Last year, many people claimed that social media was dead as a marketing medium. It’s true that some social networks had a tough 2018. Facebook’s number of monthly active users declined for the first time in June of last year, due to political scandals and privacy concerns. Twitter also shed 9 million users during the third quarter of 2018, as part of its efforts to deactivate fake accounts.
One thing that 2018 did make clear, however, was that companies need to diversify their social presence and have a well-thought-out social media strategy. Using data from Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn, we set out to discover which companies are driving the conversation on social media. We focused our report on social influence in the five fastest-growing industries.
Broken down by industry, here are our rankings of the most influential companies across social media:
- Transportation: Uber, Tesla, FedEx, UPS, DHL, and Lyft
- Health: J&J, Anthem, UnitedHealth Group, Kaiser Permanente, 23andMe, and Amazon
- Mining: 3M, ExxonMobil, Barrick Gold, BHP, Rio Tinto, and The Boring Company
- Food service and accommodation: McDonald’s, Starbucks, Subway, Domino’s Pizza, Airbnb, and Hilton
- Utilities: Engie, Duke Energy, PG&E, National Grid, Southern Company, and Zero Mass Water
These are some of our most interesting findings:
- The companies that perform best on social are older companies that have been around for a decade or longer, not new startups.
- The most common types of social media posts include features on employees and customers, job postings, and industry-related comments.
- Although most of the companies on our list are American, social media factors prominently for international companies in the mining and utilities sectors.
- Mergers, acquisitions, and joint ventures are common among these social media influencers, even across industry lines.
These rankings are important for current and future business owners, social media watchers, and marketers interested in gaining inspiration for their social media marketing strategy.
Read on to see the complete results of our analysis and to learn more about each of the 30 most influential companies in the fastest-growing industries.
The 30 Most Influential Companies on Social Media
2020 is slated to be a big year for business. Several prominent startups, including ride-sharing companies Uber and Lyft and room rental service Airbnb, are planning initial public offerings (IPOs) this year. The key to success for many of these highly valued companies is a strong social media strategy. Done right, social media can increase your company’s brand awareness, bring in new customers, and retain existing customers.
Here are the 30 most influential companies on social media, segmented by the five fastest-growing industries.
1. Transportation, Logistics, and Warehousing
Just 15 years ago, the transportation landscape looked very different from what it is today. There were no ride-hailing companies. Autonomous cars hadn’t yet entered the popular lexicon. And Tesla still hadn’t sold its first electric car. Fast forward to today, and self-driving cars are already on public roadways. There are often dozens of ride-hailing companies operating in the same city. And new types of mobility, like dockless scooters, are becoming increasingly popular.
Transportation ultimately touches on bigger issues, such as population movement, economic inequality, and climate change. The social media standouts in this category are newer transportation companies, like Uber and Tesla, and older logistics companies, like FedEx and UPS.
Here are the most influential companies on social media in transportation:
It’s no surprise to see Uber at the top this list. The ride-sharing giant is the most highly valued private company in the U.S. and has filed for an IPO during the second half of 2019. Due to increased spending on marginal businesses (e.g. food delivery) and expansion into new markets, Uber posted a loss of $1.07 billion in the third quarter of last year. But that hasn’t stopped the company’s ambitious plans. In addition to the IPO, Uber is also investing in autonomous bikes and scooters.
Uber primarily uses social media as a customer acquisition and retention channel, with posts about limited time deals and promotions. Uber reps also spend significant time building their brand image and responding directly to customer queries on social. The company’s Facebook following dwarfs its presence on other social media platforms. Twenty-one million of the company’s 24 million followers come from Facebook.
The social media following for electric car company Tesla is tied in large part to the popularity of the company’s CEO and founder Elon Musk. Musk often posts about the company from his own personal account, and there’s big overlap between his own followers and Tesla’s followers. Although other companies use social media to post about corporate news or new products and services, Tesla’s social media pages focus on the company’s future potential and progress toward milestones.
Tesla’s social strategy seems to be the reverse of Uber. Tesla only has 21,000 Facebook followers, but millions of followers on Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Their strategy seems to be working. Even though Tesla has only been around for 16 years, they beat out much older car companies—like Ford, GM, and Toyota—in terms of social engagement.
Federal Express (FedEx)
Shipping company FedEx was born in 1971 as an alternative to the U.S. postal service. Companies wanted faster delivery, which FedEx offered with overnight service. Today, FedEx has the biggest fleet of airplanes for shipment. The success of FedEx is closely aligned with ecommerce giant Amazon. FedEx and UPS are Amazon’s biggest delivery partners. As Amazon builds out its own delivery service to meet demand, FedEx might be outcompeted by its biggest partner. However, FedEx executives say they are not threatened by Amazon.
FedEx has been active on social media since 2009, and they have more than 3.2 million followers. The shipping company tends to post about charitable events and other events that they sponsor.
As with FedEx, some think UPS’s future prospects are in danger with Amazon building out its own delivery service to meet demand. But UPS’s revenue is up, independent of their partnership with Amazon. Plus, the company is investing heavily in automating more of the delivery business. UPS recently completed a successful residential package delivery via drone, and plans to do more drone tests in the future.
UPS uses social media to nerd out on logistics, but they also highlight their drivers and other employees, a good move for an industry that can sometimes feel impersonal. UPS has more than 1.8 million Facebook followers and smaller but sizable followings on other platforms.
DHL is a division of German logistics company Deutsche Post, and handles parcel, ocean, air, and rail freight in over 220 countries. On social media and other marketing channels, the company balances an emphasis on speed, technology, and efficiency on the one hand, and more sentimental messaging on the other. For DHL, this might be the formula for success as the company make inroads in Turkey, India, and other growing markets.
There are nearly 1.6 million social followers for DHL, but they’re most active with their 851,000 LinkedIn followers.
Honorable Mention: Lyft
Usually, mention of Lyft inevitably draws comparison to their bigger competitor, Uber. However, they’ve always defined their brand very differently and used a distinct social media marketing strategy. While Uber has always put on a more corporate, professional face, Lyft has friendlier social media messaging. Last year, the company celebrated its one billionth ride with the slogan “One billion rides. One billion connections” blanketed all over social media. They have almost 1.2 million social followers.
Health as an industry has transformed over the last decade. By 2050, 17% of the global population will be age 65 or older, double today’s percentage. However, although the portion of the population that is older is increasing, average life expectancy is in decline. People are looking to health and medical technology companies to sustain longer, healthier lives. Companies in this space are working on bettering health outcomes, decreasing medical errors, and improving patient safety. With more people turning to the web for health advice, this is an area where social media use can make a real difference in someone’s life.
Here are the most influential companies on social media in healthcare:
Johnson & Johnson
Johnson & Johnson (J&J) is one of the oldest companies to make this list. Founded in 1886, the company has long been at the forefront of the health, consumer goods, pharmacy, and medical device industries. The company’s stock suffered a bad 2018 after reports that their baby powder contained asbestos, but the company is looking ahead to a productive 2020.
J&J has maintained their influence across social media by pairing up with other influencers on cutting edge health trends. For example, J&J just announced a partnership with Apple to detect early signs of heart disorders with the Apple Watch. J&J has also invested money in Verb Surgical, a robotic surgery startup that plans to have a product on the market by 2020. On social media, J&J has more than 3.2 million followers, roughly 2.2 million of whom are health professionals and other professionals on LinkedIn.
Anthem is a health insurance provider that holds the subsidiaries Blue Cross and Blue Shield. One in eight Americans is a member of an Anthem-affiliated health insurance plan, and 93% of physicians throughout the U.S. accept Anthem health insurance. Anthem is among a growing crop of insurers that are aiming to keep baby boomers healthier in old age. For example, Anthem-owned CareMore Health recently partnered with Lyft to provide free rides for seniors who need help to get to a healthcare provider.
Anthem is 788,000 followers strong on Facebook and has a sizable Twitter and LinkedIn following. However, they don’t have an Instagram page, which is a missed opportunity. Anthem’s social messaging promotes prevention and a healthy lifestyle.
The third company to make our list is UnitedHealth Group. UnitedHealthcare, part of UnitedHealth Group (UHG), is the largest single health insurance carrier in America, larger than both Anthem and Kaiser Permanente. They provide health benefits and services in all 50 states and 130 other countries. UHG’s revenue in 2017 was $201 billion, more than double that of Anthem.
UHG has over 810,000 social media followers and is active on all four social media networks. Their largest presence is on LinkedIn and smallest presence is on Instagram. That said, UHG is more active on Instagram that some insurers, such as Anthem, that don’t have a corporate Instagram page. UHG uses social media primarily to spread awareness of health news and to promote UnitedHealth job opportunities, events, and partnerships with other firms.
Kaiser Permanente is another large health insurance company, based in California. They have 11.8 million members and 22,000 physicians and are growing fast. In 2017, they gained 1.1 more members than the previous year. Compared to other health insurance companies, they typically charge lower premiums. Kaiser insurance is currently only available in eight states and Washington, D.C., which makes their large social reach even more impressive. As Kaiser expands to other states, we can expect their social influence to increase.
The insurer has over 800,000 social followers, with more than half of coming from LinkedIn.
23andMe is a genomics and biotechnology startup, best known for their at-home DNA testing kits. Their kits can determine your ancestry, your predisposition for certain health conditions, and other traits, such as what time you’re likely to wake up in the morning. Although the company launched in 2007, their product became more affordable and mainstream only over the last five years.
With more than $490 million of venture capital funding, the company went from being a relatively unknown biotech company to a social media and marketing star. Some privacy concerns have been raised about private genealogy companies having access to people’s DNA, but that hasn’t stopped 23andMe from forging ahead. They now have a drug discovery unit and research arm, and the Food and Drug Administration has approved more than 10 of their tests.
23andMe has over 660,000 social media followers, beating out several larger companies. On social, they often post stories of customers who have traced their ancestry or found family members after using the kits.
Honorable Mention: Amazon
We only granted a top five ranking to companies whose primary business focus is health, but Amazon earns an honorable mention for social influence in the health industry. The ecommerce company is making a big foray into health. Amazon already sells medical equipment to hospitals and health providers, and has plans to bring their voice technology to hospitals and the home. They are also partnering with medical records companies to more efficiently use clinical data to help patients.
With over 40 million followers, Amazon has a social media base that dwarfs the other companies in this category. Amazon has previously used social to promote their entry into healthcare, and it’s likely the tech giant will have a big influence on the industry going forward.
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In this category, we cover influential companies that fund, build, and operate mineral mines around the world. Mining is the fastest-growing industry in the world, according to IBISWorld research, with revenue slated to grow 8.1% by 2023. Leading companies in this space balance the need for fossil fuels and minerals against the environmental risks of extraction and refinery. This is one of the most internationally diverse categories, with influential companies from multiple nations.
Here are the most influential companies on social media in mining:
You might best know 3M for their packaged consumer products, but they are also deeply involved in the mining industry. In fact, the company got their start in 1902 as a small-scale mining operation (one of the “Ms” in their name references those beginnings). 3M makes additives to simplify mining extraction, reflective materials to improve worker safety in mines, and oil refining technologies to improve drilling efficiency.
On social media, 3M posts about many of their products and the industries they support. They spend a good deal of time on products that are designed to reduce energy consumption. 3M has over 7 million followers across their main social media accounts.
ExxonMobil is an international oil and gas company that produces 3% of the world’s oil and 2% of the world’s energy. They sell products designed to maintain mining equipment and support mining operations at every stage of the drilling and extraction process. ExxonMobil also has a division called Mobil Serv, where engineers work side by side with mining companies to keep their equipment well maintained and to minimize repairs. In addition to these products, Exxon also holds mining assets.
ExxonMobil’s social media posts mainly feature employees and announce events. They have 4.8 million social media followers. Their Instagram followers in particular are very engaged—9,300 of their 27,000 Instagram followers engaged with a recent post.
The goal of Toronto-based Barrick Gold is to be the most highly valued gold mining company in the world. The company recently acquired African mining company Randgold. The merged company will focus on Tier 1 gold mines—those which produce at least 500,000 ounces of gold annually. 2020 will be a good year for Barrick Gold, as the value of gold is expected to rise. If the economy contracts slightly as forecast, people will look to invest in more stable assets such as gold.
Of Barrick Gold’s 538,000 social media followers, 304,000 come from LinkedIn. A mix of people from the mining, logistics, supply chain, and finance industries follow Barrick Gold on LinkedIn.
BHP is the world’s largest publicly listed mining company and one of the world’s largest producers of copper, aluminum, manganese, iron ore, uranium, and other minerals. BHP also has petroleum and coal assets. The company has over 60,000 employees, mainly in Australia and the Americas. The company recently divested a large part of their shale holdings in the U.S., selling the rights to oil and gas company BP.
Compared to Barrick Gold, BHP actually has fewer social media followers—coming in around 493,000. But BHP gets more engagement on social media. Three hundred and thirty-eight of its 36,000 Facebook followers engaged with a recent post. Most of their posts feature specific employees or their commitment to social responsibility and fighting climate change.
The oldest company on our list is Rio Tinto. The London-based mineral and metal mining company started in 1873. They had a very profitable 2018, and things are looking promising in 2020. Three years ago, the company was $14 billion in debt, but due to rising demand for mined resources, the company is now not only debt free but has $10 billion of cash in the bank.
Rio Tinto has more than 478,000 social media followers, and 663 people engaged with a recent LinkedIn post, the highest engagement on LinkedIn in the mining category.
Honorable Mention: The Boring Company
The Boring Company, an infrastructure and tunnel construction company run by Elon Musk, deserves an honorable mention in this category. Although the company doesn’t mine for metals or minerals, the company’s mission could have a big impact on the mining industry in terms of cost reduction. Musk has already provided ideas on how tunneling technology can speed up drilling and extraction and thereby lower costs. The Boring Company already has a tunnel in Hawthorne, California, which is being used to test transport technologies. Additional projects are underway in Los Angeles, Chicago, and Washington, D.C.
Although The Boring Company was founded in 2016, they already have 275,000 social media followers, including 258,000 on Twitter. Since they are closely working with different state governments on tunneling permits, most posts provide updates on regulatory progress or interviews from Musk.
need you to give pineapple on pizza a chance.
— Domino’s Pizza (@dominos) January 21, 2019
4. Food Service and Accommodation
The food service and accommodation industry has experienced steady growth over the last several years, except for a jolt after the 2008 economic crash when people limited outside dining and leisure options. The industry has bounced back and is expected to grow at a steady pace over the next decade. Technology is changing what we eat, the way we eat, and who serves us. And accommodation companies have to deal with more competition between each other and with marketplaces like Airbnb.
Here are the most influential companies on social media in food service and accommodation:
If we had to choose the single most influential company on social media, it would be McDonald’s. They have 86 million followers across Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn, more than Amazon and Apple combined. The fast food chain has lost half a billion customers to rivals in the last several years, but they’re using social to shore up their brand and make other changes that customers have asked for.
McDonald’s engages in good social listening. They resolve customer service complaints, answer questions about franchising, and even develop new menu items based on social posts. Partly in response to discussions on social, McDonald’s is rolling out mobile ordering, mobile pay, and curbside pickup across all locations. The changes might put McDonald’s back on top of the fast food game.
Starbucks is another social media giant. They have 67 million social media followers, nearly as many as Amazon and Apple combined. The company started in Seattle in 1971, and now has more than 29,000 locations worldwide. Starbucks’ main objective going forward is to differentiate itself from other coffee brands and strike a balance between value and luxury. The company recently opened a coffee roastery in New York City and three other locations to give customers a more upscale coffee drinking experience.
Starbucks has been very effective in building momentum around their drinks on social media. They often post staff favorite drinks, customer favorites, and relatable gifs and memes. Starbucks also uses influencers to build excitement around their most popular products, like the pumpkin spice latte.
In terms of retail footprint, Subway is bigger than Starbucks and McDonald’s. With over 40,000 locations worldwide, it’s the biggest fast food chain. Much of Subway’s prominence has to do with their social strategy. They are one of the few fast food restaurants that deliver healthy menu items, fresh ingredients, and customization, and they emphasize all of these attributes on social media. Subway also had success with their #SubYAY Instagram campaign on Instagram, where they appealed to millennials and Generation Z around their love of music and improved customer perceptions of Subway.
Subway has 28 million followers, 24 million of which come through Facebook. The company recently hired a new marketing agency, so we might soon see changes in their social media strategy.
As America’s largest pizza chain, Domino’s is now the king of pizza. It wasn’t always this way. In fact, for many years, Domino’s was the underdog to Pizza Hut. Domino’s surpassed Pizza Hut by developing an effective digital marketing strategy and by giving customers new ways to order a pizza, including through social.
For example, did you know you can order a Domino’s pizza through Facebook messenger or with a hashtag and emoji on Twitter? These options caused Domino’s digital sales to skyrocket and increased engagement. In our analysis, one of Domino’s Facebook posts received 4,979 likes, shares, and comments—the second-highest level of Facebook engagement in this category after Starbucks.
After Uber, Airbnb is the most valuable private company on this list. Worth $31 billion, the online rental company has gone through some important changes since launching in 2008. One of the biggest changes is that the majority of Airbnb hosts now put entire apartments and houses up for rent, going beyond the company’s initial start with room-sharing. The company also recently released new booking options for business travel. All these changes are designed to ensure that Airbnb stays at the forefront of tourism and accommodation, especially as the company heads toward a possible IPO this year.
Airbnb has 15 million Facebook followers and 3.7 Instagram followers. Not surprisingly, most of their social media posts showcase unique hosts and booking options. They also use social to promote some of their newer services, such as Airbnb for business travel.
Honorable Mention: Hilton
We give the honorable mention to Hilton in this category. Although the hotel brand doesn’t have as many social media followers as some other hotels, they’ve done the best job of carving out a social media niche on social and standing out from Airbnb. According to Christopher Nassetta, president and CEO of Hilton, “We do compete at some level, but we’re trying to be the premium proposition. Airbnb is a good business, but it’s a value proposition.”
This brand positioning is reflected on Hilton’s social media accounts, where they post about luxury stays and beach destinations. Hilton has more than 3 million social media followers.
Utility companies are those involved in the provision of electricity, water, gas, and other energy sources. Until recently, the utilities industry hasn’t received much buzz on social. People tend to think of this industry as necessary, but ultimately not very interesting. Plus, utilities are highly regulated by the government, not leaving much room for innovation. That’s changing with the rise of technologies like blockchain. Utilities are likely to become much more technology-driven, privatized, and communal resources. And with that comes more interest on social.
From a social perspective, utilities are interesting because most companies in this space have a local following in the areas in which they provide services.
Here are the most influential companies on social media in utilities:
Engie is a French electric and natural gas utility company. They employ over 150,000 people and have been operating for more than 10 years. The company performed strongly across social media platforms, with more than 969,000 followers, 615,000 on Facebook alone.
Engie is a key player across Europe, but they also have industrial and commercial customers in the U.S. Engie has placed big bets on renewable solar and wind energy. For example, they recently secured $320 million for a wind turbines project in Texas.
An electricity and gas distribution company based in Charlotte, North Carolina, Duke Energy is one the largest utility companies in the country. They deliver electricity to over 7.4 million U.S. households and businesses in the South. The company has faced some criticism recently due to price hikes, but they support environmental efforts and renewable energy investment to bring down costs long term. For instance, Duke Energy gave grants to customers who installed solar panels. And they have a $10 million commitment to protecting waterways in North Carolina and neighboring states.
Most of Duke Energy’s social media posts center around their renewable energy efforts and how they’re helping their local community. The company has 110,000 Twitter followers and 34,900 lifetime tweets, the highest in the utilities category.
Pacific Gas and Electric
Anyone who has lived in or started a business in California will likely know utilities company Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E). PG&E provides electricity and gas to over 16 million residential and business customers, making this the largest utility company in the U.S. The company has been hit hard after being linked to a series of California wildfires. Billions of dollars of claims related to the wildfires led the company to file for bankruptcy in January. This isn’t the first time the company has declared bankruptcy, and power should remain uninterrupted for customers.
The company gets a mix of positive and negative engagement on social media. PG&E has more than 350,000 social media followers, and a recent Instagram post with 492 likes and comments was the highest in this category.
London-based National Grid provides customers in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and New York with electricity and natural gas. Through the investment arm National Grid Partners, the company is investing $250 million over three years in renewable energy companies, with the aim of “disrupting ourselves before we’re disrupted.” Their investment portfolio includes five cleantech upstarts involved in weather forecasting, energy trading, and solar energy.
National Grid has more than 163,000 Facebook followers and 24,000 tweets on Twitter. Their social media is mostly full of safety and outage announcements for their customers.
Southern Company, the second-largest utility company in the U.S., is headquartered in Atlanta. Lately, Southern Company has been under financial pressure as they’re midway through the construction of two new nuclear reactors in Georgia, projected to go over budget. When finished, these will be the first nuclear reactors to be built in the U.S. since the 1970s. Along with nuclear power, Southern Company is committing to use minimal or no carbon by 2050.
The utility company uses social media to promote partnerships, local events, and their commitment to clean energy. They have 222,000 social media followers.
Honorable Mention: Zero Mass Water
We decided to give this company the honorable mention. Even though the company launched in just 2015, they’re already having a big impact on renewable energy and the loyal following they’ve built on social. Customers can create their drinkable water, which is manufactured from hydropanels called Source that make water using sunlight and air. The company has an ambitious plan to make affordable, high quality drinking water available to everyone on the planet.
On social media, they have nearly 40,000 followers and will likely get more buzz as their product becomes more affordable. Right now, the standard two-panel Source array costs $4,000 plus $500 for installation.
Our Methodology: How We Ranked the Most Influential Companies Across Social Media
To put our rankings together, we started by confining our analysis to the five fastest-growing industries. Market research firm IBISWorld ranks these as the top five industries in terms of forecasted revenue growth through 2023:
- Mining: 8.10% forecast revenue growth
- Utilities: 2.90% forecast revenue growth
- Food services and accommodation: 2.40% forecast revenue growth
- Health and social assistance: 2.30% forecast revenue growth
- Transportation and warehousing: 2.20% forecast revenue growth
Once we had our five industries, we pulled data on the big players and up and coming startups in each industry. We used data from Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn, four of the most popular social media platforms. Only for-profit organizations made our list—so no government institutions, or individual influencers, for example.
Specifically, we looked at the following data:
- Each company’s number of followers on each platform
- Number of total tweets and Instagram posts for each company
- Engagement (defined as reactions + comments + shares) on each company’s most recent post* on each platform. These include both positive and negative reactions since we want a complete window into engagement, but the post must have been up for at least a full 24 hours to give people enough time to engage.
*No reposts or pinned posts (the post had to come direct from the company). Companies were docked in scoring if they didn’t have a post within the last three months. Where a company had multiple social media accounts on the same platform, we used the account with the largest number of followers.
This data lets us see each company’s overall social media standing, as well as the reach of their recent posts. Both are important. For example, healthcare supply firm McKesson has over 229,000 followers on LinkedIn. However, their most recent post on the day we checked (Jan. 9 or 10 in this case) only accrued 13 metrics of engagement. In comparison, biotech startup 23andMe has only 29,000 followers, but their recent post has 57 instances of engagement.
After pulling the data for each company, we allotted each social network almost equivalent weight in coming up with our rankings. Instagram and Twitter got slightly higher weighting because they readily show a company’s number of lifetime posts.
These Companies Are Shaping Your Social Media Feed (and Everyone Else’s)
It’s no doubt that 2018 was a tumultuous year for social media. Privacy issues and concern over fake news led Facebook and Twitter to shed users. But at the same time, Instagram and LinkedIn have been growing. 2020 brings renewed opportunities for companies looking to connect with customers on social.
The 30 companies above provide excellent examples of how your company can gain a footing in social media and influence and inspire your audience.
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