Twitter and its Usage for Dialogic Stakeholder Communication by MNCs and NGOs
University of Zurich, Chair of Foundations of Business Administration and Theories of the Firm, Working Paper No. 208
44 Pages Posted: 22 Dec 2011
Date Written: December 2011
Purpose Current processes of globalization have increased the challenge for multi-national corporations (MNCs) to retain legitimacy. In order to (re-)gain moral legitimacy, recent studies suggest that MNCs should engage in deliberative dialog processes with their various stakeholders, e.g., non-governmental organizations (NGOs). However, the era of globalization and the parallel rise of the Internet and related digital technologies have also dramatically widened the range of options for such dialog processes. NGOs in particular make use of so-called “social media” (e.g., Facebook, Weblogs, Twitter) which enable them to quickly generate attention for socially and environmentally harmful business practices by MNCs. In response, MNCs have themselves started to embrace social media technologies for corporate communication purposes. However, given the novelty of these activities, there is a void of research on to what extent MNCs use these social media for moral legitimation in stakeholder dialogs). Therefore, it is the objective of this study to examine how MNCs and NGOs make use of one particular social media technology, i.e., Twitter, and its possibilities for dialog-like, synchronous communication.
Design/methodology/approach In our empirical study, we examine current practices of Twitter usage by MNCs and NGOs. We generate a dataset of more than 3,000 Twitter articles (“Tweets”) from 30 MNCs and 30 NGOs in the German-speaking realm. We analyze these Tweets by drawing on the scale on the “conceptual orality or literality” by Koch and Oesterreicher (1994). The scale allows for cross-comparing to what extent MNCs and NGOs make use of Twitter’s possibilities for dialog-like and synchronous communication.
Findings The comparative analysis shows that on average both groups, MNCs and NGOs, exhibit a surprisingly similar profile regarding the scale of “conceptual orality or literality” in Twitter. Both of them tend to lean towards conceptual literality. However, the analysis of tweets per organization reveals a much larger variance. On the extreme poles, while some NGOs (like Greenpeace Youth) strongly make use of the medium’s potential for conceptual orality, some MNCs (like the German Stock Exchange, Deutsche Börse) nearly entirely stick to a communication style of literality. In other words, these MNCs put forth a classical one-way model of communication and fail to make use of the dialog-like qualities of the medium.
Research limitations We were only able to analyze a comparatively low number of organizations and we restricted our study to MNCs and NGOs in the German-speaking realm. Hence, further research would need to expand this range particularly regarding international Twitter usage. Furthermore, Twitter only allows for short messages with a maximum of 140 letters or signs. This, in turn, renders questionable whether the medium is suited to establish deliberative dialogs between MNCs and NGOs that are based on more elaborate arguments than expressible in 140 letters.
Originality/value Our study contributes to current debates on the political role and responsibility of MNCs. It helps to close an important research void regarding new possibilities for stakeholder communication in the age of social media. Moreover, the study methodologically contributes to the study of social media in the context of corporate communication by applying the scale of “conceptual orality or literality” to MNCs’ and NGO’s Twitter usage.
Keywords: legitimacy, deliberation, corporate communication, social media, Twitter
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation