We analyzed the public social media profile of every Fortune 500 © CEO across the four major platforms: Linkedin, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. This report shows how Fortune 500 CEOs use social media in 2021.

Key statistics

Back in 2015, the social CEO report by Domo reported that just 39% of CEOs from Fortune 500 © companies were active on social media.

In 2021, that number has risen to 68%.

This huge 29% increase represents exactly 145 additional CEOs who have embraced at least one social media channel in the past six years.

How Fortune 500 CEOs use social media in 2021. 340 out of 500 executives are active - totalling 68%
How Fortune 500 CEOs use social media in 2021.

Eye-catching 2021 highlights include:

  • In 2021, there are currently 340 CEOs from the Fortune 500 active on social media.
  • This is up from 270 CEOs (just 54%) in 2019.
  • The 340 active CEOs have one preferred platform… Linkedin.
  • An impressive 319 CEOs from Fortune 500 companies are active on Linkedin, which is 94% of the overall total.
  • The second biggest platform for CEOs is Twitter.
  • 140 Fortune 500 CEOs use Twitter – less than half the number on Linkedin.
  • Just 20 CEOs have a Twitter presence, without also having a Linkedin presence (4%).
  • Only 19 Fortune 500 CEOs have an Instagram account (3.8%).

In this report, we’ll look at the key statistics and what they can tell us about the changing habits of a modern CEO.

The Social CEO: A decade of change

The past 10 years have seen almost a total flip in the numbers of Fortune 500 CEOs with public-facing social media channels.

Percentage of Fortune 500 CEOs on social media over the last 10 years: from 30% in 2012 to 2021
Percentage of Fortune 500 CEOs on Social Media: 2011-2021

In 2012 (numbers not available from 2011), the number of active CEOs was 150 (30%), with 350 (70%) totally absent on social.

Number of fortune 500 CEOs active on social media in 2012. (30%)

Today the number is almost the complete inverse.

The number of active CEOs is 340 (68%), with just 160 (32%) absent on social.

It’s taken almost a decade for these numbers to switch, but a significant amount of this change has taken place in the last two years.

CEOs: Finally embracing social media

The current crop of Fortune 500 CEOs have faced an unprecedented period in history.

These turbulent times have triggered a tidal wave of changes, which appears to have forced even reluctant CEOs onto social media.

In previous report summaries, we’ve discussed the general reluctance of CEOs to embrace social, since it’s a form of communication that requires more vulnerability, authenticity and less control than others.

In many ways, it’s understandable that CEOs have continued to prefer curated press releases, or corporate conferences.

However, the events of the last two years have made this stance virtually impossible.

As working arrangements have transformed overnight, CEOs have largely had to speak to their employees – and the outside world – more directly, and with more authenticity than ever before.

The 68% of CEOs on social in 2021 is up from:

It translates to 70 new Fortune 500 CEOs using social media in since the pre-pandemic world of 2019.

That’s the largest two-year gain, ever.

The events driving change

As well as the pandemic, which unquestionably changed the communication habits of CEOs, there has been another seismic event.

The George Floyd Black Lives Matter movement.

It became so big, and provoked such emotion that many CEOs felt compelled to address audiences through social channels in order to make fast, authentic statements.

It was such a big moment around the world that companies were being judged for their stance.

Words mattered more than ever.

As one example, here’s what Mark Zuckerberg said:

Mark Zuckerberg Criticises Facebook Staff For Defacing Black Lives Matter Slogans
Source: TechCrunch

Social CEOs: A five-year increase

The number of Fortune 500 CEOs using social media currently stands at 68%, up from 40% in 2016.

In real teams, this is an increase from 200 to 340.

That’s 140 new CEOs from a sample of just 500, over a 5 year period.

It’s no surprise that Linkedin outperforms other channels.

94% of Fortune 500 CEOs with at least one social channel have a public Linkedin profile.

The corporate, professional nature of the channel means that this is no surprise.

However, over the last 5 years, Twitter is the big winner.

It seems to be gaining more momentum as time goes by.

Twitter: A platform gaining in popularity

In 2016, there were just 36 (7.2%) Fortune 500 CEOs on Twitter. Today that number is 140 (28%) – an increase in real terms of 104.

Twitter was launched in 2006. By 2016, just 36 Fortune 500 CEOs were using the platform.

However, in the 5 years since then, over 100 CEOs have joined (104 to be exact).

This means that of the Fortune 500 CEOs on Twitter, nearly 75% (or 3/4) of them have started using it in the last 5 years.

Instagram: How is it perceived by CEOs?

Just 3.8% of CEOs are active on Instagram.

That’s 19 out of 500.

It seems like a tiny number, but it’s up from 10 just 5 years ago.

While the sample size is small, that’s still an 90% increase.

One of the reasons that it doesn’t seem to be growing as fast as other channels is because it’s visually based. While Linkedin and Twitter allow CEOs to stick to words, quotes and statements, Instagram encourages people to put their face out there.

Despite the growth of influencers on the platform, it seems like the biggest CEOs aren’t ready for that level of intimacy with their audiences just yet.

Fortune 500 CEOs on social media: A conclusion

The trend for CEOs on social is clear: it’s increasing fast.

If we look all the way back to 2012’s report – less than a decade ago – just 30% of Fortune CEOs were active on social. Now that number is 68%.

It’s almost a complete inverse of the standings just 9 years ago.

The biggest change has also taken place over the last two years, which suggests that the trend is gathering pace. There are multiple reasons for this:

  • The global pandemic
  • Black lives matter
  • Climate change and other key communication hotspots
  • Social media growth in general

The conclusion is simple: Fortune 500 CEOs are finally understanding that authentic, personal communication is the way forward in 2021.

Social media is the purest form of interacting with audiences without a filter, which the world is increasingly demanding.

Therefore, smart, strategic use of the biggest social platforms will continue to be a key tool for any successful CEO.

Key Resources:

Influential executives – How many CEOs on social in 2020

Fortune.com – Fortune 500 Rankings

Sprout Social – Brands get real

Domo – 2015 Social CEO report

Data taken from: Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, Instagram & YouTube.

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