Strategic Communication  

How do CEOs Communicate on Twitter? A Comparative Study between Fortune 200 Companies and Top Startup Companies

Social media has become an increasingly relevant and cost-effective way for organizations to build their brand and their business. The demand for an organization to have an online presence is acute as both the general public and stakeholders become increasingly visible online, and expect the same from corporate leadership.

University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications doctoral candidate April Yue, alumni Patrick Thelen and Katy Robinson, both Ph.D. 2019, and Public Relations Associate Professor Rita Men wanted to understand how CEOs of Fortune 200 companies are using Twitter versus those at startup companies. Twitter was selected for this study because, together with LinkedIn, they are the two social media platforms being used most frequently among CEOs.

They decided to compare Fortune 200 CEOs and startup CEOs because of the notably different scope of large corporations versus fledgling businesses. For a large, established corporation, the existence of an online presence through blogs and social media helps to personify the business to stakeholders, and increases customer engagement.  For a startup, the focus is on maintaining market share, and withstanding competitive pressure. These needs require them to find a cost-effective, appropriate way to engage with stakeholders to help them build their brand.

The researchers found that, overall, Fortune CEOs posted more links to their companies’ official websites, and posted significantly more about company vision, mission, and goals than their startup counterparts.  They were better at applying social media presence strategies in a way that was interactive and cohesive. They expressed more emotions in their posts, using specific appeals such as joy and love, were more positive overall, and posted more on company and CEO news and events, as well as products, services and general greetings, wishes, and acknowledgements.

Overall, Fortune 200 CEOs had more visual appeal, using more graphics, posting vivid messages, and capitalizing on positive emotional appeal, and made better use of hashtags and the mention/@ feature.

Startup CEOs used more humor. They posted more questions to solicit feedback, and were more neutral overall in tone. They did post about their personal lives, but more so on industry news, and with a more rational appeal than emotional overall.

The researchers found that startup CEOs demonstrated a higher level of authenticity, animation, and informality. Rather than using social media strategies such as mentions/@ or images, startup CEOs tended to use humor and self-disclosure to garner more likes and replies.  In addition, startup CEOs exhibited more surprise and anger than Fortune 200 CEOs.

This study carries managerial implications for public relations practitioners and social media managers. It provides tailored guidelines for two different types of CEOs. While Fortune 200 CEOs likely garner public engagement by demonstrating affection, startups are better off adopting a more cohesive strategy. For startup CEOs, one of the primary purposes of posting is to raise public awareness of their corporate identity, and so they would benefit by being more strategic in posting more about the company’s mission, vision, goal, and activities.

The original article, “How do CEOs communicate on Twitter? A comparative study between Fortune 200 companies and top startup companies,” appeared in Corporate Communications: An International Journal, August 5, 2019.

This summary was written by Marie Morganelli, Ph.D.




Posted: February 7, 2020
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