Why would a busy entrepreneur spend time tweeting?
That question caught the attention of Eileen Fischer, a professor at York University's Schulich School of Business, and long-time collaborator Rebecca Reuber, of the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management. Their resulting study shows what works and what doesn't if you decide to take the 140-character challenge.
Entrepreneurs like to be on the cutting edge and that was one of the attractions – the free-flowing, "Wild West" feel to the Twitter-sphere.
They also don't like to miss out on something that could be important for their business. While many of those studied were also on Facebook, that was considered more intimate, for true friends, while Twitter was a megaphone to reach out to an audience of followers, and beyond if retweeted.
Their content fell into three themes: Quality, relationships, and distinctiveness. That broke down further into eight types of tweets that you might consider if getting into the fray, as listed in a Rotman Magazine article by the academics.
Firm reputation: You can relieve customer anxiety about doing business with you by indicating the honours your company has achieved – being featured in a newspaper, or being nominated for a Chamber of Commerce award.
Management expertise: You can talk about the skills your managers have or offer insights signal-ling that expertise.
Product/service value: The third type of quality-focused tweets relates directly to the value of the product or service itself, whether recognition by others or new enhancements.
Stakeholder recognition: Relationship tweets include shout-outs to suppliers or others in the entrepreneur's network. "They were building relational capital in their networks," Prof. Fischer said.
Opportunities for interaction: Twitter can be used to promote opportunities for direct interaction with the individual or organization, such as attending events in a local area.
Unique attribute cues: Promoting distinctiveness starts with highlighting what's unique about a company's offerings, relative to competitors.
Value cues: The company may want to highlight what it's doing to help Syrian refugees or support a more sustainable environment. Values are important these days, and it's helpful to burnish them.
Culture cues: Tweets might show what's special about the company culture, be it a pub night or an employee winning a marathon. "A lot of tweets almost personify the office, talking in a light-hearted way about the culture," she said.
One firm they looked at had very few tweets – a sparse style, as they labelled it – with only one tweet over the five-month period scrutinized. "You can't achieve anything if you aren't doing anything. They're essentially lurking," she said.
Some entrepreneurs see Twitter as advertising and love to talk about quality, with fewer tweets in the other categories. Effectiveness was not great. "They were simply promoting, promoting, promoting," she said. "But they were not having a big impact. Quality is just so boring. It's hard to engage in 140 characters." However, she stressed that using pictures and videos can work to get the message across better.
Leaning toward tweets on distinctiveness also was weak, although between quality and distinctiveness, she suggests distinctiveness is best.
The clear winners were multidimensional tweeters, who hit all three main categories – quality, distinctiveness and relationship. As it turned out, these companies also had a large volume of tweets – 20 to 25 a month. As well, they tended to use vivid, positive language. They might refer to what others are doing as awesome or fabulous. Their tweets tend to be warm, uplifting.
If you're considering Twitter – or you're on it and want to improve – she said it starts by considering your goals. If you're looking to boost sales immediately, for example, other media might be better. But if you want to help people over time see your company's value or leverage the audience you create to make connections, Twitter has advantages.
Next, if you get on Twitter, you want to tweet regularly. Some can be done quickly, while waiting in an airplane line or for a meeting to start, but it can't be done so quickly you are operating without any strategy. Opt for a multidimensional approach, hitting on the eight avenues the research outlines. And watch your language: Be positive, and where you can, light-hearted, while remembering humour can be misinterpreted in text, particularly with this limited number of characters.
Her Twitter-sized conclusion: "There's no one thing that will make you successful. It's a lot of things, in combination."