Home Twitter’s Credibility Problem

Twitter’s Credibility Problem

Where you read something may impact credibility as much as what you read – especially if where you read something is on Twitter, according to a new study.

Published last month in Communication Quarterly, the research by Mike Schmierbach and Anne Oeldorf-Hirsch used two experiments to show that a New York Times story posted on the website was seen by respondents as more credible than when the same story was posted on the newspaper’s Twitter feed. Additionally, stories posted on Twitter were seen as less important than stories in a newspaper or linked by a blog.

The research suggests that people’s feelings about a news outlet may become intertwined with opinions about blogs and Twitter, as well as individuals making the recommendation to a particular story. All of this comes at a time when Twitter is increasingly being seen as an emerging news source, with about 85% of its trending topics, on average, being headline news topics or persistent news topics.

While the experiments ruled out certain reasons as to why stories posted on Twitter were seen as less credible – including the length of the story and the location of where it appears on Twitter’s news feed – researchers could only speculate on the actual reason.

“Perhaps this stems from media coverage of Twitter linking it to celebrities and shallow posts from ‘average’ Americans,” Schmierbach and Oeldorf-Hirsch wrote. “Exploring exact perceptions of Twitter and their role in credibility judgments would be a worthy future direction.”

Shooting the Messenger?

Twitter’s use as a news source has been pushed by journalists and other heavy news consumers, but even regular Twitter users perceived news stories shared on Twitter as being less credible than news stories shared on traditional online news sites and blogs. About 28% of the respondents were regular or “somewhat regular” Twitter users, higher than the overall Internet rate of 14%.

“The population as a whole is unusually skeptical of Twitter relative to other means of distribution,” the study read. “Twitter seems to elicit a negative reaction from many.”

All of this negativity comes even as most users were able to understand that it was not Twitter that selected the story, but rather The New York Times.

“The decision to share this story was made by the originating source, The New York Times. Yet, participants still viewed the content on Twitter differently, suggesting the Twitter ‘brand’ has some independent cue,” Schmierbach and Oeldorf-Hirsch wrote. “At an applied level, this study suggests the need for caution in the use of Twitter as a way to distribute news.”

Indeed, the clear branding on the newspaper’s Twitter feed did not diminish credibility concerns. Participants, in many cases, saw the larger news organization as less credible when they saw the story on Twitter.

Impacts on Marketing

The study did not cover how branding and advertising messages were perceived on Twitter, and a New York Times initiative to promote paid subscription services on Twitter was initiated after the study was concluded. The authors ultimately advised caution when continuing to research Twitter as a way of disseminating news and messages.

“It would be premature to say using Twitter is necessarily hurting The New York Times, but absent evidence showing a positive effect, skepticism seems warranted,” Schmierbach and Oeldorf-Hirsch wrote. “The newspaper may be cultivating a more engaged, trusting set of core users, but it may also be increasing the chance that nonsubscribers will come away with a negative impression of content if they encounter it through Twitter or some other means.”

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