As Twitter, the social media platform, becomes increasingly popular, companies are recognising its value as a marketing tool. But why should a platform that limits users to a post of a maximum of 140 characters be so attractive?

Before companies can use Twitter as a marketing tool, they first need to understand it says Olivier Toubia, a professor of marketing at Columbia Business School. One of the aspects of Twitter is its followers - you can choose whether or not to follow a user, who may or may not follow you in return. This asymmetry says Prof Toubia creates an ideal environment in which to study social status because “you can see status emerge”.

Working with Andew Stephen, who is now at the University of Pittsburgh, Prof Toubia has tried to uncover what motivates Twitter users: is it a desire to share information with friends and the wider world, or is it to allow users to build social status by getting more and more followers?

Having constructed several artificial users the pair ran a series of experiments. They discovered that those users who in the beginning had very few followers did not feel the need to tweet more, the more followers they acquired. The same was also true of those users who posted frequently, acquiring more followers when they already had a large following did not appear to have much impact.

However those users with a moderate number of followers to begin with - between 13 and 26 - tweeted more frequently, the more followers they got.

“That behaviour is consistent with the idea that the more followers I have, the more value I derive from posting, so I post more” says Prof Toubia.

The academics say that users fall into two camps, those who wish to share knowledge and those who are motivated by status. Prof Toubia suggests that as Twitter matures it “will hold less attraction for those who view it as a marker of status because there will be fewer new followers to gain,” he says.

For companies and organisations that are eager to leverage Twitter as a marketing opportunity Prof Toubia suggests that they first need to understand this motivation.

“If firms want to engage with people on Twitter, they should engage in a way that recognises those people’s motivation,” he adds.

The paper Why do you tweet? is published at Coumbia’s Ideas at Work.

● Countries that are closely wedded to their cultural norms are less likely to have women as leaders, unless those norms support equal opportunity for both sexes.

In the paper Cultural constraints on the emergence of women leaders, academics examined what they term cultural tightness - “the degree to which norms are clear and pervasive”. Thus tight cultures, such as Pakistan and Turkey which have a low tolerance to deviation from cultural norms have very few women leaders, whilst culturally loose cultures such as New Zealand and Hungary, countries which are more open to change tend to have more female leaders.

Co-authors Soo Min Toh of the Rotman School of Management and the University of Toronto Mississauga and Geoffrey Leonardelli at Rotman and also the University of Toronto’s department of psychology point out however, that cultural tightness can have advantages in promoting female leaders. They cite Norway which, although considered to be culturally tight, has gender equality as a norm and therefore has many women leaders.

In countries where both genders are treated equally “Tightness could more strongly implement and sustain practices that encourage the emergence of women leaders,” says Prof Leonardelli.

The paper is to be published in the Journal of World Business.


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