In 2013, Google Glass was the buzz of Silicon Valley, enterprise tech was hot again, and the Facebook IPO put Jim Breyer of Accel Partners at the top of the coveted Forbes Midas List, an annual ranking of the top 100 venture capitalists. In the three years since – a decade in the fast-paced world of tech – Twitter and Alibaba went public, unicorn entered the tech lexicon, and billion dollar private valuations put 15 new names on the 2015 Midas List.
To better understand how to reach this elite group of investors, we revisited our 2013 study on the social media habits of the Midas List. For a group that hears daily about new technologies in their earliest phases, many VCs are surprisingly absent from the social platforms that defined the most recent wave of successful tech companies, notably Twitter. And while the makeup of the Midas List has changed, their social networks are surprisingly consistent.
LinkedIn Still Leads, Just Not in News
Top VCs are expanding their use of LinkedIn: 95 percent of the 2015 Midas List is on the social network, up from 89 percent in 2013. Of that group, 73 percent have 500 or more followers, an increase of 18 percent.
Beyond their individual connections, VCs are building a following on LinkedIn. When we first conducted this study in 2013, the LinkedIn Influencer program only allowed members to follow designated influencers; there were just six influencers among the Midas List that year. LinkedIn has since opened up this feature to allow members to follow anyone on LinkedIn. As a result, VCs are attracting substantial followings.
Unlike Twitter, LinkedIn differentiates between connections and companies, making it the ideal place for VCs to track startups or even their own firms (something they don’t do much on Twitter). In 2015, VCs followed an average of nine companies on LinkedIn, up from six in 2013.
When it comes to news media, LinkedIn isn’t gaining traction among VCs. Three years ago LinkedIn already trailed as a newsfeed with VCs subscribing to a median of just two newsfeeds. In 2015, that number dropped to zero.
Media Have the Ears of (Some) VCs on Twitter
On Twitter, the top VCs are still surprisingly absent. In 2013 just 64 of the Midas List VCs had a presence on Twitter (though of that group, three had never Tweeted). In the three years since, Twitter’s active monthly users grew 48 percent to 302 million; but the number of members of the Midas List on Twitter only grew 13 percent to 72. This year, of the VCs with a Twitter profile, seven have not Tweeted in 2015, have just Tweeted once, or have never posted a Tweet.
While VCs aren’t flocking to Twitter, those who are there get attention. In 2015, Midas List VCs on Twitter attracted a median of 4,434 followers, a 29 percent increase from 2013.
What’s more, VCs significantly expanded the number of people they follow on the platform.
It is this group of people who have the ear of the world’s top VCs on Twitter that offer an interesting window into the exclusive venture capital ecosystem.
Twitter VC Ecosystem: Larger, but Unchanged
Using Zeno’s proprietary tool, we analyzed the influencers who make up this ecosystem. Defined as users who are followed by 10 or more Midas List VCs, we segmented this group based on their role within the technology and investment landscape. In three years, when the members of the Midas List changed, the percentage of the group on Twitter expanded and the number of users they followed more than doubled; The ecosystem was nearly unchanged.
The above chart was almost identical to our first analysis in 2013 and again in 2014. Aside from an increase of four percent of technology executives (non-CEO’s), no other segment changed by more than 1 percent.
If you zero in on the top 100 among this group – those followed by the most Midas List VCs – and remove fellow VCs, investors and firms, the influence of media becomes increasingly apparent:
Together, journalists and media outlets represent 37 percent of this top group.
Big Names in Media Dominate
It’s no surprise that top business and tech journalists have strong ties to VCs, but the degree of their influence is noteworthy. The biggest change in the rankings of media brands was caused by Re/code’s split from The Wall Street Journal in 2014; aside from that, there was little movement among top outlets.
Similarly, the biggest names in tech journalism are holding their lead with top VCs. On the rise are Emily Chang, host of Bloomberg West (#9 this year, up from #12 in 2013), and Leena Rao, who recently returned to journalism at Fortune after a stint at Google Ventures (also at #9 this year, up from #15 in 2013).
Gender Diversity a Problem Beyond Sand Hill Road
The gender discrimination trial between Ellen Pao and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers earlier this year put a spotlight on the role of women in the world of venture capital. The 2015 Midas List reinforced the under-representation in the field when just five women made the list of top 100 VCs. Our analysis of the influencer ecosystem on Twitter shows that VCs extended network is just slightly more diverse.
However, women over-index among the media influencers who cover technology and reported every detail of the trial: half of the top 10 journalists followed by Midas List VCs in 2015 are women.
What All This Means
For startups and entrepreneurs trying to break into the network of elite investors, this analysis offers helpful insights to guide social and media relations strategies:
- Don’t overlook LinkedIn: Many social media programs start with Facebook and end with Twitter. LinkedIn is a valuable network for building professional relationships. Entrepreneurs and executives should have a LinkedIn presence, and companies can use it as a platform to share milestones. It’s helpful to give employees draft language for the company’s description and mission, and it’s also important to offer guidelines on what kind of information should be excluded from profiles.
- Entrepreneurs must participate: A common theme among VCs is that they invest in people, not ideas. On Twitter, VCs tend to follow CEOs and entrepreneurs, not startups. Some executives are reluctant to join Twitter because they don’t know what to say, how to build a following, and don’t have time. Don’t Tweet on their behalf. Instead, put a few systems in place to suggest posts, respond to live conversations, and quickly follow others to build their own following. Conferences offer great opportunities for executives to participate in real-time conversations and increase their network.
- Big business and tech brands have outsized influence: You likely already have goals of telling your story to the New York Times, Re/code and The Wall Street Journal. This analysis underscores the importance of top tech and business media. When we first conducted this study in 2013, we also surveyed VCs directly about media. We learned that more than three-quarters of VCs contacted a company after reading about it in the news, and 30 percent invested in a startup they discovered through a news story. Trade media still count – particularly with customers and partners – but when it comes to getting funding, the biggest media brands hold the keys. How do you get their attention? We can share a few ideas.
About the Study
Zeno Group examined the social media presence and engagement of the 2015, 2014 and 2013 Forbes Midas List on Twitter and LinkedIn. We created a proprietary tool to collect and analyze the Twitter users that are followed by the Forbes Midas List VCs. Data was collected from 2013 through 2015; two Midas List members have private Twitter accounts, so were excluded from this analysis. Kriselle Laran and Katie Wood Znameroski led the research with assistance from Mayra Marcotte.
What about Facebook? Facebook recently introduced changes to drive greater business and media adoption of the platform. With Instant Articles, a WhatsApp integration and improved search functionality, it’s clear that Facebook hopes to become a destination for business. However, while media consumption by VCs may happen on Facebook, algorithms and privacy options make it harder to measure the influence that media or other entities may have. It was not practical to include Facebook in the study due to these constraints.
About Zeno Group
Believers in the fearless pursuit of the unexpected, the award-winning Zeno Group operates as one firm across 24 global offices, including Silicon Valley, New York, Chicago, Santa Monica, Dallas, Toronto, London, Beijing, Delhi, Jakarta and Singapore. Zeno is the unprecedented 2011, 2012 and 2013 winner of the PR Week U.S. Mid-Size Agency of the Year, Holmes Report US Creative Agency of the Year and 2013 Holmes Report Consumer Agency of the Year. The firm’s practice areas include technology, consumer, health, and corporate, all supported by planning, digital engagement and media. Clients include Anheuser-Busch, Expedia Media Solutions, Netflix, Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts, Hortonworks, Kia Motors America, Intel Security, Micron Technology, Inc., Plex Systems, Seattle’s Best Coffee and TiVo. Zeno Group is a member of the Daniel J. Edelman Company. Please visit us at Zenogroup.com, like us on Facebook or follow us @zenogroup and on LinkedIn.
CORRECTION: The article initially stated that the median number of people followed by VCs on LinkedIn grew from 157 to 323, an increase of 106%. These numbers refer to VC’s Twitter network. The post has been updated to reflect that.