Beyond Hashtags: Tweeting Innovation

Research reveals the best tactics for entrepreneurs to spread word of mouth via Twitter

The essentials

  • Entrepreneur-initiated tweets lead to a large increase in fan tweets.
  • Retweets of entrepreneur-initiated tweets are especially effective in generating additional fan tweets. Explicitly asking for help is also highly effective in generating engagement.
  • All of these effects are limited to a 20-minute window following the entrepreneur’s tweet.

Whether entrepreneurs like it or not — and who hasn’t occasionally questioned the inanity of tweeting — social media has become an important factor in the success or failure of new ventures. But what’s the best way to use a social media platform such as Twitter to boost brand recognition?

According to Barry Bayus of Kenan Flager Business School at University of North Carolina, it all comes down to wordplay and timing. Bayus presented his findings at the Economics of Entrepreneurship and Innovation conference at the Smith School of Business.

Because evidence-based findings are scarce, Bayus and colleague Venkat Kuppuswamy decided to explore social media’s impact on word of mouth (WOM) associated with a few thousand crowdfunding projects.

Their research, gleaned from studying micro-blogging activity surrounding projects listed on Kickstarter, suggests that WOM is enhanced through entrepreneur-initiated tweets — which, in turn, lead to fan tweets. Requests for help, as well as information on project status, also lead to greater fan engagement.

Angling for Fan Retweets

The researchers tracked how many times a project was mentioned during the fundraising campaigns. They were able to distinguish between posts made by the project creator and those posted by project fans, as well as the timing of the posts.

Using a form of regression analysis, the researchers deduced that a specific request to retweet the original message is most effective in generating word-of-mouth activity via fan tweets.

They also found that hashtags, exclamations, and questions are not as effective. “Thirty-nine per cent of all the tweets in our sample contain a hashtag, but we find that entrepreneur tweets with hashtags are not effective in generating retweets,” they write in their research paper.

Instead, tweets from the project’s creator that offer details about the project are much more effective at spreading WOM, though they have to be carefully worded.

“We find strong evidence that fan tweets mentioning the project significantly increase after a tweet from the project creator,” says Bayus. “We also find that retweets of an entrepreneur tweet have a greater influence on subsequent tweeting activity by fans than other tweets.”

Reaching out for help, essentially a corporate damsel-in-distress routine, is also particularly effective

According to the research, reaching out for help, essentially a corporate damsel-in-distress routine, is also particularly effective. “Asking for help (using words such retweet, please, and help) is more effective in generating retweets than providing project status information,” says Bayus.

But the window for all this activity is very short. All of the effects are limited to a 20-minute period following the entrepreneur’s original tweet, the researchers point out, “highlighting the immediacy of WOM dynamics on Twitter.”

Bayus and Kuppuswamy say future research could test whether their results apply to other settings involving consumer goods, movies, and TV shows as well as the role of tweeting in generating positive and negative word of mouth.

And they believe there needs to be further investigation into who participates in retweets, particularly what motivates them to retweet.

“A detailed analysis of tweets and the people who post tweets would generate additional insights into electronic WOM and the role of company-initiated messages,” says Bayus.  

Anna Sharratt

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