The Twitter Challenge

You’d think executives of entrepreneurial firms would have enough on their plates without having to worry about social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. But, according to research by Schulich School of Business Professor Eileen Fischer and Rebecca Reuber from the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, for those executives who take the marketing power of social media seriously, it might make a real difference to how people view their company.

The researchers tackled what they called the “debatable” benefits of social media channels to reduce that uncertainty and enhance differentiation.

Fischer says we can think of a company’s social media communications as a “communicative stream” that encodes signals lacking narrative cohesion, is only fleetingly accessible and is minimally customized. So, how effective is it? That’s what the researchers wanted to find out.

To solve the puzzle, Fischer and her colleague used qualitative research methods to compare the communications effectiveness of eight firms that used Twitter to pursue growth. While many of these firms were also using Facebook, it was considered a more personal channel – for friends or family. Fischer’s study showed that the more effective firms mixed their tweets about institutional and product quality with tweets that thanked or praised their customers and stakeholders, plus tweets that conveyed the company’s unique “brand personality.”

While the researchers say Twitter lacks the “heft and persistence of a unified narrative text,” such as a press release or a news article, their study demonstrates that “firms can harness the medium to convey signals of quality … and distinctiveness, and can use it to convey positive affect.”

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