The Center for Marketing Research at UMass Dartmouth recently came out with a study entitled The Fortune 500 and Social Media: A Longitudinal Study of Blogging and Twitter Usage by America’s Largest Companies. This study reprises its similar paper from last year, with the primary difference being the inclusion of Twitter. The researchers behind this paper examined the companies that comprise the Fortune 500 to determine whether or not these organizations had active blogs and/or Twitter accounts.

First, the encouraging news: the number of companies with active blogs grew significantly year-over-year, from 81 to 108 – or from 16% to 22% of Fortune 500 companies. These blogs are not simply one-way megaphones, either – the study reports that “90% percent of the Fortune 500 blogs take comments, have RSS feeds and take subscriptions.” Interestingly, two of the top five companies (Exxon Mobil and ConocoPhillps) did not have public-facing blogs, and they are both from the same industry.

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The most unusual finding from this study, however, was the number of Fortune 500 companies that maintain Twitter accounts: 173, or 35% of Fortune 500 companies. This figure is significantly higher than the number of companies with blogs, a disparity that is unusual given blogging’s sizable head start, and the relatively small number of Twitter users (compared to blog readers).

While there are likely several reasons for this disparity, it should be noted that both platforms have similar burdens in terms of legal requirements, consistency of voice and brand integrity, so it isn’t any “easier” from a strategic sense to maintain a Twitter account over a blog. It is, however, a lot less onerous in terms of content creation, so companies that have not found the time to craft and maintain a regular blogging presence may in fact appreciate Twitter’s lower barrier to content creation. Indeed, active and engaged employees, either Tweeting on behalf of or independent from their companies, might in fact be creating significant quantities of content, albeit 140 characters at a time.

What this study does not look at, of course, is internal communications. Many of the companies that do not maintain blogs or Twitter accounts likely have intranets, wikis and other means of social sharing behind the firewall. In my own company, we use Socialcast to share information; Yammer and Socialtext are also viable options. What Socialcast and Yammer have in common with Twitter are their low barriers to content creation – while few employees are candidates to crank out daily blog posts, the “learned behavior” of status updating is significantly more ubiquitous, thanks in large part to Facebook.

To date, much of the content being created on these corporate microblogging platforms and services is for internal purposes only. We use ours for everything from exchanging best practices to simply alerting everyone that there are brownies in the kitchen. The allure of these services is the promise that content created and shared socially is “unlocked” from email (where it is only seen by a few, and lost when those few change jobs) and becomes a searchable and a permanent corporate asset.

It strikes me that the seeds for external corporate communications may lie here as well, and my hope is that the future of these platforms and services will be to facilitate the mining, categorization and analysis of that content. It may be that your companies next 1000-word blog post could be effectively “crowdsourced” from an amalgamation of what your comrades-in-arms are already sharing internally. I know as my company’s lead blogger that getting others to contribute is a significant exercise in arm-twisting futility, but if I had the ability to easily mine the thoughts and contributions of my co-workers, then all of the accumulated greatness of our staff would finally have a way to shine without the onerous burdens of an editorial calendar, deadlines or otherwise treating content creation as “work.”

In that sense, as these tools continue to mature and evolve, a “job of the future” might be to mine for and curate internal microblog content for external uses. This would give Fortune 500 companies (who have some crowds to source, for sure) a way to tap into the ease of Twitter while creating a compelling, lasting resource of blogged content online. The tools aren’t there yet, as they are largely focused on user-based analytics and search, and not necessarily on text processing and workflow. If they get there, however, we may indeed see the rise of the corporate content miner in the coming years.

What do you think? Job of the future? Or flight of fancy?

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About Tom Webster

Tom Webster

Tom Webster is Vice President of Strategy for Edison Research, sole provider of U.S. National Election exit polling data for all major news networks. Webster has 20 years of experience in market and opinion research, with a particular emphasis on consumer behavior and the adoption of new media and technology. He is the principal author of a number of widely-cited research studies, including Twitter Usage In America, The Social Habit, and The Podcast Consumer Revealed, and is co-author of the Edison Research/Arbitron Internet and Multimedia Research Series, now in its 18th iteration. Reach him on Twitter at Webby2001, or on his blog at BrandSavant.

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Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • http://observingparticipant.wordpress.com/ Michelle

    An interesting concept, actually we've been talking at Synthesio with one company that is interested in adding not internal content meaning in-house communication, but data they currently have via surveys, customer call centers, etc. to social media data and aggregating it together to see what trends, innovations, and ideas they can pull from all of this unstructured data.
    In any case it looks like the number of companies interested in grouping this data together is growing, as more companies are realizing the power of this data. Unfortunately, other companies aren't listening as much as they could be. I was actually shocked at the percentage that Zach Hofer-Shall said aren't listening at all!

  • http://DonnyGamble.com Donny Gamble

    I think corporations will start to mess up the social media and blogging atmosphere because they seem to miss the point in terms of style of writing and networking. They need to outsource these tasks to someone that does not have the corporate mindset.

    • http://occamsrazr.com Ike Pigott

      I humbly disagree.

      Outsourcing creates its own headaches, as you put technical (and even legally-binding) responses in the hands of people who answer the way THEY think the company ought to answer, instead of the way the company *should*.

      There can be a very wide gulf, and it's really easy to critique from the outside when you don't know about circumstances on the inside.

      The best solution is to ingrain in the current corporate culture the idea that blogs and Tweets are just the new Fax Machine — a way to communicate, with its own quirks. Like cover pages, for instance.

    • http://twitter.com/webby2001 Tom Webster

      Donny, I think I would challenge that assumption. I don't see any evidence that corporations miss the point, and “the corporate mindset” is a bit of a straw man. There are loads of smart, capable communicators inside every enterprise, but their obligations to both shareholders and stakeholders have to be considered, which is a constraint but not an impediment, if you get my distinction there. I think an external voice is valuable, but preferring one over the other is a false choice.

    • http://www.socialnerdia.com Esteban Contreras

      Disagree with Donny 100%.

  • http://www.postadvertising.com Jon Thomas

    There's no doubt that getting contributors in a Fortune 500 company for external social media uses is exhausting to say the least. Enterprise-level internal social sharing applications are popping up left and right, bringing an improved model of social sharing to corporations, introducing many employees to social media who still think tweeting is for the birds.

    I absolutely think that this is how F500 companies will aggregate and curate content moving forward. The social model is spreading and the necessity for content for both internal and external purposes is exploding. I do think the tools will be there in the near future to get this to work, so expect those numbers in the study to keep increasing.

  • Stephanie Schwab:Socialologist

    Oh, Tom, you're singing my tune here on content curation! With the exponentially increasing volume of content being created, whether long form or short, there is absolutely the need for people and tunes to sift through the content and bring out the gems – for customers or internal use. Great thoughts on how it could become a job of the future!

    • http://twitter.com/webby2001 Tom Webster

      I actually don't sing very well – most of my live performances are a heavy mix of lip-syncing and autotune.

  • http://www.spidertel.com Andy

    I'm left wondering if this kind of work duty is imagined as an entry-level creative position or something to be inserted into upper managerial. My biggest obstacle is trying to determine “the voice” of my company that's facing others. It's not an easy thing for the new guy to decide, IMO.

  • servantofchaos

    Yep – this is part of what I am doing already. Although it's not just curating the existing content, it's also about looking at conversational extensions to the quality internal content. This might mean curating a webinar series around emerging themes or filming video segment intros by respected internal specialists.

  • http://twitter.com/garious1 Garious

    I think there will be plenty of social media jobs, for sure – as businesses begin to appreciate its power in creating meaningful interactions with people ( or customers ). We'll definitely see more job openings for social media marketers, assistants and community managers. IMHO, businesses should not ignore their corporate blogs as this is something they have total control. Social networking sites can change their policies anytime or wipe out your content.

  • http://people.csail.mit.edu/pawand/ Pawan Deshpande

    Hi Tom,

    Great post and insights.

    In your article, you say:

    “The tools aren’t there yet, as they are largely focused on user-based analytics and search, and not necessarily on text processing and workflow. If they get there, however, we may indeed see the rise of the corporate content miner in the coming years.”

    However, the tools are here and corporate content miners are out there. Take a look at our product, Curata at http://www.getcurata.com/ and the users who play the role of content miners.

    -Pawan

  • http://www.puredriven.com Patrick Garmoe

    Nice post Tom, I certainly think this internal information will be curated and used once more F500 companies understand the value.

    At the end of the day though, I think companies will have to start creating small, internal “newsrooms” to do much of this work. The stories and content is readily available – it just takes a creative person (AKA reporter) to see those stories worth telling. That's a leap I think a lot of companies are struggling with right now.

  • http://www.eqentia.com William Mougayar

    Of course there is value in corporate curation of blogs/news/content. I'd love to see/hear about more examples of enterprises doing it. Our platform (http://www.eqentia.com) offers the platform that enables this, from end-to-end.
    Tom, would love to connect with you.

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