Social Media Leaders and Laggards: Healthcare, Retail Sprint Past Financial Services, Energy

It may be early on in the race to Social Media marketing success, but there are already some notable leaders and laggards emerging.  Which industries are the ambling tortoises, and which are the speedy hares?

In this post, we will review the findings of a recent report from intelligence provider Social Media Influence (SMI), and share our own analysis to help you handicap this race to success.

In their June report entitled “The State of Social Media Jobs 2010,” SMI surveyed the marketing departments of all Fortune 100 companies, to find out whether they have in-house social media resources, outsource their social media campaigns, or have little to no investment in social media marketing.

The graph below shows the results of their survey.  The blue line represents the total number of companies in that industry, while the red line represents those companies in that industry that SMI deems “social media-savvy” (i.e. they devote significant in-house resources to social media marketing efforts).  As you can see, the leaders of the group include Tech/Consumer Electronics, Healthcare, Retail and Automotive.  On the flip side, the laggards are Petroleum/Energy, Financial Services/Insurance and Utilities.  (Click to enlarge image.)

Based on my experience as a business school student and a professional focusing on the field of social media marketing, this list of early and late adopters conforms to what I expected to see.  Yet I did some digging of my own, both to test this conclusion and to single out companies that typify/contradict this survey data.


With all of the coverage detailing how social media is impacting fashion, dining and entertainment, I was not surprised to see retail high on the list of the converted.  Tech/consumer electronics is also an expected leader, given the increasing importance of social features to their gadget-loving consumers.

Yet it was healthcare’s spot on the list that was the biggest surprise for me.  Health-focused social communities like Inspire and PatientsLikeMe have been steadily growing in the last few years, and have been garnering press and academic inquiry along the way.  But who are the social media exemplars from the healthcare industry?

To find out, I surveyed the numerous, renowned hospitals in my hometown of Boston to track and evaluate their social media presence.  I found 14 Boston hospitals with active Facebook pages – and that’s just in the city itself.  These 14 hospitals together attract a total of 168,398 fans as of July 13th.

Particularly striking is Children’s Hospital Boston, a world-renowned hospital whose Facebook page attracts over 150,000 fans.  Their Facebook page features numerous freely-given testimonials from patients and parents, hospital news and awards announcements, links to children’s health articles and videos, and even Spanish-language posts. The hospital, which also has a presence on Twitter and YouTube, is fully embracing social media as an important mode of communication with its patients, their parents, the Boston community and the medical community at large.


The SMI report shows that the financial services industry is one of the clear laggards in the social media race, again an unsurprising finding based on my experience.  The name of the game here is regulation.  In the wake of industry upheaval and some headline grabbing scandals, the industry is understandably reluctant to make a big leap into this ever-changing new marketing environment.

In January 2010, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) released guidelines for the use of blogs and social media by financial firms, at the request of the firms.  The 10-page guidelines include rules regarding record keeping, suitability, supervision, training and third-party posts.  (For a summary of the guidelines, listen to this 10-minute podcast from FINRA.)

Tracking the social media forays of financial services firms in light of these new guidelines will be key in 2010.  Based on a brief survey, I found the large players in the industry have begun to engage with social media.  Fidelity Investments and Vanguard both have sizable Facebook followings (over 3,000 fans and over 9,000 fans, respectively).  Unsurprisingly, both pages also feature lengthy disclaimers and detailed posting guidelines.

In contrast to this industry’s slow move into social media, one big player in another social media laggard industry – petroleum/energy – was thrust into the media this year in a very public way.  I am talking of course about BP.

Search Facebook for pages with “BP” in the title, and you get more than 500 results, with names like “Boycott BP,” “I HATE BP,” “Make BP responsible for the Gulf Coast oil spill” and more, some with language we won’t publish here.  In other words, outraged people have inundated social media with protests, boycotts, and other harsh words for the oil company.  There was even a very public battle with a parody Twitter account BPGlobalPR, which is still active and has attracted over 180,000 followers.

In response, BP has created their own Facebook page to “engage the public in an informative conversation and dialogue about [BP’s] efforts associated with the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.”  This site, which also links to an official blog, Twitter, YouTube and Flickr accounts, provides updates on the spill and the cleanup on an hourly basis.  The site is full of interactive, detailed information, but its number of followers pales in comparison to the hundreds of thousands of followers on the anti-BP sites.  Whether BP’s social media efforts will continue in the future is unknown; what is known is that they had to quickly catch up in order to join the social media conversation.

Will BP’s lesson affect its industry’s social media reluctance?  Will the new FINRA guidelines and industry leaders spur more social media interest on the part of the financial services industry?  Will healthcare continue to be a social media innovator?  Whatever the outcome, 2010 will no doubt bring more new developments in the race to achieve success in the ever-changing field of social media marketing.

Now we want to hear from you.  Do you agree with this list?  Do you know of any companies that support or contradict these findings?  Share your thoughts in the comments below, or via Facebook and Twitter.

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