When Content Clicks: Three Takeaways from a Study of Twitter

By Shara Clark, APR

Ah, social media. Love it or hate it, it’s here to stay and the good PR pros need to master these channels to effectively communicate. As fast as the rules change, we might feel like we’re furiously treading water under a ginormous waterfall! We judiciously craft great content, release it out to the WWW and hope it makes its way into the hearts and minds of our target audiences.

You probably have a pretty good idea of what works. But, how about some scientific proof? (We all love some good research, right?) I’m currently in Miami University’s Project Dragonfly master’s degree program where I’m combining my interest in communication with conservation and community engagement. As part of a recent project, I got the chance to step back and take an impartial look at how users interact with the World Wildlife Fund’s Twitter content. (Check them out @World_Wildlife.)

I dusted off my content analysis skills and channeled my stats knowledge (why didn’t I pay better attention to that as an undergrad?) and analyzed content two ways. One was the type of post (photo, video, text only, links to outside articles), and the second was the content of the post (general updates, conservation updates or a request for users to take an action).

Here are three scientifically-supported takeaways:

1)   Hit the sweet spot with visual content. (I know, duh!) I was convinced of that already, but now I have statistically significant numbers to back up that claim! Videos received the most engagement, followed by images. What’s really important to note is that they didn’t just get more likes, they got more comments and retweets which helps spread the message beyond an organization’s followers.

2)   Don’t put all your eggs in the social media basket when it comes to action. Requests for action received less interaction than the other content. A click online doesn’t necessarily equal real-world participation. Kapin and Ward used the term “slacktivism” noting that people might be less likely to perform tangible actions, feeling they already supported an effort by engaging online (2013).*

3)   Take advantage of focusing events. During the study, the individual tweets receiving the most interaction were items relating to Earth Day and climate change (I’m sure you noticed an outpouring of media coverage during the Paris Climate Accords!). Focusing events are happenings outside of the norm that draw added attention to a topic (Birkland, 1997).**  

So feel free to tweet away! Be visual and tie to trends to encourage engagement, but don’t forget about all your other communication channels—especially if your objective is spurring people to real-world action.


* Kapin, A., & Ward, A. (2013). Social change anytime everywhere: How to implement online multichannel strategies to spark advocacy, raise money, and engage your community. San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons.

** Birkland, D. (1997). After disaster: Agenda setting, public policy, and focusing events. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press.