Study: Big companies lag at blog, social media

An annual study says Fortune 500 companies are immersed in online communication channels and corporate blogs. The author of this article sees something different in the tea leaves.

Big companies are lagging with regard to blogging and social media.

I’ll beg Dr. Nora Barnes to forgive me the editorial liberty I’ve taken, but that’s my takeaway after reading the U. Mass/Dartmouth study: The 2014 Fortune 500 and Social Media: LinkedIn Dominates As Use of Newer Tools Explodes.

My interpretation of the results differs from 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 Barnes again, I 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, compared against what is demonstrated.

I am not quibbling with the research, methodology, or data. I am at odds with the conclusions drawn. The study, an annual affair since 2008, was published in August.

Three takeaways from a study of big companies:

The study 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, these data are from the Fortune 500—or the very largest of companies—and are not representative of all organizations.

1. Bloggging, 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 actually a news site—or it ought to be. It is a central point of integration for the vast swath of stuff big companies produce within silos every day.

It’s 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.

2. Big companies consistently use LinkedIn and just dabble with the rest.

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, nor connect with the raving fans who 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 the most widely used, at 97 percent, which isn’t too surprising given that 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 incredible value of going direct to consumer, especially in this highly competitive sector. How many choices in utilities does the average consumer have? 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 communication is a little bit like 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—derived from decades of corporate policy requiring 12 executive signatures to use the bathroom. Why rock the boat by doing something different?

Usually, at least in marketing or PR circles, no one gets fired for keeping his mouth shut. And then we wind up with studies like this one.

A version of this article first appeared on Sword & the Script.

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