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«13TH INTERNATIONAL PUBLIC RELATIONS RESEARCH CONFERENCE “Ethical Issues for Public Relations Practice in a Multicultural World” Holiday Inn ...»

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Engagement is a fundamental component of building relationships. Hon and Grunig (1999) developed Guidelines for Measuring Relationships in Public Relations, arguing that public relations helps an organization become more effective when it is able to build and measure long-term relationships with strategically identified publics (p. 9). They also suggested that organizations should aim to establish communal relationships, in which both parties are involved in the relationship and “provide benefits to the other because they are concerned for the welfare of the other” (p. 21). In future directions, Hon and Grunig urged researchers to explore the effect of the Internet and emerging media on relationship building between an organization and its publics because organizations might conduct most relationship building online.

As Hon and Grunig predicted, emerging media have begun to change the way organizations communicate and build relationships with their stakeholders. One of the fastest-growing social media sites is Twitter, a micro-blogging service, launched in 2006 and boasting 20.9 million unique visitors to its web site in September 2009, according to comScore. In the United States, Twitter has grown 1,700 percent since September 2008.

The Council of Public Relations Firms calls this booming growth in emerging media “a historic juncture” in which the future of the public relations industry will be shaped and defined in this shift (Rand & Rodriguez, 2007, p. 1). At the time the Council’s survey was conducted, public relations professionals agreed on some key themes that affected both corporate communication and agency professionals. Overall, “corporate communicators must build trust with audiences through more authentic information and greater transparency” (p. 3). Additionally, all marketers and communications specialists must recognize that the consumers own the brand. Marketers bust be willing to release some control of their brands (p. 3). Public relations practitioners and marketers must amp up the creativity to engage their audiences via social media. Rand and Rodriquez (2007) suggested that social media and public relations should fit hand-in-hand, considering that “public relations has been about creating and sustaining conversations, about engagement and relationships, which social media is all about” (p. 5).

Public relations professionals and marketers indeed see the growing popular Twitter community as a golden opportunity to establish and maintain relationships with various publics and stakeholders as well as networking, building credibility, trust and commitment among their “followers.” Recently, we have seen more and more books and blog posts written to provide communication professionals with guidelines on how to successfully and effectively implement social media into their communication programs. However, experts such as Catharine Taylor (2009) argue that many organizations are still not using social media, specifically Twitter, to its full potential. Taylor sites a Weber Shandwick report (2009), which detailed that although a large number of Fortune 100 companies are holding a Twitter account, most are not “active tweeters” and most are not engaging followers. Taylor (2009) suggests that additional data would be helpful, such as how long the companies have been actively tweeting and what the content of the conversations are.

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(@ComcastCare, @JetBlue), build awareness and solicit feedback (@CocaCola), build relations and hold conversations, and promote sales (@DellOutlet, @Bestbuy_Outlet, @Amazondeals) The purpose of this study is to, through content analysis of tweets, determine how three Fortune 100 companies are utilizing Twitter to actively engage their audiences to build and/or maintain long-term relationship as Hon and Grunig have advocated.

–  –  –

In the discussion of marketers and public relations practitioners using social media to build relationships, experts such as Katie Paine (2010), Brian Solis (2010), Cory Treffiletti (2009), Michael Brito (2007), and Lee Odden (2010), cite the importance of engaging consumers through the use of social media. According to Katie Paine (2010), “engagement is essentially the first step in building a relationship between your customers and your brand” (“Measuring Engagement”).

Basically, audience engagement is creating a dialogue between an organization and its consumers in order to establish genuine relationships.

Social Media Bible authors Lon Safko and David Brake (2009) proposed four categories of social media engagement: Communication, Collaboration, Education, and Entertainment.

They contended that companies or other organizations can engage with their consumers through social media by initiating both one-way and two-way communication, educating interested consumers about the organization through information that is personally relevant to the consumer, participating in communication that is initiated by the consumer, frequently posting new and relevant information that would be of interest to consumers, seeking consumer participation with the brand or feedback about the organization, or by simply generating relevant content that entertains the consumer. We believe that these types of online communication aimed to create dialogue between an organization and its consumers without the influence of gatekeepers are a good way to actively engage and build relationship with the organization’s stakeholders.

For the purpose of this study, “engagement” is operationally defined as when a user publicly responds to a follower (through a @reply), repeats another user’s update (through a retweet), poses questions to followers, seeks participation, holds a conversation via words of compliments or appreciation, shares relevant information, tips, or advice that followers might seek by associating with the user.


A content analysis was conducted of three corporate Twitter accounts with status updates (“tweets”) posted between January 20, 2010 and February 4, 2010. Each of the three companies’ (@Ford, @HomeDepot, and @StateFarm) tweets were tracked over the two-week period in order to examine their engagement, as previously defined.

A selection process was conducted to determine the final three Fortune 100 companies to analyze. A list of the Fortune 100 companies was attained from Fortune Magazine (via CNNmoney.com). Each company name was manually searched on Twitter’s website using the “Twitter Find” feature on a pre-established Twitter account. Out of the 100 companies, 47 companies had Twitter accounts. At this point, 47 companies were found on Twitter without filtering for idle accounts or accounts that appeared to be “brand-jacked,” or unofficial accounts that were not being operated by the company being depicted. After selecting only the accounts that were authentic (had correct, specific company contact information listed), unprotected and active, 43 out of the Fortune 100 companies remained.

290 Casual observations of many organizations’ Twitter accounts during the “Twitter Find” phase of the selection process allowed for a quick glimpse of each organization’s Twitter page. Eight organizations stood out as having active Twitter accounts, meaning that the account had a significant number of followers and that the page was often updated with original tweets, as well as responses to followers and retweets of status updates from other users. These informal top eight organizations included: Chevron (@Chevron), Ford Motor Company (@Ford), Verizon Communications Inc.

(@Verizon), Home Depot (@HomeDepot), State Farm Insurance Co. (@StateFarm), Pepsi Co.

(@pepsico), Best Buy (@BestBuy), and Cisco Systems Inc. (@CiscoSystems).

To determine further how engaging and influential these Twitter accounts are, we turned to three online Twitter analytics—Klout and Tweet Level—to generate a brief summary of the organizations’ Twitter statistics.

The Klout Score measures a Twitter account’s “sphere of influence” on other Twitter users, according to Klout.com. The tool was created by Joe Fernandez, a former researcher, Binh Tran, a software and technology consultant, and Richardson Soegito, an IT consultant. A “score” is calculated by measuring reach (number of followers, number of reciprocated followers, how far tweet content has been spread, mentions, retweets, etc.) and amplification ability (engagement via reply messages, difference in followers who retweet, how often tweets are sparking action, etc.).

Click-through rates on links that are tweeted by a user are also taken into consideration when calculating the Klout Score. The higher a Twitter account’s score on a scale from 1-100, the “wider and stronger sphere of influence” the account makes, according to Klout.com.

Tweet Level was created by Edelman and is used to measure a Twitter account’s “importance on Twitter,” according to Tweetlevel.Edelman.com. Similar to a Klout Score, Tweet Level measures a user’s “importance” on a scale of 1-100 and the higher the score, the better. Tweet Level takes into account influence, number of followers, engagement via participation rates, and trust, which is associated with retweets.

After obtaining the scores generated by Klout and Tweet Level for the top eight companies, the scores were compared and three organizations with high scores on both analytics tools were selected for a more in-depth content analysis. Companies that had a high Tweet Level score, especially in the engagement category, and a respectable Klout Score were: Ford Motor Company (@Ford), Home Depot (@HomeDepot), and State Farm Insurance Co. (@StateFarm).

Ford Motor Company (@Ford) received a Tweet Level score of 69 for engagement and a Klout Score of 54. Home Depot (@HomeDepot) received a Tweet Level score of 72.7 for engagement and a Klout Score of 45. State Farm Insurance Co. (@StateFarm) received a Tweet Level score of 68 for engagement and a Klout Score of 30.

As of February 11, 2010, Ford Motor Company (@Ford) had 24,850 followers, Home Depot (@HomeDepot) had 19,056 followers, and State Farm Insurance Co. (@StateFarm) had 4,980 followers on Twitter.

A website called Print Your Twitter (printyourtweets.com) was utilized to obtain an archive of each of the companies’ twitter updates during the designated two-week time frame (January 20, 2010 to February 4, 2010). Each tweet is a unit of analysis and was coded based on types of tweet (a simple status update, a reply, or a retweet), content categories (customer service, announcement/information, tips/advice, conversation, other), message content (ask question, answer 291 question, clarification, follow up, appreciation, compliment, share information, seek participation, other), and mechanics within the tweet (picture, link, video, hashtag, emoticons).

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A total of 507 tweets were collected during the two weeks with Ford generating 263 tweets, Home Depot 142 and State Farm 102. Overall, the majority (81%) of tweets were replies or addressed to another Twitter user. Almost 13 percent were general status updates and about 6% were retweets.

(See Table 1) Regarding the content categories, almost half of the tweets (49.9%) were engaged in general conversations, followed by customer service (23.9%), and announcement (20.7%). Only a handful of tweets (6 out of 507) gave tips or how-to information. (See Table 2) When looking further into the content of the tweets, we found that almost a quarter (23.5%) of all tweets issued some kind of information or announcement to the company’s followers. About 16% of tweets expressed appreciation or thanks to the followers, and 13.6% were answers to followers’ inquiries. Almost 16% of tweets fell into “Other” category as they pertained to miscellaneous topics.

(See Table 3) We also looked at whether each tweet used a hashtag or an emoticon, and if it included a link to a web site, picture or video. While 26.4% of tweets contained a link to a website (to provide more information), most of them didn’t include a link to video or picture nor did they use a hashtag to group a discussion or an emoticon to add tone to the message. (See Tables 4-8) Because the three companies offers different products and services, we wanted to see if they might have used Twitter differently. The cross tabulations of types of tweets revealed that all three companies devoted more than 80% in replying or addressing to their stakeholders. While both Ford and Home Depot also retweeted another Twitter user, the number of reweets was far in between (15 out of 253 for Ford, and 15 out of 142 for Home Depot), and State Farm did not retweet at all during the two weeks of our study. (See Table 9) How differently the three companies used Twitter appeared to be in the content categories— customer service, announcement, tips or how-to, conversation, and other. Given its being in the retail industry, it’s understandable that Home Depot would lead in customer service category (50% of its tweets). State Farm led in the conversation department (65% of its tweets), followed by Ford (54%) and Home Depot (31%). Ford was more likely than Home Depot or State Farm to issue information or announcement-related tweets (26.6%, 15.5%, and 12.7%, respectively). As reported earlier, the three companies seldom tweeted about tips or how-to information in their status updates.

(See Table 10) Regarding the content message the three companies expressed (question, response, clarification/reach out, follow up, appreciation, compliment, information, seek participation, and other), Ford, whose tweets fell mostly in the information and conversation categories, also tweeted informative messages more than Home Depot and State Farm (30%, 20%, and 10.8% respectively).

It also answered followers’ questions (18.6%, 7.7% and 8.8% respectively) and held conversations in miscellaneous topics more frequently (20.2%, 7% and 16.7% respectively).

Home Depot, whose tweets were mainly customer-service oriented, reached out (25.4%) to those who tweeted about its products and services (positively or negatively), followed up (13.4%) the progress if the problems were resolved, and asked questions (6.3%) more than Ford and State Farm 292

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Brito, M. (2007). Social Media Marketing: Rules of Engagement. Britopian.com: Social Media Blog. Retrieved from www.britopian.com.

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