as always. You never disappoint.

    For me, social media had made a huge difference in helping me build the Chocolatour brand. More and more chocolate makers are finding me b/c of my presence on Twitter. FB works well for me on a personal level. I LOVE Instagram, as I’m a highly visual person, and as I promote chocolate travel and both components are highly visual, it’s a clear winner for me. Plus it let me post to Twitter, FB and Tumblr all at the same time, so 4 hits with one image. Your post, its findings, and my own personal research proves that there is no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to social media strategy.