I’ll beg Dr. Barnes to forgive me the editorial liberty I’ve taken with this headline, but that’s my takeaway after finally reading the UMASS Dartmouth Study: The 2014 Fortune 500 and Social Media: LinkedIn Dominates As Use of Newer Tools Explodes.
My interpretation of the results are completely different than those of the researchers who concluded:
“The 2014 Fortune 500 has now fully embraced new communications tools that have taken so many other sectors by storm.”
“These giant corporations are demonstrating an interest in experimenting with new tools.”
“This is a group that now seems comfortable and even excited with its newfound ability to engage its vendors, partners, customers and others in ways that could not have been imagined when most of their corporations began.”
With apologies to Dr. Barnes again, I just don’t see that in the data. I see tepid interest in small pockets of consumer oriented businesses among the Fortune 500. My frame of reference is in knowing what is possible, as compared to what is demonstrated.
It’s worth underscoring, I am not quibbling with the research, methodology, or data. I am at odds with the conclusions drawn at the very end.
The study, an annual affair every year since 2008, was published this past August. I’ve read and blogged about previous reports produced by the UMASS Center for Marketing Research for several years now. For example:
- 13 Statistics from an Inc. 500 Social Media Study
- Infographic: Millennials and Social Commerce
- What If Warren Buffett had a YouTube Channel?
- Fewer corporate bloggers means more opportunity
Three Takeaways from a Big Company Study
The study itself has an excellent section that highlights the key findings. Instead of simply regurgitating those statistics and then providing commentary, I’m going to blend the two here in simple and blunt analysis. Remember – this data is from the Fortune 500 – or the very largest of companies and is not representative of all companies.
1. Blogs as a tool of corporate influence is flat to declining.
The word “blog” is an unfortunate phrase that people in suits equate to a journal their 13-year-old pens from a tablet in the basement when they are grounded. It’s a very difficult perception to overcome because a blog is really, or ought to be, a news site. It is a central point of integration for the vast swath of stuff big companies produce in isolated silos every day.
It’s incredibly dizzying to see the data in a study like this because a blog as the center of the corporate social media framework was 101 level material in 2008 or 2009. We’ve come so far since then, that the very thought of social media in 2008 conjures up the smell of mothballs in a forgotten storage bin. The state of content marketing is – the gap between those that are good and those that haven’t started is widening.
2. Big companies do the Twitter; dabble with the rest.
No surprises here every brand has a Facebook page and is on “the Twitter.” Even a reluctant Apple is dabbling with Twitter of late, or at least is exploring buying ads on Twitter. Apparently, Apple doesn’t want to make friends, or connect with the raving fans that buy the new model and accidentally drop it during TV interviews (in that event, Apple missed the opportunity for an epic Oreo moment).
LinkedIn is was the most widely used (97%) which isn’t too surprising since executives understand LinkedIn from a personal level.
The Fortune 500 are really just dabbling with the rest of the social media sites, including Google+ which by all appearances is shaping up to live out its life like Feedburner.
3. Retailers lead, the regulated follow.
The most active category of business in digital media, social or otherwise, tends to be retailers, followed by the regulated industries which the researchers categorize as chemicals, banks, utilities and mining/oil production.
Retailers inherently understand the incredibly value of going direct-to-consumer, especially in this highly competitive space. How many choices in utilities does the average consumer have? Yeah, not many.
It’s a lost opportunity, for them, especially as we entering a period where we are bound to see some major disruption in the market in our lifetime where they are going to need a little trust and goodwill. To that end, public communications is a little bit banking – you’ve got to work your whole life and make deposits before you can write checks in retirement.
* * *
It’s not a talent problem that leads to results like these in the large companies – often the Fortune 500 have the very best in talent – and there’s a lot of smart people in those companies that will read this and nod their heads.
It’s a cultural problem – and a fear – which is derived from decades of corporate policy requiring 12 executive signatures to use the bathroom. Why rock the boat by trying to do something different? Usually, at least in marketing or PR circles, no one gets fired for keeping their mouth shut. And then we wind up with studies like this one.
Photo credit: From the study at the link above.
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Frank, Thanks for showing the real picture. "Why rock the boat by trying to do something different?" This statement is very scary.
@Rajesh Singh Saharan Thanks Rajesh. I'm not sure the picture is real, but it's definitely a different vantage point! Thanks for the comment.
Hi Frank, I'm totally with you as well. These results show a lukewarm use of social media when the big companies should be fully engaged. Thanks for the thoughtful analysis.
@ThePRCoach Definitely. What are we 10 years into the social media era? I really believe we're going to get to the point where social media is a minimum barrier to entry, like typing or using Outlook. Cheers, Jeff!
Great analysis, mate, and completely agree. What I tend to find with a lot of these studies is they don't dig deep enough into the actual answers.
Take pharma, government and financial organizations. By their very industries, they're too red tape-blocked to be able to really use social effectively (at least from a public discourse point if view). Can they use it for intel? Sure - but then even that's regulated by data mining legislation within these orgs.
Then you have the mountains of silos that many larger orgs have - they just don't know what each department is doing. You only have to look at how dysfunctional some of the bigger orgs are when it comes to collating all the social channels they participate on into a cohesive team.
And don't get me started on "well, the CEO needs to be on social for the company to be relevant"..... ;-)
@Danny Brown It definitely requires a lot of time and resources to thoroughly sift through the activity of a large company. Some of these companies have thousands of social channels for divisions, subgroups and products that grew up and were abandoned all cottage style. The UMASS folks offer up plenty of caveats.
As for the regulated industries, I don't buy it at all. The US Army is a government agency and they've got a pretty good social media handbook out -- as do the other services. On the financial side, I see tons of content from the likes of JPMC, Fidelity and USAA. These companies provide models for others to follow.
I do think pharma gets a little dicey, but even marketing in that vertical is very restricted. In my mind, a truly brand journalistic approach, the type of content marketing we all advocate for, is a path forward for organizations in those industries.
As for the CEO, well, the new DOMA study might be next....!
I'm always flattered to earn a comment from you Danny. Thanks for stopping by.
@Frank_Strong Maybe Canada's more risk averse than our U.S. counterparts when it comes to red tape. ;-)
@Danny Brown I'm so sorry to hear that! But it also sort of makes me feel better too! :-)