I would like to share the results of a MA research project that I conducted between 2012 and 2014. The project focused on the Twitter communications carried out by the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion Policies in 2012.
The main research question was to identify the purposes and features of Twitter communications focusing on Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion policies, managed by the EU Commissioner Andor and the EU Commission’s DG EMPL in 2012.
The main question was composed of a number of smaller parts to enable me build solid research answers. These parts are:
- What was the content of communications managed by Commissioner Andor and DG EMPL on Twitter in 2012?
- What were the trending topics and what communication patterns did they develop?
- Social networking vs. social media: What content categories and format were distributed on Twitter by Commissioner Andor and DG EMPL in 2012?
- Who were among their information multipliers? (All these parts and the linking elements are introduced in Figure 1).
Why such a research project?
Because of its intuitive and easy-to-use interface, Twitter has been embraced by both individuals and organisations, which over the past years helped rise in its popularity and therefore place it among the referential public virtual communicative spaces.
Using Twitter for communication with others either from a desktop computer or a mobile device became a daily activity. Twitter thus enables a fast communication service to a wide range of institutions and people, from celebrities, politicians, journalists to scientists, marketers, activists, researchers, educationalists and ordinary people.
Twitter therefore influences the way we live and the society we live in. Twitter actually taught us how to refine our communication message to fit into 140 characters. We also learn how to polish a message and concentrate ideas in a manner that makes communications more efficient.
The beauty of Twitter and its uniqueness comes from this 140 character restriction, which was imposed by its programmers to enable both computers and mobile devices use the platform and “speak to each other” a common language.
My research focused on the Twitter communications on Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion policies managed by the European Commission in 2012 through its specialised department, namely DG EMPL and the Commissioner responsible for these policies.
Little information covering institutional communications via Twitter has been published to date. Existing blog and news articles treat specific aspects and do not look at the communication strategic points and at the multilingual content that is of an interest to the European Union, a large area where the intended communication audience lives. Furthermore, this type of communications is unique and does not resemble a national communication pattern, where national bodies design their strategies and content based on specific cultural settings.
That is why I believe that the subject matter of this research and some of its aspects may prove challenging, but, in return, may shed light on the particularities of the Twitter communications managed by a European institution that addresses multilingual audiences with a content that might bypass the national layers. The research context is year of 2012, when crisis signs were still evident and affecting the European Union as a whole.
The findings of this research may contribute to understanding the Twitter role as a communication channel that has been adopted by the European Commission as well as may enable sharing a communication model that could be adopted by other institutions in an attempt to benefit from this practice example, in a world transformed by the social media.
Research object, research methods and tools
The object of this research consists of two representative pieces of content:
- Three corpora of 2048 tweets published by the three account holders in 2012 as follows: 934 tweets by Social Europe and 398 tweets by EURes for DG EMPL, and 716 tweets by Commissioner Andor, including 21 tweets which were answers to the participants’ questions in a chat hosted by himself on 7 December 2012.
- A set of four face-to-face interviews with the administrators of the three Twitter accounts as well as with a social media coordinator from the European Commission.
I chose two research methods to process and analyse the raw data. The first method is a quantitative analysis of the tweet metrics that are related to each tweet body. The second method ensures the qualitative dimension of the research. It consisted of:
- analysing the tweet bodies in the three corpora and
- a set of face-to-face interviews of the Twitter accounts administrators.
The tweet corpora were analysed by the use of spreadsheet software and by employing two CAQDAS tools, WORDij and LIWC, which were introduced earlier. The interview outcomes were analysed by applying the recursive abstraction method, which did not imply coding but a manual content distillation of the notes taken during the interviews. The quantitative dimension of the research will be visible in the Twitter metrics (numerical values and parameters), which are detailed in the forthcoming articles.
Given the purpose of interviewing the account administrators, namely to compare the Twitter data I collected against what the account administrators intended in 2012, I chose to follow the methodology of a “standardized open-ended interview” (Cohen et al., 2002, p.271).
The three account administrators, namely of Social Europe, EURes and Commissioner Andor, were asked identical questions to enable analysing and comparing similar pieces of information. The questions prepared for the corporate account administrator also contained, in addition to some similar questions for the three administrators, some questions covering subjects related to the Twitter strategic communications and corporate approach of the Commission.
The interviews outcome enabled data triangulation, which means that facts and opinions resulted from the Twitter corpora and Twitter parameters could have been corroborated to validate or invalidate the outcomes of this research.
I prepared my interview questionnaires following Denscombe’s (2003) advice:
“In reality, interviewing is no easy option. It is fraught with hidden dangers and can fail miserably unless there is good planning, proper preparation and a sensitivity to the complex nature of interaction during the interview itself” (p.164).
More content to come in the forthcoming articles.
 Cohen, L. et al. (2002), Research Methods in Education, London, 5th edition, RoutledgeFalmer
 Denscombe, M. (2003), The Good Research Guide for small-scale social research projects, second edition, Maidenhead, Open University Press