Dialogic communication in 140 characters or less: How Fortune 500 companies engage stakeholders using Twitter

Rybalko, Svetlana, & Seltzer, Trent (2010). Dialogic communication in 140 characters or less: How Fortune 500 companies engage stakeholders using Twitter. Public Relations Review, 36(4), 336-341.

Previous public relations studies had suggested that five dialogic principles could be incorporated into organizational online communication to facilitate relationship building with stakeholders. These principles included ease of interface (how easy is the website to navigate?), conservation of visitors (does the site contain features that encourage a visitor to stay on the site?), generation of return visits (does the site contain features that encourage visitors to make repeat visits to the site?), providing useful information (does the site contain content tailored to the specific needs of the sponsoring organization’s stakeholders?), and dialogic loop (does the site feature mechanisms for visitors to ask questions and receive feedback from the sponsoring organization?). This study extends previous research investigating the use of online communication tools by examining whether and how Fortune 500 companies use the popular microblogging site Twitter to facilitate dialogue with their stakeholders.

Method

A content analysis of a random sample of 93 Fortune 500 Twitter profiles and 930 tweets (10 tweets per profile) was drawn from the profiles of 170 Fortune 500 companies with active Twitter accounts.

Key Findings

1)      Although a majority of the companies in the sample used Twitter in a dialogic fashion (61%), there were still many that did not (39%), despite the fact that the design and purpose of Twitter seem inherently dialogic.

2)      The most frequently occurring features on the profile pages included the presence of links to the main corporate website (96%) and the inclusion of a brief corporate biography (82%). Only 27% of the profiles indicated who was tweeting on behalf of the organization.

3)      The most common features appearing in individual tweets included responding to a post by another Twitter user (60%) and posting newsworthy information about the company (58%). Only 30% of the tweets included the posting of a question designed to promote conversation with other users, and only 27% of the tweets posed follow-up questions to responses from other users.

4)      A majority of tweets appeared directed at a “general” audience (75%) rather than a specific Twitter user (24%) or more defined stakeholder ground (e.g., less than 1% of the posts were directed at current employees).

5)      Companies with a dialogic orientation to their Twitter use employed the conservation of visitors principle to a greater degree and the generation of return visits principle to a lesser degree than companies with a non-dialogic orientation to Twitter.

Implications for Practice

The implications of this study seem to be consistent with the findings from other research on online dialogic communication. In short, while companies are using social media and online communication tools that seem inherently designed to facilitate dialogue, many organizations are not using these tools in a dialogic fashion. Social media should not be used to push one-way messages advertising products – this should be left to other traditional communication channels where these types of messages are expected and a lack of interaction and responsiveness is tolerated. Instead, social media tools like Twitter should be used to engage in dialogue with stakeholders. If the objective is relationship building, then Twitter should be used to draw stakeholders into an organization’s dialogic space by keeping them engaged in ongoing conversations both within Twitter and within the organization’s extended social media presence. Conversations and relationships can be enriched by attempting to replicate interpersonal communication as much as possible. Organizations should be responsive and personalize their Twitter profile by indicating who is tweeting on their behalf so that the conversation taking place is between a stakeholder and a ‘real person’ in lieu of a faceless corporation.

Article Location

Full length article available for purchase at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.pubrev.2010.08.004

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