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Latest Study: How The Fortune 100 Are Using Twitter

November 29, 2009

I have recently been reviewing social media in a general sense so a new study by Weber Shandwick on Twitter that I came across was an opportunity to provide a more specific social media channel review about Twitter, that looks at the current use by the Fortune 100 and how they are currently implementing Twitter across their companies.

Twitter is quite often dimissed by a lot of people as a platform that broadcasts inane pointless babble and conversations about, “what you had for breakfast” or “your weekend activities”. Most people are starting to realise that Twitter can be used for your business or brand in ways that are only limited by your creativity. Two other recent studies showed that the Top 500 Fastest Growing Companies and the Top 200 Non Profits in the USA were the leaders in their use of Social Media and Twitter as compared to the Fortune 500.
The major finding in essence, was that the Fortune 100 are really not utilizing Twitters full potential to engage, communicate, promote their brand and promote and drive a position of being a thought leader in their industry amongst many other shortcomings. So here are some rather telling statistics, facts and figures that show their sins of omission rather than a compelling example of best practice.
  1. 73 percent of Fortune 100 companies registered a total of 540 Twitter accounts.
  2. About three-quarters (76 percent) of those accounts did not post tweets very often.
  3. More than half (52 percent) were not actively engaged (This was measured by engagement metrics such as numbers of links, hashtags, references and retweets.)
  4. 50 percent of the Fortune 100 accounts had fewer than 500 followers, a small number in relation to the size and reach of a major corporation.
  5. 15 percent were inactive; of those,11 percent were merely placeholder accounts — unused accounts to protect corporate names against so-called brand-jacking on Twitter — and 4 percent were abandoned after being used for a specific event.
  6. 26 percent of their Twitter accounts were primarily used as a one-way flow of information (either by RSSnews feeds or manual tweets) that offered no engagement with followers.
  7. Tweets did not provide opinions or encourage discussions.This contradicts the value of Twitter as a two-way dialogue to build relationships with customers and advocates.
  8. A sizeable 24 percent of the Twitter accounts were primarily used for brand awareness.
  9. Many appeared to be on Twitter simply to have an online presence.
  10. They did not use the platform to reach out to the community and demonstrate that their brand is a trusted source of valuable information, a business that not only talks but also listens to customers.
  11. Surprisingly, only 16 percent of the Fortune 100 accounts were used mainly as sales vehicles for company products and services.Other companies did not appear to understand that sales growth can be achieved by posting special Twitter offers, coupons, limited bargains and sales prices, or by searching for customers who mention a company product and reaching out to them to build a relationship.
  12. Customer service was the focus of only 9 percent of the accounts; it is highly likely that these companies are worried about corporate reputation — posts that might be damaging to a brand.In addition, success requires a commitment to respond “quickly to customer queries, suggestions or complaints. Note: According to Twitter’s own best practices, “your reply should come within a day, if not within hours”.
  13. “Thought leadership appeared to be the least prominent Twitter strategy by Fortune 100 companies, with only 8 percent focused on it. Corporate reputation and authority can be extended onto Twitter, but are most effective only after thought leadership is demonstrated in newspapers, trade publications or recognized by analysts and bloggers. This I think demonstrates the blog and website as your  “home base” and Twitter as your one of your “Outposts”
  14. Finally, another 14 percent of accounts were used for other reasons such as recruitment or employee-specific information, or their accounts were locked and not visible.These companies were unable to build relationships with interested communities.

It was interesting to observe that best practices were not followed by most of the Fortune 100 accounts examined by Weber Shandwick study with the following being the major Twitter sins.

  • Few followers: Half of those accounts had fewer than 500 followers, while
  • More than half did not meet engagement metrics that were analyzed in Twitalyzer (e.g.numbers of links, hashtags, references and retweets)
  • Three-quarters (76 percent) of those accounts posted fewer than 500 tweets.This indicates either a lack of engagement by many companies with their followers, or newly established accounts that haven’t yet started using the platform to build relationships.
  • Twenty-four percent of the Twitter accounts were primarily used for brand awareness; however many of them appeared to be on Twitter simply to have an online presence
This falls short of the opportunity that Twitter offers as a valuable communications channel and strategic social network.For those companies what are the activities that they should pursue?
  1. Create a companywide engagement strategy; a set of guidelines with best practices
  2. Demonstrate a consistent and comprehensive brand presence
  3. Build a dialogue that paves the way to new relationships with customers and advocates
  4. Generate loyalty among new and existing communities
  5. To maximize the benefits of Twitter, companies should
    • offer opinions and encourage discussions
    • reach out to their communities of customers and advocates
    • build relationships with new customers and look for untapped supporters.

Weber Shandwick prescribed five essential steps as a starting point for Fortune 100 companies to create true engagement and market interaction on Twitter:

1.Listen to conversations

2.Participate in conversations

3.Update frequently with valuable information

4.Reply to people who talk about issues that are important to your company

5.Retweet relevant conversations

So here are “7  Twitter Best Practices” from the study revealing that in the majority, the Fortune 100 were not implementing

  1. Listen to and monitor conversations
  2. Participate in conversations instead of just listening
  3. Provide frequent updates with valuable information that can demonstrate thought leadership.
  4. Have a large number of followers
  5. Reply to people who talk about issues that are important to them rather than sit on the sidelines
  6. Retweet those conversations which can help promote the brand
  7. Reply or refer to other accounts with @username, and in turn, they are referred to by other accounts.

By following the best “7 Best Practices”, Twitter can be used by businesses for many purposes, as its value differs for each company. If best practices are followed, businesses can

  • Promote and distribute their news in a very cost efficient manner “World Wide” or “Locally”.
  • Broadcast their products and services offerings with a wider audience
  • Increase brand awareness,
  • Gain new customers
  • Boost sales
  • Provide customer service.
  • Demonstrate “thought Leadership


For the majority of Fortune 100 companies, Twitter remains a missed opportunity. Many of their Twitter accounts, examined by Weber Shandwick, did not appear to listen to or engage with their readers, instead offering a one-way broadcast of press releases, company blog posts and event information.

The number of active Twitter users in the United States already exceeds 20 million and can be expected to continue to grow.This is a massive human database to tap, companies that understand the value of Twitter can benefit from its potential as a viable engagement platform. A majority of Fortune 100 companies are not using Twitter for its intended benefit: to create meaningful connections and relationships with customers, potential advocates, media and other business contacts.

So how are you using Twitter for your company or brand? Look forward to reading your stories.                             

23 Comments leave one →
  1. November 29, 2009 7:21 am


  2. November 29, 2009 12:44 pm

    I’m not surprised at these results. In my experience companies begin with the best intentions but by the time action plans work their way through bureacracies, legal reviews and politics, the two-way platform reverts to their comfort zone of glorified press releases.

  3. November 29, 2009 3:27 pm

    I’m still amazed that we’re stuck on this “large number of followers” kick. Follower count is no indication of “advocate count.” You need people who are passionate about your company. These kinds of followers have to be cultivated, not automated.

  4. November 29, 2009 10:11 pm

    It is interesting how some businesses implement social media and make it work, while others bungle along and don’t ‘get it’.
    Lately I’ve seen a rise in the number of non-profits using twitter and facebook as well, with differing levels of success.


  5. November 29, 2009 11:11 pm


    Thanks for posting about our Twitter study. I think that as more companies develop social media policies — and, of course, spend more time in the space — they’ll create workflows to help them get Tweets approved quickly.

    Also, if you’d like to embed the white paper on this post for your readers, you can grab it here:

  6. November 30, 2009 2:30 am

    thanks a lot for this really interesting article, Jeff. this is really interesting. And I guess that some of these low metrics can be due old school marketing phylosophy and practices. Old behavior with a new toy.
    Most Fortune100 are not aware of fundamental ideas such as Permission Marketing, Word of Mouth or Communities. I think these would be essential starting points for them.

  7. November 30, 2009 11:43 am

    Great thoughts Jeff. Twitter is not less than a good resource of promoting your brand online through day to day conversation.

  8. December 1, 2009 5:21 pm

    I see it over and over again that companies are not setting measurable goals (NOT SALES) within twitter. Just amazing how much is overlooked and underestimated!

  9. December 2, 2009 4:29 am

    Hey Jeff,
    This is truly great!

  10. December 8, 2009 1:14 pm

    Excellent article, very informative. I have just recently got into Social Media for my business and I love the amount of helpful information that is out there.

  11. January 7, 2010 4:49 pm

    Thanks for a really informative study. Interesting to see the benchmark stats used, eg 500 or more tweets – I’d like to think I’m a relatively engaged Twitterer personnally, although am only halfway there with around 250 Tweets and counting.

    Having worked for a FTSE100 org it’s comforting to see it’s still commonplace for other companies not to have embraced the platform. I think its reflective, as Mark Schaefer points out, that the internal approver/political channels often “sanitise” conversations to become approved statements.

    Twitter and other social networking sites still seem to be seen as the dark arts/a playground for the young (esp. consumers). Given the massive successes seen when organisations truly engage with their audiences, a slow process of education, using case studies and best practice guidelines such as above, can help drive better results for all.

  12. January 21, 2010 7:43 pm

    Absolutely fantastic.

    I have read a few of your posts already, and wish I had stumbled apon this blog sooner.

  13. January 26, 2010 2:40 pm

    I retweeted this again today… the metrics in this blog post are amazing, in that they show such a phenomenal opportunity for improvement. I think the entire thing can be summarized like this: Twitter circa 2009 = Web circa 1997

  14. January 26, 2010 2:45 pm

    I wish that I had stumbled upon this earlier, as well. I have been interested in this topic for some time as to how they are incorporating more and more. At my website,, we actually have an entire news channel dedicated to Fortune 100 tweets ( ) that is becoming popular.

  15. Victor Canada permalink
    February 15, 2010 5:54 am

    Thanks for sharing Jeff. When I speak on Social Media or discuss it with clients I relate the maturity of Social Media today to the maturity of the WWW in 1995. Many companies rushed to get a website then. Hardly anyone but some early adopters and visionairies knew how to do it well at the time. 2010 is proving to be a great year for Social Media and more companies will embrace it.

  16. June 8, 2010 1:20 am

    Content rich-great read. Thanks and regards, Lynn.


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