It's interesting to see how the Fortune 500 use social media to market their products. Social media is the current obsession of millions of people worldwide who use it to find new and compelling content, share this with others, stay in touch with their friends and contacts and engage them in constant conversation.
Entrepreneurs and SMBs have also begun realizing significant returns on their social media investments as they use it to find new markets and sustain their relationships with existing ones. But big businesses have barely established its beach-head on the shores of social media.
Typical of large business organizations that need room to maneuver, Fortune 500 companies have been slow to cash in on the social media obsession. The sluggishness continues to date, although there have been recent initiatives by big business to venture into social media.
Walmart, the number one company in the Fortune 500 for two years in a row now, bought Kosmix, a social media company whose technology provides comprehensive Web guides that power such sites as TweetBeat and RightHealth.
The acquisition now forms the core of a new business called Walmart Labs, which aims to roll out technologies and businesses around social and mobile commerce. Walmart has also strengthened its presence on Facebook, creating many local Pages to engage local customers in compelling conversation.
They established strict guidelines to weed out spammers and junk providers, taking ownership of their LinkedIn group and building up its membership base. The result is 55,000 followers and 12,000 group members.
General Electric, another company at the top rungs of the Fortune 500, launched MarkNet with the help of an online community provider called Passenger. The site consists of groups that focus on specific topics. GE marketers can collaborate with each other within these groups, allowing them to post their ideas on specific issues, share documents, and exchange opportunities.
The system works like an internal version of Twitter and in four months its user base grew to 3,200 members -- 64 percent of the company's 5,000 marketers worldwide. MarkNet has helped GE strengthen its B2B position, leveraging the company's wealth of knowledge and experience and allowing these to diffuse across the entire enterprise.
Despite these successful examples, full adoption by Fortune 500 companies continues to lag behind other business sectors. A study by the Center for Marketing Research of the Charlton College of Business at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth shows, in fact, that the adoption of social media by America's large companies has slowed down and leveled off.
One reason cited by the authors of the study, besides the fact that large businesses are slow to adjust to changes in their markets and in the general business environment, is that these large enterprises commonly sell to other businesses, while social media deals primarily with individual retail consumers.
Unless new applications roll out that make it possible to integrate B2B scenarios within social networking tools, social media may continue to have scaling issues with the Fortune 500.