Why is the Business News Media So Far Behind on Social Networks?

[tweetmeme]Steve Forbes, CEO of Forbes Magazine, is asking his employees to promote his account on Twitter so he gets more followers.  I’m all for companies enlisting their employees as brand ambassadors.  And Forbes is certainly one of the best-known brands in reporting business news – Steve Forbes having been a presidential candidate and scion of one of the most famous media families in the business.

Steve Forbes

But Forbes and other business media (I just looked) are far behind companies in other industries in leveraging social media. That’s strange because Forbes, Business Week and Fortune, to name just three media giants, are in the business of communications, n’est pas?

According to a report in Media Bistro, a memo was circulated to staffers that reads, in part, “If you are on Twitter, it would be great if you could mention Steve’s account @SteveForbesCEO, and let your own followers know he is now tweeting. If you aren’t on Twitter, now is a great time to start getting involved!” (not to be catty, but isn’t using CEO in his moniker just a little pompous?)

As of today, Steve Forbes had 1,1718 followers. Pretty puny compared to non-communications companies like Zappos, best known for selling shoes.  Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh has 1,697,254 followers, and the company boasts of having 501 employees with Twitter accounts who are focused on customer service. Many companies have embraced social media and are leveraging Twitter, among other networks. Comcast, IBM, and the airlines (they use Twitter for updates on price deals) are just three examples.

Other Laggards

Forbes isn’t the only laggard.   I decided to check out other business editors on Twitter – have you tried to locate the masthead online of Forbes, Business Week and Fortune?  I did and couldn’t find them. So I Googled “Business Week editor” and up popped Josh Tyrangiel. Hope he’s still there.  In any event he isn’t on Twitter although @bw is the company account, with a modest 7,782 followers.  Of interest, Zappo’s was named a Business Week 2009 Customer Service Champ.

Fortune does better with 98,744 followers. While online, I found a story in All Things Digital from March about Fortune’s redesign as a print magazine. They’re just getting around to updating their website.

I find it surprising and a little disappointing that the media giants in the business of communication are not leaders but followers. Their advertisers are way out ahead of them.  Soon they may not need the media giants at all to reach their customers.

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  1. Great post Jeannette. Sounds like Steve Forbes is employing our strategy of Inside Out Public Relations! John Byrne (@JohnAByrne), the former editor-in-chief of BusinessWeek online, was an avid tweeter, along with his staff before the Bloomberg buyout. Actually, he remains active on Twitter. I’m not sure if the new Bloomberg Businessweek is encouraging reporters to tweet as John did. The magazine is so different that it should be called Bloomberg FinanceWeek. The least they could do would be to keep John’s attitude about the importance of cultivating community.

  2. Jeannette:

    Having recently retired from a company in that ‘big business’ group, I can give you my perspective on the issue. This is of course from an insider into one company’s (not to mention names) viewpoint.

    The marketing establishment is just too solidly entrenched and set in their ways. They are convinced they can make inroads with traditional type marketing and they are selling ‘branding’ not search. I know firsthand since I was requested to speak with the v-p of marketing about my experience marketing on the Web. I got lectured about what I was doing was not applicable to large companies.

    Since Social Media is currently the buzz word, companies decide to jump in without a marketing goal, without understanding the rules of etiquette and without the support of their employees. And when their results are lackluster, they either retreat or give up.

    Sorry to be so cynical but I just think they do not get it and probably never will!

  3. I would think the media giants would look at trending and their market. Most people my age who are not involved in a small business do not have a twitter account and think I am very strange for having one.

    But as a business owner I rely heavily on social media to find out more about a company before I do business with them. I am not sure I would rate a company on the number of followers but I may rate them on the quality of the tweets. Some of the companies with a large following don’t even tweet which makes me wonder how they even have a following.

    I rarely do business with a company that does not have a website. I prefer the company to also have a blog so I can get a feel for the personality of the company.

    The younger generation (anyone under 30) rely on social media. The big companies need to see who will be listening to them when we (over 50) are gone.

  4. Jeannette, I agree with DIY e-marketing coach.

    A guy who is at university called marketing departments in Swedish companies and asked if they were using social media to promote themselves. Nine out of ten said they didn’t. New recruits are told by the heads of the marketing departments that they don’t do that kind of thing. And, what’s worse, new recruits aren’t allowed to start using social media either.

  5. I’ve thought about this a bit and believe that you cannot delegate social media duties. I remember when Bill Gates joined Linkedin and posted a question. I wondered what happened with that!

    He set his defaults so that you couldn’t try to link with him. I wondered what the point of his signing on was?

    In the end his question was very popular, but I didn’t see the point of it. Did he read the answers? Did he respond to anyone?

    If a CEO wants to use social media I think they need to follow all the normal rules. It is about building relationships. If they don’t have time to do that, I’m not sure it is the right tool for them.

    I would love to see some of these powerful leaders use the “pay it forward” concept a bit. Reach out to some of the folks and actually engage in a conversation or two!