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U.S. President Donald Trump has been served well by clutter-free and attacking tweets to his 22.5 million followers, Sobey research suggests.

Shawn Thew/Bloomberg

The Globe's monthly roundup of research from business schools.

When it comes to Twitter, keep it simple.

U.S. President Donald Trump's use of Twitter to express everything from his surprising admiration for Russian leader Vladimir Putin ("I always knew he was very smart!") to his condemnation of NBC's Saturday Night Live ("Really bad television!") has proven to be a divisive force among Americans.

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Every tweet from the President, no matter the topic, has proven enough to stir up a firestorm of often-vicious debate among supporters and detractors of the newly elected Republican leader across the country.

But, with his account on the social media platform now surpassing 22.5 million followers, no one can question Mr. Trump's ability to use the social media platform to get a message – however controversial – across.

Just how Mr. Trump has harnessed Twitter is at the heart of new research from Ethan Pancer, assistant marketing professor at Saint Mary's University's Sobey School of Business in Halifax. The paper is published in the Journal of Social Influence and co-authored by PhD student Maxwell Poole.

In particular, says Dr. Pancer, "We were interested in determining what are the types of social media messages that resonate with people, that people tend to like and share."

To address the issue, researchers downloaded and analyzed the first three months of tweets from Mr. Trump and his political opponent, Democrat Hillary Clinton, after winning their respective nominations in the 2016 presidential election campaign.

Researchers zeroed in on hashtags (#), user mentions (@) and website links often embedded in messages to test a commonly held presumption among Twitter users — that the inclusion of such features increases the tweet's exposure on the crowded platform (where average users could see almost 1,000 tweets in the 14 minutes they spend online daily, according to the study).

They found the opposite to be true. While the use of tags and links may attract more eyeballs to the content as intended, the features ultimately serve to make the message harder to read, which can yield fewer likes and fewer shares.

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The researchers found that a message's fluency has a stronger effect on liking and sharing than the content topic being discussed.

"What it [clutter] tends to do is, it is complicates the message," says Dr. Pancer, adding that the use of symbols in lieu of text and changes in font colour in the messages act as deterrents to comprehension.

"These features make the message less visually clear … and requires the translation of symbols and text strings into meaning," he says.

The researchers also found, on a secondary note, that Mr. Trump was more successful than Ms. Clinton when it came to how the tweets were worded, finding that when either talks less about the issues facing the country or positivity and more about undermining an opponent's inability to lead, the messages were more popular and viral. "The current reality is simple: Negative posts are winning the voting public on social media," according to the research.

Considering how critical social media campaigns are to political candidates these days, the factors that drive the popularity of a message and ability to go viral are important to identify, Dr. Pancer maintains.

He adds, there is also a key takeaway to social media users in general: When it comes to Twitter, keep it simple.

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"Tagging may be effective at starting a conversation, getting a message seen, or targeting a specific group; the drawback is that the posts are liked less and shared less."

Why are some family businesses more innovative than others?

Nurturing a culture of innovation across the rank and file is the backbone of global powerhouses such as Google, Facebook and Apple. Larry Page and Sergey Brin, for instance, famously encouraged Google employees to spend 20 per cent of their time working on what they think will most benefit the company.

But for many smaller businesses, especially family-operated shops where personal and professional relationships overlap, it's not always easy to push the edge of the creative envelope.

Just how some family firms are able to inspire innovation, while others struggle to find their way, is the basis of new research from Dirk De Clercq, professor of management at Brock University's Goodman School of Business in St. Catharines, Ont.

Dr. De Clercq was particularly interested in family businesses run by multiple generations.

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At their best, these intergenerational management structures offer a positive force to a business through a diversity of viewpoints and experiences. But, Dr. De Clercq cautioned in an e-mail, "the unique combination of family, ownership and business" can also act as an impediment to goal setting.

How a family deals with conflict resolution is key to a stronger outcome – though that, too, is fraught with complexity.

On one hand, an emphasis on consensus may seem like a winning solution. However, an "overly strong" focus on co-operation can dampen innovation among family members "looking for a middle ground in their opposing viewpoints," he says.

On the other hand, too much conflict can lead to individuals feeling personally threatened, escalating negative emotions and ending in deadlock.

Ultimately, Dr. De Clercq recommends that family firms involve many generations in management. Furthermore, they should encourage co-operation and close relationships among the relatives. But he also recommends they develop awareness, perhaps through outside coaching, of the potential pitfalls of being too co-operative or too close.

"Priority should be granted to family members with strong social skills who are keen to work toward a common goal set and can be relied on not to take advantage of their relatives, even if the opportunity presents itself," he says.

The research was published in the Journal of Family Business Strategy, and co-authored by Imanol Belausteguigoitia of the Instituto Tecnologico Autonomo de Mexico in Mexico City.

Story ideas related to business school research in Canada can be sent to darahhansen@yahoo.ca.

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