For the first time in media history, people are gathering their news from online sources more than they are from traditional sources such as newspapers and televisions (“Key Findings,” 2011), and specifically, they are gathering their news from the social media sites like Twitter – with over five hundred million new accounts being created everyday (Davis, 2011). In less than a decade, social media was created, became highly influential, and now life could not function the same in its absence. Social media is defined as, “Internet based tools and platforms that increase and enhance the sharing of information. This new form of media makes the transfer of text, photos, audio, video, and information in general increasingly fluid among Internet users” (“What is Social Media,” 2012, p 1).
On the contrast, traditional news is in decline (Kushin, 2010). In a report produced by The Pew Research in 2011, it is reported that “people are spending more time with news than ever before, but when it comes to platform of choice, the web is gaining ground rapidly while other sectors are losing. In 2010 digital was the only media sector seeing audience growth” (“Key Findings,” 2011, p. 1). A closer look reveals that local television was down 1.5%, network television was down 3.4%, newspapers were down 5%, audio was down 6%, magazines were down 8.9%, cable television was down 13.7%, but the only growth of the year was the Internet – growing 17.1%. For the first time ever, people gathering their news online surpassed people gathering their news from newspapers (2011). “In 2011, losses in print advertising dollars outpaced gains in digital revenue by a factor of roughly 10 to 1, a ratio even worse than in 2010. When circulation and advertising revenue are combined, the newspaper industry has shrunk 43% since 2000” (Mitchell & Rosensteil, 2012, para. 8). Cable news also joined the decline as people are now seeking their news in a social atmosphere (“Key Findings,” 2011).
A year after the initial Key Findings were published in 2011, Amy Mitchell and Tom Rosensteil (2012) argued, in The State of the News Media 2012 for the Pew Research Center, the gap between traditional outlets and digital outlets are still widening:
The age of mobile, in which people are connected to the web wherever they are, arrived in earnest. More than four in ten American adults now own a smartphone. One in five owns a tablet. New cars are manufactured with Internet built in. With more mobility comes deeper immersion into social networking…People are taking advantage, in other words, of having easier access to news throughout the day – in their pocket, on their desks and in their laps. At the same time, a more fundamental challenge that we identified in this report last year has intensified — the extent to which technology intermediaries now control the future of news. Two trends in the last year overlap and reinforce the sense that the gap between the news and technology industries is widening. First, the explosion of new mobile platforms and social media channels represents another layer of technology with which news organizations must keep pace. Second, in the last year a small number of technology giants began rapidly moving to consolidate their power by becoming makers of “everything” in our digital lives (para. 1-5).
The gap is ever increasing. The explosion of social media is making it hard for traditional news agencies to keep up. With the decline of traditional media, scholars are questioning the relevancy, and journalists are pondering their jobs in the media. When McCombs and Shaw (1972; 1977) studied the effects of agenda setting it was based on traditional media – newspapers and television. But with the astonishing growth and prominence of social media, mixed with the demur of traditional media, the dynamic theory of agenda setting is not disappearing; rather it is changing. In his article, Agenda Setting: Past Present and Future, McCombs admits that the “Internet dramatically changed the communication landscape” and the Internet is now the “new frontier” for agenda setting research (2005, p. 544). The question then arises: is a new phase of agenda setting needed in a digitally produced age.
To date, due to McCombs argument about the media environment, there has been an influx of studies analyzing the Internet and agenda setting (Wallsten, 2007; Ku, Kaid, & Pfau, 2003; Sweetser, Golan, & Wanta, 2008; Roberts, Wanta, & Dzwo, 2002; Lee, Lancendorfer, & Lee, 2005), but despite the growth in Internet studies, few studies have been conducted within the realm of social media, (Rostovtseva, 2009; Robinson, 2006; Heinonen, 2011; Sayre et al., 2010; Weeks & Southwell, 2010; Alkhas, 2011), and even fewer studies have been conducted on agenda setting through the use of Twitter (Smock, 2010; Kushin, 2010; Vargo, 2011). What remains to be explored, however, is the agenda setting capability of an organization on Twitter, while concurrently using Twitter to analyze that very same agenda among the public. This thesis will examine the social media phenomenon, by qualitatively exploring the Walt Disney’s Twitter, looking for agenda setting effects – further answering McCombs plea (2005) to take his theory further with application to the online environment.
This study will examine The Walt Disney World for a multiple of reasons. First, The Walt Disney Company (NYSE: DIS) is the largest media conglomerate in the world in terms of revenue (“Disney and Partners,” 2011). Second, in the past, news organizations set the agenda because they controlled the flow of information. But with the introduction of social media and Twitter, a corporate agenda is occurring (Carroll & McCombs, 2004). As of March 27th, 2012, @WaltDisneyWorld had a following on Twitter of 295,901 people, while NBC Nightly News only had a following of 106,857 followers (“Twitter,” 2012). This is just an example of how Twitter has given organizations the power to set a corporate agenda. Third, many people gather information about The Walt Disney World through Twitter – which creates a viable channel for agenda setting. Fourth, Disney’s Twitter makes studying agenda setting on Twitter operational. Unlike other social media sites, Twitter allows researchers to track public data easily. Lastly, Disney owns many enterprises from ABC to The Walt Disney World. Since agenda setting is normally applied to news agencies, the next logical step is to apply that theory to a company that functions in the news sector.
Unlike when McCombs and Shaw (1972) studied the Chapel Hill area for an agenda, agenda setting theory in social media takes place rapidly. Since the timing of events cannot be controlled, and Twitter stops showing available information after two weeks (Kushin, 2010), a study on a company is a viable option that will set forth a new framework for agenda setting on Twitter. Fifth, Disney has been studied previously for its messages and hidden agenda (Couldry, 2001; Coyne & Whitehead, 2008; Ostman, 1996; Shortsleeve, 2004). Lastly, it has been argued that the Disney Company sets the agenda because they own many news organizations. Emeritus Dean Ben Bagdikian (2004) at the Graduate School of Journalism for University of California – Berkley argues that Disney, along with four other companies set the agenda for what citizens learn. “Though today’s media reach more Americans than ever before, they are controlled by the smallest numbers of owners before. In 1983, there were fifty dominant media corporations; today there are five [Time Warner, Viacom, News Corporation, Disney, and Bertelsmann]. These five corporations decide what most citizens will –or will not-learn” (p. 16). Since the Disney Corporation is in control of the media, they have viable channels to set an agenda.
There is a plethora of research on marketing, advertising, and corporate branding that examines the various integrated marketing techniques of social media, but little attention has been given to the connection between agenda setting and an organization. McCombs and Carroll (2003) admit that the agenda-setting theory has not received much interest outside the world of political communication.
Although the agenda-setting effects of the news media on the people’s attention to, comprehension of, and opinions about topics in the news primarily have been studied in political communication settings, the central theoretical idea – the transfer of salience from the media agenda to the public agenda – fits equally well in the world of business communication” (p.36, Emphasis Added).
The purpose of this study is to test the agenda setting theory in relation to a major organization by comparing tweets made by The Walt Disney World to the public’s opinion as expressed through Twitter, analyzing the transfer of themes from The Walt Disney World’s tweets to the tweets of the public. If there is an agenda setting on Twitter within the Disney organization, a new phase of the agenda setting is needed in the new social media generation.
Results of this study will benefit communication theory by: providing new research about social media, developing media theory with organizations, and furthering insights into the news industry. First, for theorists, this study will answer McComb’s (2005) call to take his theory further into the digital age. This study will help build a bridge from theory to social media. With the exponential growth of digital media, communication studies should be a forerunner in these studies. Just as there are theories of computer-mediated communication, there should also be theories of social media. Also for theorists, this study will give a greater understanding of social media under the scope of a theoretical framework. The aim of the study is to postulate a new phase for agenda setting – social media agenda setting. The proposed study and methodology are framed so that other researchers can apply this study on Twitter to another organization or agency for their personal research and gain.
For The Walt Disney Company and other corporate organizations, this study is extremely valuable – corporations would pay to have their social media analyzed. With new jobs opening up every day in social media, this study will give necessary attention to the impact that Twitter can have on users and organizations. This study will give readers a glimpse at one of the most powerful tools being used by one of the most powerful companies in America. Finally, this study will consider the state of the news media. According to the Pew Research Center:
The civic implications of the decline in newspapers are also becoming clearer. More evidence emerged [in 2011] that newspapers (whether accessed in print or digitally) are the primary source people turn to for news about government and civic affairs. If these operations continue to shrivel or disappear, it is unclear where, or whether, that information would be reported” (Mitchell & Rosenstiel, 2012).
This thesis, through an analysis of Twitter, will further study the future of the news industry. With the technological advancements of Twitter, if adapted well, Twitter could save the news industry.
Neil Postman (1992), Technopoly, writes a challenge for all users of technology that is a force behind this thesis:
Once a technology is admitted [into society], it plays out its hand; it does what it is designed to do. Our task is to understand what that design is – that is to say, when we admit a new technology to the culture, we must do so with out eyes wide open.
This thesis seeks to examine the new technology, Twitter, and study its impact on current culture. It is the challenge of this thesis to understand the impacts, whether for positive or negative, that Twitter has on society, and to open the eyes wide so that people can see the advantages and disadvantages of Twitter.
The following thesis contains a total of five chapters and a references section. This chapter provided an introduction to the topic of agenda setting, social media, the rationale for the study, as well as the purpose statement. The next chapter contains the literature review of agenda setting in traditional, online, corporate, and social media environments. Chapter three describes the methodology used in this study, including the qualitative process, the data collection, analysis, and justification for all the approaches taken. Chapter four details the results and themes of the study. Chapter five discusses the image of social media on agenda setting.
In the field of mass communication, the agenda setting theory has become a “milestone” (DeFleur, 1998). Having been referenced in over 300 studies since its evolution in the 1970’s (Rogers, 1993), the agenda setting theory is a vital theory in the study of communication, and with the changing mass media environment, the studies must continue. In this section, the agenda setting’s theoretical framework and progress is introduced. Systematically and chronologically, the agenda setting theory is explained.
In order to apply the agenda setting theory to the new social media phenomenon, this literature will examine past research on agenda setting theory, agenda setting in media, intermedia agenda setting, and finally agenda setting on social media. Later, this study will take a closer look at Twitter, agenda setting, and The Walt Disney Corporation.
The agenda setting theory can be traced back to 1922. Walter Lippman (1922) set the theoretical framework for this theory. In his book Public Opinion, Lippman argued that what we believe about the world is actually not reality but is simply a picture that has been painted in our minds by the media. Although Lippman did not name his theory, he defined it in his work. In Lippman’s opening chapter, he posits the following:
Looking back we can see how indirectly we know the environment in which nevertheless we live. We can see that the news of it comes to us now fast, now slowly; but that whatever we believe to be a true picture, we treat as if it were the environment itself. It is harder to remember that about the beliefs upon which we are now acting, but in respect to other peoples and other ages we flatter ourselves that it is easy to see when they were in deadly earnest about ludicrous pictures of the world (1922, p. 1).
Lippman implies that people do not respond to the world in reality; instead, people respond to a picture that has been painted for them. Rhetorically speaking, this leaves two inevitable questions, what is the painting, and most importantly, who is the painter?
Lippman continues on in his work, postulating that the newspaper journalists are the painters. Journalist set the agenda; they painted the pictures within men’s heads. Concurrently, Lippman believed journalist were also “frail” and unable to paint an accurate picture of reality (1922, p. 362). “It [journalism] is too frail to carry the whole burden of popular sovereignty, to supply spontaneously the truth which democrats hoped was inborn. And when we expect it to supply such a body of truth we employ a misleading standard of judgment” (p. 362). But the most troubling thing about Lippman’s work was “if we cannot rely on journalist to ‘bring us the world’ as they themselves often put it, on whom can we rely” (Herbst, 1999, p. 92)? Lippman argued that although journalists were frail, there is no one else to bring the news. People were left without surveillance. There were no “checks and balances” (Herbst, 1999, p. 92). If the journalist could not be trusted, then there was not a reliable source of news information.
Lippman wrote his book at the height of newspapers in American journalism in the 1920’s. During the 20’s, newspapers were the best way to disseminate information. The costs to distribute and create newspapers were low, mass distribution was accessible, and daily papers made it easy to relay up-to-date information to citizens across the United States (Miller, 2009). The paper business was growing exponentially. By the 1920’s, the ratio of newspapers sold to the population of the United States was a “staggering one to three” (Miller, 2009, p. 69). Although the radio era of the 30’s and 40’s would quickly take over print dominance, newspapers were the predominant means of news dissemination during the 20’s, and Lippman believed those newspapers were placing ideas about politics, the economy, and people that were not reality. The frail journalists were placing falsified pictures in people’s minds.
But not only were newspapers a trending phenomenon during the 20’s, yellow journalism was rampant – and this was a major motivation to Lippman’s Public Opinion. Yellow journalism was cheap news that used large headlines and eye-catching photographs to attract readers (Bogert, 2008). Most of the content was irrelevant and scandalous in nature. The name “yellow journalism” derived from the yellow ink used by color printers at New York newspapers (Bogert, 2008, para. 3). In a paper written by F. M. Crunden in the late 19th century, he denotes about yellow journalism:
Yellow journalism indicates that the journalism so characterized recognizes no sense of reason, has no regard for the rights of private individuals, enters the home and holds up before millions of people that which concerns us and those that are dear to us, and for which the public has and ought to have no concern whatsoever. It is “yellow journalism” that at the present time is jeopardizing the plans of our military and naval departments by giving information to our enemies and for the sake of money and notoriety…” (as cited in American Library Association, 1876, p. 146).
The twenties were filled with agendas of greed and cheap paintings of news, and it was these ideas that filled the mind of Lippman as he wrote Public Opinion. The news was filled with agendas, some of which were not factual – even mythical.
Shortly after Lippman’s work was released, H. D. Kitson, in an article in the Journal of Applied Psychology, disagreed with Lippman; Kitson believed that fault rested with citizens, not journalist. Kitson believed the likelihood of delivering news to all citizens, mixed with the probability that it was accurate, was impossible. In an age of newspapers and radio, Kitson argued that information could not be disseminated on such a large scale, and if it were, “few citizens would digest it if it were” (1922, p. 306). Kitson argued that placing pictures in peoples’ minds was not the fault of the journalist; it was the responsibility of the people. The citizens did not seek correct information.
Three decades later, in 1958, Norton Long revisited the subject of pictures placed in the mind – a pre-agenda setting theory. In an attempt to understand the local community, Long conducted a qualitative analysis study on the activities of the local community. After an extensive study of bankers, journalist, contractors, and manufacturers, Long believed the newspaper was the prime influencer in a community. The newspaper had such power, it determined “what most people will be talking about, what most people will think the facts are, and what most people will regard as the way problems are to be dealt with” (Long, 1958, p. 260). The bankers with all of their wealth or the contractors with all of their buildings were not as powerful as a journalist. Norton wrote in a time when the paper and pen were being replaced by a screen and images. The 1950’s were the golden era for the television. By the late 1950’s, eighty six percent of all U.S. homes had at least one television, and by the mid 1960’s, that number had jumped to ninety-three percent (Turow, 2010, p. 304). The popularity of the television began to hurt newspapers and magazines because advertisers were changing mediums. The attention was quickly changing to the television.
In 1963, Professor Emeritus Bernard Cohen made a statement that would influence the study of the media for the next decade. In his book The Press and Foreign Policy, Cohen made many remarks about policies with other countries, but made a statement with significance outside the field of foreign policy. In his book, he briefly stopped to address the press. He stated that “[t]he press may not be successful much of the time in telling people what to think, but it is stunningly successful in telling its readers what to think about” (1963, p. 13). This lone statement drove agenda setting research well into the next decade, and it was only nine years later that McCombs and Shaw coined the term for the agenda setting theory.
Cohen and Lippman described the process of the soon to be developed agenda setting theory. Two other theories were prominent during the 1960’s and the 1970’s that defined those beliefs about the media: Lazarsfeld’s (1944) two-step flow model and Katz’s (1957) uses and gratification theory. Both of these theories “postulated the importance of the individual’s thoughtful use of media messages in the media communication process, thereby reducing the power of the media” (Heath & Vasquez, 2001, p. 270). The two-step flow theory began with a study conducted by Lazarsfeld, Berelson, and Gaudet. They studied the decision making process of individuals during the Presidential election between Dewey and Roosevelt. In their book The People’s Choice, they revealed the results of their study. They thought they would see a correlation between the media and the public’s perception, but they found opinion leaders in the community influenced the voters more often than the media (Lazarsfeld, Berelson & Gaudet, 1944). Their two step flow theory proposed “that influences stemming from the mass media first reach ‘opinion leaders’ who, in turn, pass on what they read and hear to those of their every-day associates for whom they are influential” (Katz, 1957, p. 62). With the introduction of this theory, the power and pervasiveness of the media had been taken away and research in the media’s power declined for a few years. The theory powerfully posed that opinion leaders, not the media, were the ones who place pictures within man’s head. According to Lazarsfeld, the media had limited effects (Lazarsfeld, Berelson, & Gaudet, 1944).
The other theory that dominated the media was Blumler’s and Katz’s (1974) uses of gratification. They proposed that individuals used the news to gratify their needs (Katz, Blumler, & Gurevitch, 1973). The gratification theory hypothesized that there are a variety of messages from the media, and people are capable of making their own minds up. People accept some messages, reject others, and use media for a variety of reasons (Watson, 2003, p. 62). The uses and gratification theory is set on the premise that the media thrives on what the audiences want and that “[p]eople are sufficiently self-aware to be able to report their interest and motives” (Katz, Blumler, & Gurevitch, 1973, p. 511). This theory asserted that the media only painted pictures the audiences wanted to see – the media was not an untouchable entity; however, the media was people. The media was made up of journalists who were men and women. These two theories declined the media’s influence. But as the 60’s ended, mass media was changing. With the recent remarks of the press’s power by Cohen, a frenzy of research started that would challenge the predominant theories at that time, and would ultimately establish the agenda setting theory.
First level Agenda Setting
McCombs and Shaw developed the theory of agenda-setting in 1968. They believed the mass media set the agenda during the 1968 presidential election. McCombs and Shaw hypothesized that the media set the agenda, influencing the salience of attitudes among the public toward the political race (1972). Before the November election, 100 randomly selected participants participated in interviews in the Chapel Hill, NC area. Only participants who had not fully committed to a candidate were chosen for the study. These participants were asked to state the key issues of the political campaigns, as they perceived them. At the same time, a content analysis was being conducted on the mass media serving these 100 participants. These content analysis included: the Durham Morning Herald, Durham Sun, Raleigh News and Observer, Raleigh Time, New York Times, Time, Newsweek, and NBC and CBS evening news (1972, p. 178).
The study was conducted from September 12th until October 6. The data suggested a very strong relationship between what the media placed an emphasis on and the judgment of voters. The study revealed a correlation (+.967) between the major items (television stories longer than forty-five seconds, headlines of newspapers and magazines, and editorials) that the news emphasized and the voters judgment on what the important issues were (1972). For the minor issues (anything less in time given or space allotted compared to the major items) a correlation of +.979 existed. In short, the study set forth data that showed a strong relationship between what the audience perceived as important and what the media placed emphasis on (1972). The study also tested selective perception, the idea that a person is likely to minimize their exposure to the opponent and maximize their exposure to their supportive candidate (1972). In 18 out of a possible 24 comparisons, voters were in agreement with all the news stories rather than just the ones that identified with their party. McCombs and Shaw stated the following in their study at Raleigh:
Since few directly participate in presidential election campaigns, and fewer still see presidential candidates in person, the information flowing in interpersonal communication channels is primarily relayed from, and based upon, mass media news coverage. The media are the major primary sources of national political information; for most, mass media provide the best-and only-easily available approximation of ever-changing political realities (1972, p. 185).
Since the public could not actively participate in the campaign, it was the role of the media to tell the audience what was happening. The judgments of the voters reflected the mass media coverage. This study set forth introductory support for the hypothesis that agenda setting does occur by the mass media. McCombs and Shaw’s study in 1968 gave a name to what Cohen and Lippman had referred to decades before.
McCombs and Shaw measured the salience given to objects – specifically in the news. Since the public was not able to meet the politicians, the pictures in their heads came from the media. In order test whether or not the salience had taken place, testing had to occur. Only after testing the content of the news media and the publics’ reaction could McComb’s and Shaw assert a correlation (1972, p. 96). The study concluded the media do set an agenda.
Shaw and McCombs revisited their study in 1972 in Charlotte (1977). McCombs and Shaw conducted a study on a larger scale. They chose Charlotte because it was the largest city between Atlanta and D.C. with a third of a million people at that time (1977). Shaw and McCombs conducted a panel survey at three different times within the presidential campaign. They interviewed the same respondents at all three times so that they could find correlations between their specific responses over time and the media content. The interviews started in June with 380 respondents. After the third interview in November, 254 of the 380 respondents had been successfully interviewed three times across the three-month time span.
In addition to the panel survey, the study employed a content analysis. The study analyzed the Charlotte Observer, daily circulation 168,000, and the national evening news on ABC, NBC, and CBS. They conducted a cross-lagged analysis and hypothesized that “the media at time one influence voters at time two” (1972, p. 90). Using a cross-lagged analysis, they determined that newspapers and television did play a distinct part in agenda setting in a presidential campaign. In Charlotte, the Charlotte Observer had stronger agenda setting effects in the initial stages of the campaigns from June until October, but in October, voters were more aligned with the television coverage than with the local newspaper. As far as demographics were concerned, the data showed that voters with a higher level of education showed greater agreement with the newspaper, while those with a lower education showed a greater agreement with the television. McCombs and Shaw stated the following about television and newspapers in their study:
There is some evidence that television agenda-setting is best described as matching salience’s – general agreement on what the top stories of the day are – while newspaper agenda-setting is best described by the more radical notion of matching specific priorities – the rank ordering of issues suggested by the newspaper becomes the rank ordering of individuals’ issue priorities (1977, p. 156).
In Charlotte, the newspaper set specific agendas while the television set an overall agenda.
During the 1970’s, McCombs and Shaw were not the only ones looking into agenda setting. Leonard Tipton (1975) studied the gubernatorial and mayoral election in Lexington, Kentucky in 1971. Tipton hypothesized that “the public’s identification of important issues in the campaign would reflect the amount of media coverage devoted to these issues, and that this relationship would be strongest for these people with the least education and interest in the campaign” (1975, p. 4-5). To investigate his hypothesis, he conducted interviews at three different times in the campaign to determine what the voters felt the major issues were. The respondents were interviewed after the primary in September, in the middle of October, and just after the general election in November. Concurrently, the media coverage of the mayoral and gubernatorial races were analyzed from September 19th through November 2nd. The media consisted of three newspapers: The Louisville Courier Journal, The Morning Lexington Journal, and The Evening Lexington Lender. The 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. news broadcast were also coded (1975).
Results revealed that there was almost no coverage of the mayoral campaign and its analysis was dropped. Tipton did, however, concluded that there was a relationship between the frequency of newspaper coverage and public opinion. He also found minor support that the respondents with a college education were more susceptible to influence than those with a high school diploma. He concluded, “there is a relationship between media coverage and public frequency of mention in a state campaign” (1975, p. 13) Tipton’s study brought agenda setting theory to the local level. His conclusions opened the door of agenda setting at all levels on the media.
After looking at agenda setting through the lens of election coverage, Williams and Larsen (1978) sought to study agenda setting outside of an election realm. They specifically studied agenda setting effects during an off-election year. The study was conducted in a rural town in Illinois. A content analysis of the three locally broadcast channels was conducted, as well as telephone interviews with a selected 350 participants (85% completion rate). After the interviews were coded, the results revealed the public rated the economy, government, and energy as issues of importance. But in news media, the economy and the Middle East received more information than the government.
This study concluded that the agenda setting function of the mass media was only operative for local issues (p. 749). The local agendas of the media matched public perception – reinforcing the agenda setting theory. However, the study also examined the radio, a medium not previously studied in the McCombs and Shaw study. The study concluded that the radio was also able to set an agenda (1978). Although the study did not find evidence for agenda setting at the local level, later studies would evidence agenda setting at the local level (Kim, Scheufele, & Shanahan, 2002).
Once the agenda setting theory was established, scholars used this framework to look back in the past to test for agenda setting. In 1973, Ray Funkhouser conducted a study trying to find a correlation between salience, public opinion, and news media coverage during the 1960’s. He selected the 60’s because it was one of the first decades that had been heavily surveyed and reported. By using data received from the Gallup poll, which asked the question, “What is the most important problem facing America today?” (p. 63) he was able to gauge public opinion. To measure media coverage, Funkhouser analyzed news articles from Newsweek, Time and US News. However, the news content of a decade would have been impossible to analyze, thus he only analyzed the articles topically. Funkhouser was able to find a correlation of issues and coverage. The data suggested, “that the amount of media attention given to an issue strongly influences its visibility to the public” (p. 74). Funkhouser found strong evidence for agenda setting, which led him to end his study with a warning. The audience needs to be skeptical. The news media was powerful. The media was the only way of knowing what was happening in the world outside immediate experience and agenda setting was occurring (1973).
In the summer of 1975, Ardyth Sohn conducted a study on agenda setting in a local community with only one newspaper. Data was gathered during July of 1975. Interviews were conducted among 150 residents in July and then again in April. In the interviews, the respondent were asked what they read in the local newspaper and secondly, what topic they talked about with their friends and family. Every news story of every news page was analyzed, a total of 2,011 news stories. The study found little support for the agenda setting theory in the local community. What the newspaper had printed two months prior to the interview was only significant once in July but never again. The study gave “no support to the idea that the local newspaper is effective in setting the reading agenda and only limited support to the assertion that the local newspaper is effective in setting the- local talking agenda for respondents” (1978, p. 333). The study only found limited support for agenda setting.
In 1981, Winter and Eyal studied timing and agenda setting. Up until this point, timing had been given little consideration. The study looked at the most important issue on American’s mind from 1954 -1976 using Gallup poll data. Because of the current events that happened during the civil rights time frame, respondents frequently answered with “civil rights” (1981, p. 378) To measure the media’s agenda, the study also compared the front page of the New York Times with that of public opinion on civil rights. There was evidence for a strong agenda-setting effect, and in this study, an agenda setting process could occur through traditional media in less than two months. They concluded the optimal time for the agenda setting effect span, for the civil rights issue, was a “four- to six-week period immediately prior to fieldwork” (1981, p. 381). These findings complemented the research of Zucker (1978), stressing the importance of recent media in agenda setting, rather than older lingering media. Their study found strong effects for a relatively quick agenda setting process to occur. Winter and Eyal conclude with a request for the examination of other issues in light of the agenda setting theory.
In 1987, Kim Smith was interested in studying the relationship between newspaper coverage and public opinion about issues. She hypothesized that newspaper coverage and public opinion influence each other. Smith used previously collected data from 22 surveys that were conducted three times a year from 1974 until 1981 by the University of Louisville. The purpose of the original surveys had been to give the local government feedback on what the public thought. The focus of these surveys was on the micro-level of the community, thus the Gallup poll question was changed to “What do you think are our community’s most important problems and needs?” (1987, p. 11). Also, to compare the media salience, the study analyzed the content of the local newspaper, The Louisville Times, from 1974 to 1981. Two-hundred and thirty-six randomly selected editions (29 per year) of the newspapers were collected. Smith found aggregated rankings between public agenda and the media agenda (Spearman’s rho = .65, p < .05). The Louisville Times had a one-way effect on the public’s perception about the environment and government issues, but the public had a one-way influence on the news coverage dealing with issues in public recreation and healthcare (1987).
Proof for agenda setting grew well into the next two decades. Everett Rogers (1993) studied the agenda setting theory phenomenon. He found 223 publications from 1922 until 1992 that explicitly or implicitly referenced agenda setting. Of which, the majority of those occurrences happened after 1971. Rogers also conducted a citation analysis to determine the importance and credibility of the work. The McCombs and Shaw article was cited over 115 times, 56% of the time (1993). Rogers believed their article was cited for several reasons, but namely four. First, their article gave a name for the research that had been previously conducted by other scholars, including Lippman and Cohen (1993). Secondly, the article set for a simple methodology that could be applied to other studies (1993). Third, their study found a relationship between public opinion and the mass media – a hypothesis believed by scholars (1993). Finally, the article had impeccable timing. The paper was presented at the 1971 American Association for Public Opinion Research then published in the 1972 Public Opinion Quarterly giving the article credibility and advertisement (Rogers, 1993).
Wiepking et al., (2011) conducted a qualitative content analysis in which they compared philanthropic news coverage in the US news media compared to philanthropic news coverage in Australia. The researchers collected over 769 articles and managed the data through systematic software. Four major themes emerged in the process: prosociality, responsibility, helping behavior, and beneficiaries. The study concluded that both countries’ media coverage was positive, but “US cultural values around philanthropy were found to be largely consistent with individualism, whereas Australian cultural values predominately reflected egalitarianism” (2011, p. 320).
Phases of Agenda Setting
Forty years later, the agenda setting theory has evolved to five phases: first level agenda setting, second level, need for orientation, priming, and intermedia agenda setting (Lee, 2005). At the essence of the agenda setting theory is the issue of salience and issue transfer, but with recent research, the agenda setting theory has grown (Lee, 2005). The phases of agenda setting do not work sequentially; rather, they can be seen concurrently or separately. The first phase of agenda setting is first level agenda setting. All of the previously mentioned studies (McCombs & Shaw, 1972; Funkhouser, 1973; Tipton, 1975; Sohn, 1975; Shaw & McCombs 1977; Williams & Larsen, 1978; Eyal & Winter, 1981; Smith, 1987; Rogers, 1993; Wiepking, 2011) dealt with the first level of agenda setting – the transfer of issue salience from the media to the public. The first phase of the agenda setting theory always focused on the object. Whether that object was politics, brands, or issues, the first level contained an object (Lee, 2005). In the McCombs and Shaw study at Chapel Hill, the object was politics. But unlike the previously mentioned studies, the object is not constrained to politics; rather, the objects in the first level can be public institutions, brands, or companies (McCombs & Ghanem, 2001).
Second Level Agenda Setting
The next phase in agenda setting is second level agenda setting. Given that the first phase dealt with the object, and whether the object was transferred, the second phase of agenda setting is concerned about what is being said about the object – positively, negatively, or indifferent (McCombs, 2002; McCombs, 2005). Second level agenda setting is concerned with the attribution of an object and how that shapes the public’s perception (Lee, 2005). According to McCombs, Lopez-Escobar, and Llama, attributes are “characteristics and traits that fill out the picture of each object. When mass media present an object, they also tell us something about the attributes of the object” (2000, p. 78). Attribution fills in the outline of the picture that Lippman painted. Attribution gives a detailed look at the picture. Succinctly put, first level agenda setting tells “us what to think about”, and second level agenda setting, with the use of attribution, tells “us how to think about it” (Cohen, 1963, p. 13; McCombs, 2000; Lee, 2005, McCombs and Bell, 1996). Attribution explains why people feel the way they do (Kiousis, Bantimaroudis, & Ban 1999; Kim, Scheufele & Shanahan, 2002). In the original research conducted by McCombs and Shaw, the hypothesis dealt with the issue salience from the media to the public (1972; 1978). In a similar way, attribute agenda setting deals with how certain attributes emphasized in the media become popular in the public mind (Kiousis, Bantimaroudis, & Ban 1999; Lee, 2005).
Although newer to agenda setting, studies have shown there is a second level of agenda setting within the media. Kiousis, Bantimaroudis, and Ban (1999) conducted two experiments on attribute salience. They hypothesized that the media attention toward candidate attributes would influence the perceived salience among the public. In the first experiment, 44 undergraduate students enrolled in a journalism class were asked to read fictitious news articles about candidates competing in a congressional campaign. In the second experiment, 60 undergraduate students completed the same experiment. The study found that attention towards certain attributes does influence the public’s perception, specifically ethics of a candidate – with significance greater than .001 (1999). If the story portrayed the candidate as corrupt, the subjects believed the candidate was corrupt. If the story portrayed the candidate as ethical, the subjects believed that he was ethical. The study showed that “second level agenda setting does exist because manipulation of candidate attributes influenced subject perception of politicians in many instances” (1999, p. 423). In one of the first studies on attribution, the researchers found a strong agenda setting effect.
Takeshita (2006) gives a succinct definition of the second level by speaking of issues or objects in terms of “themes”:
The original agenda-setting hypothesis asserts that the media are influential in deciding what issues become major themes of public opinion, while the newly developed concept of the second level of agenda setting or attribute agenda setting assumes that the media also have an influence on how people make sense of a given theme (p. 275).
Takeshita argues that the second level is an emphasis of certain themes, which in return get transferred over using in the first level of agenda setting.
The agenda setting theory has received much recognition because of attribution’s inevitable link to framing (Lee, 2005). Attribution and framing are often grouped together because of their focus on salience. Framing “is to select some aspects of a perceived reality and make them more salient in a communicating text, in such a way as to promote a particular problem definition, causal interpretation, moral evaluation, and/or treatment recommendation” (Entman, 1993, p. 52). Attribution, however, is much more subtle.
Although framing gave credibility to agenda setting theory (Lee, 2005), there have been numerous studies trying to determine where the issue of salience and attribution fall (Kim, Scheufele & Shanahan, 2002; Lee, 2005). McCombs believed that framing and agenda setting were different because attributes are differentiated from frames based on dominance. He believed that second level-agenda setting has both frames and attributes, but the distinction lied in the dominance. Framing was different than attributes because a frame is “a dominant attribute in the message” (McCombs, 2005, p. 546). But others, such as Kiousis et al., believed that framing and attribution worked together with no differentiation (1999). Takeshita (2006) argues that there is a distinct difference between framing and attribution:
Theoretically speaking, agenda-setting effects are characterized as cognitive, while framing effects are considered to be more than that. Given the often-cited description of agenda-setting effects as telling people not what to think but what to think about, the basic agenda-setting process is assumed to remain in the cognitive dimension (p. 278).
Agenda setting effects are much more subtle – targeting mental cognition. Framing is much more obvious, with behavioral changes, formed moral beliefs, and action on those ideas (Entman, 1993). Although a transfer of salience is shown in both agenda setting and framing “more than just salience is involved in framing” (Weaver, 1997b, p. 3). Either way, the link between framing and agenda setting has complimented the growth of both theories (McCombs, Lopez-Escobar, & Llamas, 2000).
Brook Weberling (2011) conducted a qualitative content analysis on e-mail messages from the Susan G. Komen organization to analyze agenda setting and framing. The study examined one year of email communications from the organization to the public. The study began in October of 2008 and ended in October of 2009. October was chosen because it represents breast cancer awareness month (Weberling, 2011). The email messages were printed out and analyzed inductively – looking for themes and frames within the text. Weberling read and re-read the material, highlighting phrase and key words as they stood out. The study found three key frames that emerged from the data. First was action. Action was described as “help us make an impact” (Weberling, 2011, p.111). Second was investment. Investment was described as “help the economy by increasing funding for cancer research” (p. 111). The last theme was urgency; urgency was described as “back us up!” (p. 111). This study was important for the field of communication because of its analysis of framing and agenda setting – specifically focusing on online organizational communication. The author concluded, “by revealing frames and strategies found in organizational e-mails, this study adds another layer to existing research by examining a unique medium (e-mail). Future research could validate and build upon these findings by replicating this study with different organizations and issues” (p. 114).
Attributes consists in two forms – affective and substantive (Lee, 2005; McCombs, Lopez-Escobar, & Llamas, 2000; Kiousis, Bantimaroudis, & Ban, 1999). The affective attribute relates with the emotion portrayed. The affective attributes are those pathos elements “that elicit emotional reactions from audience members” (Kiousis, Bantimaroudis, & Ban, 1999, p. 416-417) and the substantive attribute are the ethos and logos elements which “pertains to those characteristics of news that help us cognitively structure news and discern among various topics” (1999, p. 417). In the previously mentioned study, Kiousis et al. (1999) found that the affective attribute had a much stronger yield than the substantive dimension.
McCombs, Lopez-Eobar, Llamas, and Rey (1997) conducted a study distinguishing between the attribute dimensions in the 1995 Spanish election. The study focused on the second level of agenda setting – specifically the relationship between the images that the mass media presented and the images the public perceived. The study looked at the specific features – the attributes. They distinguished between affective and substantive attributes. Affective attributes were defined as: ideology and issue positions, personality, and qualification and experience (1997). The substantive dimension was whether the information was presented positively, negatively, or neutral. The day after the election, interviews were conducted for five days with voters. The voters were asked, “Imagine that you had a friend who didn’t know anything about the candidates. What would you tell your friend?” (1997, p. 707). Content analysis was also conducted from May 12 until May 26th on two local newspapers, Diaro de Navarra and Diario de Noticias, and the major regional television program. The study concluded there was a second-level agenda effect, and more specifically, the strongest effect on voters was the affective dimension with both local newspapers (+.66 and +.88) (1997). The study also proved international second level agenda setting.
Kiousis and McCombs studied attribution again in the 1996 presidential election. The study examined the consequences of attitudes toward political figures during the election. They hypothesized that media salience of “public figures would be positively correlated with the proportion of the public who held extreme attitudes” (2004, p. 42). The study analyzed content from 11 major political figures on major news outlets. The content was compared against the NES polling data. The study found a positive relationship (media correlation +.70) between media salience and attitude polarization, and that ABC News and CBS News created the most polarization towards candidates (2004, p. 47).
Need for Orientation
The third phase of agenda setting is need for orientation. As agenda setting research developed, researchers tried to uncover the reason why agenda setting effects were stronger with some individuals. The need for orientation (NFO) is defined as “a psychological explanation for why people engage in information seeking and why some people are susceptible to agenda-setting effects while others are not” (Matthes, 2007, p. 400). The need for orientation explains why people seek to know information – why they feel the need to know. In a 1972 political study conducted in Charlotte, Weaver studied the need for orientation and its relation to agenda setting theory. He divided orientation into two categories, relevance and uncertainty. The first category was relevance. People would not listen to information if they did not find the object or subject relevant. The second category was uncertainty. If people knew all they needed to know about a subject, they would not need further information – making it irrelevant (1977a). But if people were unsure of something, their uncertainty would be high. The study concluded those with a need for orientation, a high level of uncertainty and a high level of relevance, were the most likely to be affected by the agenda that the media presented (1977a). Low relevance and low uncertainty would lead to a lower need for orientation, low relevance and high uncertainty would lead to a moderate need for orientation, and high relevance and high uncertainty would lead to a high need for moderation. Those with a high need for orientation most often (79.8%) sought out television, newspapers, and magazines for information. Only 62.5% of those with a moderate need and only 47.4% of those with a lower orientation sought the media frequently (1977).
In 2011, Chernov, Valenzuela, and McCombs conducted a study on need for orientation (NFO) and agenda setting. The study conducted an experiment on 119 students. The students were asked to rate their NFO towards the issues of drugs, crime, and global warming. The students were then asked to read articles related to the issues they ranked as important. The study demonstrated that NFO, based on relevancy and uncertainty, predicted agenda setting. It also proved that the greater the need for orientation, (high uncertainty and a high relevancy) the stronger the agenda setting effects (2011, p. 151).
But with the introduction of the Internet, and vast amounts of information, need for orientation is now being challenged (Lee, 2005). The Pew Research recently reported “people are spending more time with news than ever before, but when it comes to platform of choice, the web is gaining ground rapidly while other sectors are losing” (“Key Findings,” 2011, para. 1). With the decline of traditional media, scholars are questioning the relevancy of NFO (Lee, 2005). The Internet gives millions of people power to disseminate tons of information – possibly creating a lack of attention to all news (Goldhaber, 1997; DiMaggio, Hargittai, Neuman, & Robinson, 2001; Lee, 2005). Others argue that there is so much information, relevancy is going way down and disinterest is rising (Patterson, 2000; Lee, 2005). Scott Althaus and David Tewksbury conducted a study on national print and online newspapers to examine if agenda setting effects were different in print or in the online version of the same newspaper. The New York Times was selected as the sample – due to its national reach. The study collected a convenience sample of paid volunteers. The experiment used three groups, one control group, and two experimental groups. The control group received no special instruction and was asked to come back in six days. The second group read the online version of The New York Times for five consecutive days for one hour each day. The last group reported to a classroom where they read the physical copy of the newspaper. The study determined that as more people acquire their news from the Internet— “they may develop issue agendas that are different than those developed by print readers…By providing users with more content choices and control over exposure, new technologies may allow people to create personalized information environments that shut them off from larger flows of public information in a society” (2002, p. 197). The Internet was a force against agenda setting and concurrently a harm to relevancy. The study also noted that content online outnumbered content in the papers, 177 to 112.
In addition to NFO, the agenda setting theory must take into consideration selective perception (Kushin, 2010). Selective perception explains minimal agenda setting effects. It “locates central influence within the individual and stratifies media content according to its compatibility with an individual’s existing attributes and opinions” (McCombs & Reynolds, 2002, p. 2). For example, if a person is aligned with a particular party, that person is likely to minimize their exposure to the opponent and maximize their exposure to their supportive candidate (Kushin, 2010). This idea explains why the media can have minimal effects on the public. But when McCombs and Shaw conducted their study in 1968, they measured the effect of selective perception. They concluded that agenda setting was favored over selective perception. 18 out of 24 possible comparisons showed that voters showed interest in all of the news, rather than just the news about their supported candidate. This evidence supported agenda setting (1972). McCombs and Shaw also studied selective perception in 1972. The study revealed that selective perception was not an issue; the newspaper set the agenda, not the general public.
Zucker (1978) developed a study that sought to understand why the medias’ influence was stronger for some individuals. Zucker developed the term “issue obtrusiveness” which is defined as “ the degree to which individuals are personally affected by an issue” (Perloff, 1998, p. 215). Zucker hypothesized that the “less direct experience the people have with a given issue area, the more they will rely on the news media for information and interpretation in that area” (1978, p. 227). Zucker conducted a content analysis of the stories listed in the Television News Index and compared that data to the Gallup poll. Zucker concluded that individuals who pay little attention to the media are not affected by it. However, he also concluded that people live in two worlds. “The first is bounded by the limits of the direct experience of an individual and his acquaintances. The second spans the world, bounded only by the decisions of news reporters and editors” (1978, p. 239). When individuals must interact with national issues that they cannot deal with personally, the must seek the advice and experience of the media (1978). Palmgreen and Clarke (1977) also studied issue obtrusiveness in local and national levels. The results supported the hypothesis; a correlation (Pearson r) at the local level was only .53 (n = 55 issues), while the national level held a strong correlation at .82 (n = 33 issues). The results indicated the national issues were more obtrusive than local issues (1977).
The fourth phase of agenda setting is priming. Priming refers to the process in which the media helps create a certain image “by playing up some personal characteristics and ignoring others” (Severin & Tankard, 2001, p. 240). Iyengar, Kinder, and Peters (1982) conducted a study in New Haven, Connecticut on agenda setting and priming. The first experiment took place shortly after the presidential election of 1980. The second experiment took place in late February of 1981. In both experiments, participants were invited to Yale University to take part in a study of television newscast. When the participants arrived, they were asked to fill out a questionnaire with a wide range of political topics.
The participants were asked to view newscasts for four days. Unknown to the participants, the newscast had been altered. On the last day, the participants were asked to fill out another questionnaire. In eight out of nine tests, they found priming effects (1982). In the second experiment conducted by Kinder, Iyengar, and Peters, participants in experiment 1 viewed newscast that either emphasized deficiencies in the U.S. defense preparedness or not. In experiment 2, one group watched news stories about defense, while the other group watched newscast emphasizing inflation. In the final group, participants watched newscast that paid special attention to unemployment. On the final day, the participants were asked to rate the President’s performance regarding the issues of strong defense, inflation, and unemployment. The results supported the priming hypothesis. Among viewers exposed to the defense stories, the difference was twice as great. The way the media plays up certain characteristics had an influence on the public’s opinion. They concluded, “the media’s agenda does seem to alter the standards people use in evaluating the President” (1982, p. 853).
Priming became an official phase of agenda setting when Kim, Scheufele, and Shanahan (2002) studied the connection between attribution and priming. They hypothesized that issue attributes salient in the media would be associated with issue evaluation by the audience (attribute priming) (2002). They tested their hypothesis using survey data and content analysis. The content analysis coded stories from Ithaca, New York newspapers from November 20th, 1999 until February 29th, 2000. Then in March of 2000, they conducted 468 telephone interviews with a cooperation rate of 45%. The study found that issue attributes that were salient in the media were “functioning as significant dimensions of issue evaluation among the audience” (p. 25). They concluded that priming effects go well beyond mere attitude information. Priming can be subtle – differences could be the amount of time devoted to a story or even different aspects of a news story. “The media play a key role in indirectly shaping public opinions for a wide variety of issues on a day-to-day basis, especially in small communities with a limited number of media outlets for citizens to choose from” (2002, p. 25). These studies established agenda setting at the local level.
Intermedia Agenda Setting
The first years of research in agenda setting sought to find the answer to who sets the public’s agenda, but recent research has sought to examine who sets the media’s agenda (McCombs, 1993; Kushin, 2010). Recent research has shown that media coverage within one media entity can set the agenda within another media entity – creating an intermedia agenda setting (Roberts, Wanta, and Dzwo, 2002, p. 464). McCombs, Lopez-Escobar, and Llamas defined intermedia agenda setting as the influence that one media had on another (2000). Reese and Danielian (1989) studied the intermedia agenda among the national news media outlets. They analyzed the drug issue to determine what medium set the agenda for the others. Their study included a content analysis of the following major newspapers: The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, and The Christian Science Monitor. In addition to the papers, they examined two magazines, Time and Newsweek, along with the three major broadcast stations, ABC, NBC, and CBS. The studied examined the content to find a correlation in news coverage – specifically the relationship between print and television news. Using the keyword “cocaine” and tracking indexes for television and print, the stories were coded. The results revealed a significant intermedia agenda. The New York Times had the greatest impact on the other news agencies, including both television and newspaper (Reese & Danielian, 1989).
With the growth of the Internet, research is now examining the impacts of agenda setting in online environments (Kushin, 2010); researchers are analyzing electronic discussion boards and blogs to examine agenda setting trends. Kevin Wallsten (2007) sought to study the ability of the public to influence the mass media agenda through blogs and online discussions. He hypothesized that the media agenda “exerts a substantial impact on the blog agenda” (p. 567). In his first sample, Wallsten analyzed 14 randomly sampled blogs from a list of the top 100 professional blogs. In his second sample, he analyzed the content from 50 amateur political blogs. The study was conducted from July 1 to November 30, 2004. The study compared the content of the blogs to The New York Times. Wallsten used time series analysis to determine the relationship. The paper concluded that on a majority of issues, there was a bi-directional relationship between the media and blog discussions. The media and the blogs both showed influence on one another, at both the professional and amateur levels, and that the influence occurred immediately. Unlike traditional agenda setting effects, there was no time delay.
Ku, Kaid, and Pfau (2003) studied the impact of web campaigning on the traditional news. During the 2000 Presidential election, they analyzed websites and traditional media platforms to examine if there was an intermedia influence between the web and the traditional media, or if the flow was from the traditional media to the web. A content analysis was conducted from the 5th of September to the 7th of November. The study focused on two prestigious national news agencies, The New York Times and The Washington Post. These papers were chosen because of their impact on public opinion and prior research establishing their importance in setting the media agenda for national issues. For the candidates’ web site agendas, they examined the news release directory from the two presidential candidates, Al Gore and George W. Bush. The candidates’ websites did set an agenda – suggesting the Internet has the ability to set the agenda and change public perceptions. The study used cross-lagged test to examine effects.
The presidential websites at Time 2 had a significant relationship with what would be covered by the television and newspapers in Time 3. In addition, what was on the candidates website at Time 1 was also featured on the traditional outlets in both Time 2 and Time 3 (2003). The researchers also examined the websites ability to set the public agenda. The website agenda at Time 1 set the agenda for the public at Time 2, and the website agenda at Time 2 set the agenda for the public at Time 3. The study concluded that Internet based media is creating a great impact in information flow to traditional media (2003). The study concluded, “Web site campaigning can be used as a useful tool for effective public relations, since the campaign agenda of candidate Web sites became the subsequent agenda of the traditional news media” (2003, p. 528). It was evidenced that agenda setting could take place online.
Sweetser, Golan, and Wanta (2008) asked the question, “Who sets the agenda during a political season?” Are blog posts, introduced by the politician setting the agenda, or are they merely reacting to the coverage of the issues? (2008, p. 204) Their study conducted a time lag analysis, with three content analysis, assessing the candidates’ agenda on blog post and compared that data to content analysis conducted on the television network broadcast networks to see if there was an intermedia agenda-setting effect. The study analyzed 2,771 items. The data concluded that the media set the agenda. Candidate blog posts simply reacted to the agenda (2008, p. 210). But this research also found slight evidence for a bi-directional relationship between blogs influencing the media.
In a recent study of intermedia agenda setting in the blogosphere, Nataliya Rostovtseva (2009) conducted a qualitative analysis of blogs and compared that data to the mainstream media. The study conducted an analysis over a specific incident; a photograph taken after an air strike in Israel. Rostovtseva’s collected 331 blog entries and 69 mainstream media publications (2009). After collecting all the data, Rostovtseva developed themes inductively from the data. Once those themes were developed, she compared the transfer of themes from the blog to the mainstream media and from the media to the blogs. Her study concluded that, through analyzing theme transfer, the blogosphere set the agenda for the mainstream media (2009).
In addition to agenda setting on blogs, recent studies examined the discussion in the online environment. Marilyn Roberts, Wayne Wanta, and Dustin Dzwo (2002) conducted a study on the Internet – specifically Electronic Bulletin Boards (EBB). The study focused beyond the cognitive effects that McCombs and Shaw alluded to in the 1972 and 1977 study in Chapel Hill and in Charlotte; rather, this study focused on the behavioral effect – examining if people would share what they head learned in an online environment. (2002). To examine the traditional media outlets, the researchers analyzed The New York Times, the Associated Press, Reuters, Time, and CNN. To select the Electronic Bulletin Boards, they focused in on a blog found on AOL (American Online) – it was the most heavily used service at that time (2002). The thread was found under “Politics: In Depth” (2002, p. 457). The sampling period began on Labor Day and ended seven days after Election Day. The goal was to create a large enough sample to analyze the content during the election season. The content analyzed four issues: health care, taxes, immigration, and abortion (2002).
The results for the study were mixed. The results revealed that coverage on the topic of immigration increased on Day 1 and Day 2, but then had no other effect. The New York Times had the greatest effect on the online discussion board (2002). Three of the four issues they examined showed a clear agenda setting effect from the media to the AOL bulletin boards. Abortion was the only issue that did not show an agenda setting effect, in fact, the more The New York Times and Reuters covered the issue, the less people discussed it. The authors discussed the reasons that abortion may not have had an effect. They believed abortion was such an important and strong issue, that users would discuss it regardless of what was covered on in the media (2002). In the end, the authors concluded, “The more coverage these issues received in the news media, the more messages that Internet users posted on AOL discussion lists” (2002, p. 459). Media coverage did lead to agenda setting behavioral effects (2002).
In a more recent study in 2005, Lee, Lancendorfer, and Lee looked at the influence of the Internet on traditional news media. Their study looked at the Korean elections of 2000. The study analyzed two Korean newspapers, Chosun Ilbo and Donga Ilbo. Both papers were national papers that were launched during the 1920’s. The content analysis also examined Internet bulletin boards. Using a cross-lagged analysis to compare the data, the study revealed that what was depicted about the candidates in the blogosphere was what was also depicted in the papers (2005, p. 68). “In sum, the Internet may be regarded as another source that influences the traditional news media in terms of intermedia agenda-setting…the Internet as a mass medium can influence the formation of public opinion for political campaigns, as well as other traditional mass media” (2005, p. 69). The study concluded that the Internet, through the means of EBBS (Electronic Bulletin Board Systems) did influence the news media. The audience is no longer just affected by the media; they are active in the creation of messages (2005). The study supported intermedia agenda setting in the online environment.
In 2010, Matthew Kushin examined the intermedia agenda setting between the online publication of The New York Times and the social media platform – Twitter. The study tested to see if there was a relationship and the direction of that relationship. Kushin hypothesized that there would be a bi-directional relationship between Twitter in the morning and the online version of The New York Times in the evening. He also hypothesized what was on Twitter at night, would be on the New York Times online in the morning. A purposive sample of the online form of The New York Times and Twitter were taken over a seven-day period.
With the introduction of Twitter into his methodology, he could not follow the traditional means of agenda setting theory. He could not follow the steps of “1) identifying a topic or event, 2) conducting a literature review of agenda setting research into similar topics or events, 3) establishing a code book based on this research, and, 4) going back and searching Twitter’s archives for posts to analyze” (2010, p. 61). Instead, Kushin had to collect the data as it appeared on Twitter, create a codebook based on an initial analysis, and identify a topic after the fact because the events were occurring at real time (2010). He picked keywords that were significant to the study and trended those keywords on Twitter. He then analyzed those same keywords on the online edition of The New York Times.
The study found infrequent evidence of agenda setting when comparing the two medias. “The direction of influence between the two media under study was predominantly from social media to the news media. There were some instances in which intermedia agenda setting occurred in the opposite direction from the news media to social media” (p. 121-122). This study was one of the first studies that attempted to bridge the gap between social media and agenda setting. Although there were not clear results of agenda setting, the study offered insight into the role of intermedia agenda setting and agenda setting within the realm of social media. “Whereas earlier agenda setting scholarship investigated the results of public opinion surveys to measure the public agenda, researchers have become interested in the potential of online activities to serve as locations for democratic participation, including public discussion” (p. 23).
When users use Twitter, they can post about anything. In a study conducted by Josh Catone (2010), he analyzed tweets to classify what users were posting. Using the research tool, Summarize, he examined over four million tweets from the public during a seven-day period beginning April 27th and ending May 3rd. Catone discovered that people using Twitter normally tweet in one of three types of categories: everyday occurrences, events, and finally, discussion (2010). Twitter is unique in that it allows its users to be directly involved in the dissemination of news, or to be passively involved and just read the news.
Social Media and Change
The original study of the agenda setting theory in Chapel Hill and Charlotte analyzed the mass media’s messages and concurrently, the public’s opinions after those messages were portrayed. The study did not analyze the publics’ influence on the media. The original research was not concerned with the public’s influence, nor should it have been. By definition, mass communication presumes a flow from media to people, not the other way (Kushin, 2010). At that time, there was no way for the public to interact on a wide scale with the media. But with the change of the current media landscape, scholars are hypothesizing what shifts will occur within the study of the agenda setting theory, and within the agenda setting theory itself (Kushin, 2010). Chafee and Metzger, in their article The End of Mass Communication, argue that “the key problem for agenda-setting theory will change from what issues the media tell people to think about to what issues people tell the media they want to think about” (2001, p. 375).
In addition, the Internet is also changing the way public agenda is being measured. In the past, agenda setting was measured through content analysis of television and newspapers and public opinion was measured through surveys or polls (McCombs & Shaw, 1972; Vargo, 2011). But with the introduction of online platforms where users can share their opinions, there is a new opportunity (Kushin, 2010). Since polls and surveys are difficult and costly, and the Internet is a free platform where virtually anyone can write their opinion, the Internet is opening up new doors of research (Lee, Lancendorfer, & Lee, 2005; Ku, Kaid & Pfau, 2003; Vargo, 2011;).
John Kelly (2009) in a paper for the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism argued that the landscape of journalism is changing. With the introduction of social media, the audience is the content producer, and the media is making that central to their agenda. Kelly proposes:
Users don’t have to be users anymore; they can be producers, In fact, the tables have turned so much that the old producers – the newspapers, the TV news operations – are now users. Today, the mainstream media is continually asking citizens to have their say. And citizens oblige (2009, p. 2).
Kelly argues that with technology, every citizen has the potential to be a publisher. Kelly argument gains credibility from platforms such as Twitter. Twitter is a “real-time information network that connects you to the latest stories, ideas, opinions and news” (“Twitter,” 2012). Although responses must be less than 140 characters, Twitter has grown into a news system that allows users to see and post text, photos, videos, and conduct conversations. Twitter allows its users to openly discuss topics and thoughts – to be active in the creation of news (Miller, 2010). Authors, editors, and producers are not the only ones in charge anymore. The new web allows ordinary users to be involved from discourse to creation. From an age when people read and watched what was printed and aired, people are now given the opportunity to interact, participate, and set the agenda (Kolbitsch & Mauner, 2006). Jenkins et al., in their book Confronting the Challenges of Participator Culture, argues that the new media has shifted our culture from “one of individual expression to [one of] community involvement” (2006, p. 6). In social media “all users are equally creative and are created equal” (Van & Nieborg, 2009, p. 860). Citizens and organizations are taking the place of the news media with the evolution of social media. Social media happens so quickly that citizens are breaking news stories before journalist know a story happened changing the agenda setting theory (Filloux, 2009).
The social media phenomenon is an outcome of Web 2.0. Web 1.0 was static and conveyed information – newspaper-like. Under Web 1.0, the Internet was there to promote information and advertisements, agenda setting still functionally worked. With the introduction of Web 2.0, along came interaction, participation, and computer-mediated communication. There have been various sites, such as blogs, Facebook and Twitter, which arose out of Web 2.0 and have created the revolutionary idea of social media. Social media is defined as, “Internet based tools and platforms that increase and enhance the sharing of information. This new form of media makes the transfer of text, photos, audio, video, and information in general increasingly fluid among Internet users” (“What is Social Media,” 2012, para. 1).
By definition, social media challenges the agenda setting theory. Social media websites allow users to post their own thoughts and opinions to websites, and people are taking the time to express their opinions. One out of every four and a half minutes of Internet usage is spent on social networking sites and microblogging platforms (“Social Networks/ Blogs,” 2010). These sites are allowing users and organizations to share information, news, and discourse with one another at exponential rates. Social media has enabled masses of people from all over the world to be involved in the economy, politics, and everyday life (Kushin, 2010). Some researchers believe that social media has already changed the way we conduct science, run governments, create culture, learn, teach, educate, and run communities (Tapscott & Williams, 2006). Not to mention, the economy. One social media site just filed for public offering, supposedly making it the largest expected IPO offering ever. Social media’s effects are felt everywhere (Shayndi & Smith, 2012). Social media is changing and challenging the agenda setting theory.
Sue Robinson conducted a study on the effect that technology and social media are having on the newspaper environment. She conducted thirty-five in-depth interviews with editors, reporters, photographers, and media producers from a total of twenty-four publications. Papers from the top 10 list, USA Today, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Dallas Morning News, and The Los Angeles Times were represented in the interviews. She reports in her study:
These notions imply a new sharing of authoritative space on the pages of the electronic newspaper. Journalistic authority in terms of its institutional cache cannot help but become diluted as it makes room for such expansions. With these changes to journalistic missions, routines, and societal relationships, newspapers and their websites are turning into an interactive public sphere that just may be forming a new kind of institution, one whose enduring boundaries are malleable and constructed as much by the content receivers as by the information producers. Such changes must have implications for the press’s power to dictate knowledge to society. The institution of the press is still fully functioning, but the news is no longer the sole purview of the press (Robinson, 2007, p. 318, emphasis added).
The environment of the newsroom has changed. Journalists are listening to the audience for story ideas and innovation. The mass is starting to set the agenda for the few.
Decline of Traditional Media
With the decline of newspapers and traditional media, and the increase of social and digital media, the media needs to be reexamined through a new framework. In a document produced by The Pew Research, it is reported “people are spending more time with news than ever before, but when it comes to platform of choice, the web is gaining ground rapidly while other sectors are losing. In 2010 digital was the only media sector seeing audience growth” (“Key Findings,” 2011, para. 1). A closer look reveals that local television was down 1.5%, network television was down 3.4%, newspapers were down 5%, audio was down 6%, magazines were down 8.9%, cable television was down 13.7%, but the only growth of the year was the Internet – growing 17.1%. For the first time ever, people gathering their news online surpassed people gathering their news from newspapers (2011). Additionally, newspapers are filing for bankruptcy. Two major newspapers, The Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune, under their owner The Tribune Company, filed for bankruptcy in 2008 (Pilkington, 2008). With the decline of traditional media, based on past research and studies, agenda setting has lost its most effective avenue to influence public opinion (Kushin, 2010).
In an article produced by The Pew Research Center, they argue that the gap between social media and news production are becoming one. It states:
There are already signs of closer financial ties between technology giants and news. As a part of YouTube’s plans to become a producer of original television content, a direction it took strongly last year, it is funding Reuters to produce original news shows. Yahoo recently signed a content partnership with ABC News for the network to be its near sole provider of news video. AOL, after seeing less than stellar success with its attempts to produce its own original content, purchased The Huffington Post. With the launch of its Social Reader, Facebook has created partnerships with The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian and others. In March 2012 Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes purchased the 98-year-old New Republic magazine (Mitchell & Rosenstiel, para.11, 2012).
News agencies are already buying out social media sites in order to get their news out. The only social media company that has not received much attention is Twitter.
When McCombs and Shaw (1972; 1977) studied the effects of agenda setting, it was based on traditional media. But with the growth and prominence of social media, mixed with the decline of traditional media, the dynamic theory of agenda setting may be changing. In his article, Agenda Setting: Past Present and Future, McCombs argues that “the Internet dramatically changed the communication landscape with the introduction of myriad new channels. E-mail, online newspapers, chat rooms, and websites…” (2005, p. 544). Couple that news with the loss of advertising, and the newspapers have a bleak outlook. In 2010, advertising revenues for newspapers fell 6.4% and 26% the year before, and for the first time ever, more money was spent in online advertising than on print newspaper advertisements. Online advertising grew 13.9% (“Key Findings,” 2011). The future for print news is bleak. The question then arises: is a new model of agenda setting arriving in a digitally produced age?
Agenda Settings within Corporations
McCombs and Carroll concluded that agenda setting could be applied to many different situations, which included the transfer of salience from agenda to another. In 2003, McCombs and Carroll moved the agenda setting theory outside the traditional realm of political communication and into the field of corporate communication. They examined corporations and how news coverage affected the public’s opinions of the company. Throughout their study, they developed five propositions for future studies:
P1: The amount of new coverage that a firm receives in the news media is positively related to the public’s awareness of the firm.
P2: The amount of new coverage devoted to particular attributes of a firm is positively related to the proportion of the public who define the firm by those attributes.
P3: The more positive that media coverage is for a particular attribute, the more positively will members of the public perceive that attribute. Conversely, the more negative the media coverage is for a particular attribute, the more negatively will member of the public perceive that attribute.
P4: The amount of substantive and affective attributes associated with a firm in business news coverage, especially those attributes specifically linked with a firm primes the public’s attitude and opinion about the firm.
P5: Organized efforts to communicate a corporate agenda will result in a significant degree of correspondence between the attributes agenda of the firm and the news media. (McCombs and Carroll, 2003, p. 39-42).
Although the study did not examine a corporate agenda setting in itself, McCombs and Carroll came to the conclusion that “the core theoretical idea is the transfer of salience from one agenda to another… the only changes are in the operational definitions of the objects and attributes on these agenda” (p. 44). Agenda setting can be applied to any situation; the only difference is the operational definition.
The News Changing Forms
It has been suggested that with the rise of new media, the potential to reverse the agenda setting effects is capable. Sayre et al.,. argued, “due to the speed with which many social media outlets such as YouTube and Twitter function, they may actually have the ability to influence the agenda of traditional new outlets” (2010, p. 13). Writer Jonathon Last argues, “an informal network–the new media–has arisen that has the power to push stories into the old media” (2004, p. 23). As this new media is arising, it is necessary to study agenda setting within this framework.
Kristina Heinonen conducted an exploratory study on the motivations of consumers to engage in social media activities. Her method for uncovering her data was a diary method. Fifty-seven marketing students were asked to keep a diary to report their feelings when using social media sites. For each use of social media, whether it was Facebook, Twitter, etc., the respondents had to give the name of the site, the type of content they wrote, the dates, time and length of their visit (Heinonen, 2011). The respondents then were asked to reflect upon a few questions. They had to describe the content in terms of their opinions and experiences, the activities they completed, and the effect social media had on them (2011, p. 358).
The results revealed:
Consumers are mostly consuming the content; only a few respondents were contributors or producers of user-created services. Of the sample, 201 activities were related to consumption, 41 concerned consumption and participation activities, and 36 were related to production activities (2011, p. 359).
The results also indicated that the respondents used the social media sites for information gaining, opening the doors wide for the possibility of agenda setting in the social media environment. The study concluded that the role of user-generated content is growing, and this is reducing the influence of traditional media marketing (2011, p. 362).
In one of the first quantitative studies to analyze agenda setting in the scope of social media, Sayre et al., (2010) examined the agenda setting effect between social media and traditional media. The study examined the possibility that the new media modified the mainstream’s media’s ability to set the agenda. The study asked the research question, “Will activity on YouTube anticipate the volume of mainstream coverage and online media in general, follow them, or operate independently?” (2010, p. 15). The study examined Proposition 8. The California Proposition 8 was a bill that would eliminate the right of same sex couples to marry. For 14 months, content was analyzed on Google News, Youtube Videos (including comments) and eight newspapers in California including: San Diego Union-Tribune, the San Jose Mercury News, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Sacramento Bee, the Orange County Register, the Frensno Bee, the Los Angeles Times, and the Los Angeles Daily News. The study analyzed over 801 YouTube videos, 2,150 news stories from the papers, and 3,124 news stories from Google. Results revealed that YouTube content was a strong predictor of newspaper volume. The data suggested that YouTube was leading the charge in terms of attention. “The finding suggest that online outlets such as YouTube do indeed have the potential to set the agenda independently of, and even in advance of, more professional media outlets” (2010, p. 23, emphasis added) YouTube videos were the only factor that positively predicted the other factors. The study found directional effects from social media to traditional media, changing the framework of agenda setting.
Weeks and Southwell (2010) tested the agenda-setting effects of television and newspaper on Internet traffic. In 2008, they studied the rumor that the presidential candidate Barack Obama was Muslim. The researchers hypothesized that the volume of television and newspaper coverage would correlate with volume increases in Google search traffic. From June 1st until the November 4th election day, they conducted a content analysis on the major national news stations and national newspapers. They also collected content from Google Trends to measure public salience. They used Google Trends for several reasons. First, if a person is interested in a topic, they are more than likely to seek information on that topic online (Hester & Gibson, 2007; Wlezein, 2005). Second, search inquiries do not set a respondent up with a proposed dilemma, unlike surveys (Hester & Gibson, 2007; Wlezein, 2005). Finally, the data is anonymous and can be collected quickly (Hester & Gibson, 2007).
The results concluded that when television coverage of Obama’s Muslim rumor arose, the number of Google searches also rose (p<.05), and at the same time, when coverage waned, so did the searches (Weeks & Southwell, 2010). As for the newspaper, when the papers covered the stories, searches rose on the first day, but by day two, the searches diminished. The impact was only on the same day that the story was published (2010). The study also introduced a new measure of public salience:
Google Trends offers an indicator of an important dimension of public opinion that is not captured perfectly by previous survey work using the ‘‘most important issue’’ question. It provides a quantifiable measure of what issues are salient for the public by reporting the volume of searches conducted on a given day (p. 357).
The results indicated that the mainstream media coverage did influence public salience. Google was also used successfully to measure public salience.
In 2011, Adrenna Alkhas examined social media and agenda setting in marketing communications. The study employed survey data, content analysis, and interviews. The study tried to answer the question how social media shapes a university branding. Through the framework of the agenda setting theory, the study concluded:
Successful social media marketers have realized that the agenda setting for how media influence is determined has been reversed. For example, the people who traditionally distributed the messages can no longer count on influencing audiences through decisions about what content to publish and how much. The audience is now putting out its own messages and, to regain any sort of influence, social media marketers have to compete with those bottom-up messages by adjusting their own content to what the audience demands and dictates (2011, p. 98).
Social media has changed the top-down philosophy. In the old-agenda setting, information went from the media to the people, but in social media, information flows in every direction (Alkhas, 2011). Alkhas argues that a new paradigm of news has arrived. In the new paradigm: the public creates the news, they control the message, and information is spread in 15 minutes (2011), and Twitter is a vital tool that complements this process.
History of Twitter
Twitter is a micro-blog that was born in 2006; it answers questions, responds, informs, and dialogues in less than 140 characters. Twitter started out as a simple service answering the question, “What are you doing?” (Greene, 2007). But now, Twitter has grown into a “real-time information network that connects you to the latest stories, ideas, opinions and news” (“Twitter,” 2012). Although responses must be less than 140 characters, Twitter has grown into a news system that allows users to see and post text, photos, videos, and conduct conversations. Twitter allows its users to openly discuss topics and thoughts (Miller, 2010). Users who post tweets are the backbone of Twitter. A tweet is a short message that can be about anything that is less than 140 characters. When a user tweets, his followers see his message – tweets are sent to all followers. A follower is a person that follows a person’s tweets on Twitter (Sharkey, 2010), Unless a user specifically hides their information, anyone can see their information. Tweets can be sent through text messages, social media applications, the Twitter website, or through the 900,000 application that have Twitter incorporated within their software (Davis, 2011). What makes Twitter more beneficial than other social media platforms is that unless a user locks their tweets, tweets can measure object salience and attribution.
Twitter’s growth is exponential. Twitter now has three hundred million accounts, with one hundred and forty tweets being sent every day. Five hundred million new accounts are being created everyday, and there are over nine hundred thousand applications for computers and smart phones that feature Twitter integration (Davis, 2011). Twitter is on pace for a 370 percent growth since 2009 (Hagan, 2011). Twitter’s growth can be traced to its ease of use. Anyone with text messaging service, or with a computer with online access, can send in a tweet. According to Jack Dorsey, co-founder of Twitter, “There are nearly 7 billion people on this planet… and we are building a Twitter for all of them” (as cited in Hagan, 2011, para. 9). Regardless of education or social status, people are using twitter worldwide. Eighteen percent of all users have less than a high school diploma, while 17% have a high school diploma, with 21% having some college, and 21% having a college degree. Also, money isn’t a big deal to Twitter users. Users have anywhere from no income to more than $75,000 (“Portrait of a Twitter”, 2009). In regards to age and race, in 2010, Twitter’s 18-34-year-old users grew to 46.6% and only 9.5% were below the age of 18 (“Most Online,” 2011). In May 2011, 25% of online African Americans used Twitter, 19% white, and 18% Hispanic (“Twitter Update”, 2011). Twitter is a free service that does not require an Internet connection to update users, and 54% of all users access Twitter using their phones – which is one of the major reasons for its adaption by users (2011).
Not only is Twitter accessible to its users, all of the information is accessible to researchers. Rory Sutherland, vice-chairman at Ogilvy Group, states in an interview about opinions on Twitter, “they are volunteered spontaneously and without inducement. This means they may be more behaviorally accurate as a guide to people’s actual motivations than the more post-rationalized feelings people tend to attribute to themselves when quizzed in decontextualized research” (as cited in Reid, 2011, para. 13). In addition, Twitter’s API service allows users to search tweets that match their search query. “Twitter offers its users a unique opportunity to survey and contribute to and shape an ongoing exchange of information streaming through the micro-blogging network” (Kushin, 2010, p. 38). Boyd, Golder, and Lotan believe that Twitter is positioned stronger than other social media sites:
Because Twitter’s structure disperses conversation throughout a network of interconnected actors rather than constraining conversation within bounded spaces or groups, many people may talk about a particular topic at once, such that others have a sense of being surrounded by a conversation, despite perhaps not being an active contributor. The stream of messages provided by Twitter allows individuals to be peripherally aware without directly participating (Boyd, Golder, and Lotan, 2009, pg. 1).
Smock applied Twitter to agenda setting and public health. Smock conducted an exploratory study collecting news articles and Tweets. She coded the articles and tweets into categories that contained words in regard to organ donation and influenza vaccinations. After a three-month collection period, 11,656 news articles and 73,944 tweets that mentioned influenza vaccinations were coded, and 908 news articles and 2,456 tweets referencing organ donation were also coded. Statistical analysis revealed a significant correlation between the mention of influenza vaccination in the news media and Twitter r(89) = 0.82, p
Twitter as a News Source
One of the reasons people use Twitter is to gather news and information (Johnson and Yang, 2009; Kushin, 2010). Johnson and Yang (2009) conducted a study on Twitter. They sought to understand the important factors of Twitter, why users were satisfied with Twitter, and their positive experiences with Twitter (2009, p. 11). The researchers sent out a link to an online questionnaire. 242 responses were collected within 48 hours. The results showed that over a fifth of the users were college students, and the mean age was 32 (2009). The study found two factors for why people use Twitter:
social motives and information seeking (2009). When examining the gratification behind Twitter, the study revealed that people do not mainly use Twitter for social purposes. Instead, “users are primarily motivated to use Twitter for its informational aspects” (2009, p. 19).
Johnson and Yang tie Twitter back to the agenda setting theory. Since Twitter is mainly used as a news source, users have the ability to read news content in 140 characters, and organizations and media agencies have the ability to set the agenda within the 140-character parameter. The researchers argue, “Twitter can become a “one-stop-shop” for obtaining information” (2009, p. 19) making Twitter an ideal place for agenda setting and object salience.
Brian Smith (2010) conducted a qualitative analysis of tweets on Twitter about relief efforts after the devastating earthquake that hit Haiti in January, 2010 (Smith, 2010). Smith collected tweets using the keyword “Haiti” on six different for 2-3 hours each day from January 22 until February 11, 2010. Smith collected over 1400 tweets. Smith found that Twitter post progressed from promotional efforts to negativity and critique a few days later (2010). Smith found two major themes in his data– promoting relief efforts and expressing sympathy. Smith did however face a vital limitation to his research; he could only explore data in a defined period of time, two weeks or less. Smith concludes, “Twitter is more than a message engine—it is a platform for social connection and promotion” (p. 336). Through a qualitative study of Twitter, Smith was able to discover that the audience uses Twitter to spread news containing key themes and agendas.
During the 2012 Olympic games in London, a problem arose for the American producers of the Olympics, NBC, who paid a record $1.18 billon right free to cover the Olympic games (Reynolds, 2012). They lost the ability to break news. A reporter for the New York Times writes:
Dear Last Person in America Who Has Been Trying to Watch the Nighttime Olympics Coverage Without Already Knowing the Results: Give it up. If you have succeeded at all these past two weeks, it has been only by moving to a no-cellphone-reception cave or an Internet-free monastery (2012, para. 1).
Twitter was setting an agenda long before the network could even break the story. NBC opted to continue in the ways of the past and wait to show the top events until primetime, but by that time, many Americans had already been informed of the results through Twitter, and if they did not know, it was because they intentionally turned off their Internet devices. Twitter grew from 300,000 tweets per day at the Beijing games, to an average of 400,000 million tweets per day at the London Olympics (Wiebe, 2012). In fact, Twitter was unavoidable. When the fastest man in the world, Usain Bolt, won the 200 meters at the Olympic games, Twitter broke records. There were over 800,000 tweets per minute discussing Usain Bolt’s victory (Prengaman, 2012) but it was a long five hours later until NBC broke the news of Usain Bolt winning the Olympics, at which time, almost every person knew.
NBC received criticism for not breaking Olympic news. A British journalist, Guy Adams, tweeted, “The man responsible for NBC pretending the Olympics haven’t started yet is Gary Zenkel. Tell him what u think! Email: [email protected]” (Tyler, 2012, para. 17). Even a hashtag #NBCFail trended on twitter because NBC tweeted the information long before it aired on national television (Adams, 2012). Jeff Jarvis, a media and journalism professor at New York’s Graduate School of Journalism, commented, “The scale is markedly different than it was four years ago; you can hear a louder voice from the public. NBC thinks it can still control the experience, but that era is waning, that era of control” (Stern, 2012, para. 10). News on Twitter is changing the landscape of traditional news gathering techniques.
In a study conducted by The Pew Research Center, results revealed that “Twitterers” used Twitter to learn and share “relevant and recent” information (“Twitter and Status Updating,” 2009, para. 1). The article argues:
While Twitter users are just as likely as others to consume news on any given day, they are more likely to consume it on mobile devices and less likely to engage with news via more traditional outlets. Twitterers are less likely to read a printed copy of a newspaper, but more likely to read a newspaper online, and more likely to read a news story on a cell phone or on a smart phone (“Twitter and Status Updating,” 2009, para.1).
The role of agenda setting is active in social media – the medium has changed. One way is through organizations and the news media using Twitter. A majority of Twitter users are getting their news content from organizations on Twitter. In a paper presented by Messner, Linke, and Eford, they discuss the uses of Twitter and news organizations. They conducted a content analysis on Twitter using data of the top 100 newspapers, television stations in the top 24 markets, five national television websites, 95 local televisions stations, and 24 local television stations. In addition, 199 traditional news media websites were also coded. The coding was conducted for 16 months from 2009 until 2010. The results revealed that news organizations were adopting to twitter quickly. Only 36.7 organizations used Twitter in 2009, but by 2010, 91.5% of organizations were using Twitter (Messner, Linke, & Eford, 2011). 97.5% of the news organizations used Twitter tools on their websites (Messner, Linke, & Eford, 2011). Tools allow users and organizations to easily spread news. With the decline of traditional media, organizations are seeking new ways to spread their agenda and Twitter seems to be an answer (Kushin, 2010).
Twitter as a Valid Source
In addition to setting agendas and giving the public a voice, Twitter can be used as a valid source of information. In the past, agenda setting was measured through content analysis of traditional media and public opinion was measured through Gallup polls, personal interviews, and telephone surveys (McCombs & Shaw, 1972; Vargo, 2011). Although the studies worked, it was difficult to retrieve a timely, accurate sample of the public salience because the surveys and polls had to be conducted about the past – being conducted through the telephone and mail. But with the introduction of social media, there is a new opportunity. Since polls and surveys are difficult and costly, Twitter is an easy answer (Vargo, 2011). The Internet is full of opinions and thoughts. This makes Twitter a viable option to be used as a polling instrument. The results are often seen instantaneously.
Twitter is an excellent research tool. First, if a person is interested in a topic, they are more than likely to give their opinion about it on Twitter. Researchers can then measure those tweets (Vargo, 2011). Secondly, Twitter does not compel a person to tweet, unlike respondents may feel compelled to answer questions in an interview. Third, Twitter does not set up proposed dilemmas like surveys do (Vargo, 2011). Finally, responses on Twitter can be collected without harm to the users because they have agreed for them to be seen (Vargo, 2011).
Chris Vargo (2011) conducted a study using Twitter to measure public opinion and issue salience. Vargo argued that since Twitter stores information by others, Twitter is an excellent service to search and quantify data. Three popular issues were tracked for 92 days: immigration, BP oil crisis, and the mortgage and housing crisis. The Vanderbilt Television News Archive, one of the most complete and extensive archives of television news was used for the content analysis of television news. All of the broadcast transcripts for 92 days were manually coded. The last database analyzed was newspaper articles from the 10 major newspapers, and the content was analyzed for 92 days (2011). The study concluded that the media sets the public opinion on Twitter. The results were correlated most highly on the same day that the story released. The study also found evidence that the stories on Twitter set the media agenda in at least one scenario – the BP oil crisis (2011).
O’Connor and his colleagues measured Twitter’s ability as a polling service. They conducted a study on national polls and Twitter. His study concluded that the “Correlation [between his analysis of Twitter and the actual surveys conducted] are as high as 80 percent. The results highlight the potential of text streams as a substitute and supplement for traditional polling” (2010, para. 3). Even political consultants are arguing that the most accurate way to measure public interest and opinion is to evaluate trends on Twitter (Brustein, 2010).
As of Wednesday, August 1, 2012, Twitter released the Twitter Political Index. According to the USA Today the “Twindex” (Twitter Index):
Tracks enthusiasm levels for President Obama and his Republican rival Mitt Romney based on an average of 2 million tweets a week that mention the candidates. Similar to an approval rating from an opinion poll, the daily index runs from zero to 100: a 50 rating is neutral, anything above that is positive, below is negative (Moore, 2012, para. 1-2).
Twitter’s partner, Topsy Labs collects all the 400 million tweets tweeted daily, analyzes them for political search terms, and then categorizes them on a scale of 1 to 100 (negative to positive) (Moore, 2012). Even the political candidates are taking notice. The wives’ of the candidates are now on Twitter, and recently picked Vice-President candidate for Mitt Romney joined twitter the day he was chosen – @PaulRyanVP. “So far, the index has generally correlated with both Gallup approval rating polls and the RealClearPolitics polling average” (Moore, 2012).
There have been multiple studies on Disney and the messages they send to their audiences (Best & Lowney, 2009; Couldry, 2001; Coyne & Whitehead, 2008; Gabler, 2006; Meltz, 2001; Ostman, 1996; Shortsleeve, 2004; Wilson, 1994). Many have sought to prove the agenda that Disney is trying to set. “Conservative moralists argue that Disney in fact produces morally questionable products, progressive critics claim that Disney’s messages help preserve social inequities, and social scientists criticize Disney for fostering inauthentic and alienating entertainment” (Best & Lowney, 2009, p. 431). At one point, “Disney was a name American families could trust. Disney meant wholesomeness. Disney meant laughter. Disney meant quality entertainment without the sex, violence and profanity. But more than anything else, Disney meant children. Sadly, ‘the times they are a changin’” (Wildmon, n.d.). Since there is no consensus on the agenda or messages that Disney is sending out, further studies on Disney need to be conducted.
Coyne and Whitehead conducted a content analysis on forty-seven children’s animated films produced by The Walt Disney World. The purpose of the study was to determine the messages that Disney was sending about violence through its films. The films were coded on the bases of aggression, character appearance, sex, character type, and SES. The study concluded that overall, there were 9.23 acts of indirect aggression in the films. Compared to other cartoons and animated movies, Disney’s percentage was well below others, and the authors agreed that “they might not deserve such a bad rap” (Coyne & Whitehead, 2008, p. 395).
In 1994, Samuel Wilson conducted a qualitative analysis of Disney films and Disney Paris. After walking around and viewing the park, he believed that the Walt Disney World was sending messages through their creativity and stories:
The films have at their foundations a set of values that Disney believed in–for example, that through the unwavering conviction of moral individuals, good will prevail over evil, even against seemingly impossible odds. These values struck such a chord among Americans that the movies became very successful (1994, para. 19).
It was evident to Wilson that the park endorsed similar themes and stories that were seen in the movies, and those themes were morals and good values.
In 1997, the Southern Baptist Convention and many conservatives brought Disney’s agenda and messages under attack. On the PBS show, “News Hour” conservative writer John Podhoretz argued:
Well, Disney is an interesting target because you have–you have essentially–the accusation is that Disney is a front; that is, that Mickey Mouse and the Little Mermaid and Aladdin and Timon and Pumba are fronts for Meramacs, which produces “Pulp Fiction” and “Ellen.”… So the idea is that hiding behind the Little Mermaid, using Little Mermaid as a screen, Disney is promoting serious–what we would have considered a generation ago–counter-cultural values, and that it, therefore, is you’ve got to go at it because it’s a fatter target and a slipperier one” (MacNeil/Lehrer Productions, 1997).
To the conservatives and the SBC, Disney used its softer, animated movies as a front for its real agenda: pushing the LGBT message and using its success elsewhere to fund that agenda.
In 2004, Kevin Shortsleeve sought to understand why people have a fear of Disney and accuse them of setting multiple agendas. Conducting a rhetorical analysis of The Walt Disney Incorporated, Shortsleeve believed so many were afraid of Disney because of its power and messages. Shortsleeve argues:
In reviewing criticism on the Disney Company, I was struck that the media giant’s detractors were not so much discontented as fearful. Many critics appear frightened of Disney on some level. They sense a threat, and though specific complaints are voiced, there is no agreement on the origins of this collective anxiety (2004, p. 1).
Shortsleeve concludes that people attack Disney because of all the power they have. Just as a child hopelessly testifies against his parents, people too are intimidated by an entity that is extremely powerful (2004, p. 30). In order to misplace the fear, people must “crack the code” of Disney by attempting to understand them (2004, p. 1).
Steven Heller studied Disney’s messages on Disney.com and their Daily Blast Web site. Heller found that within the Disney websites, there were games that children could download and play. After interviewing the creator of the game, Heller found that the games were directed at kids, and their messages were to sell. The games included Disney paraphernalia throughout, included humor, appealed to kids, and contained an “ironic” and “subversive” tone (1998, p. 47). Heller also noted that, unlike every other Disney product, these games did not have a copyright; instead, children were encouraged to share and give the game away to their friends. Through the games, Disney slowly encouraged kids to market Disney to other kids.
There have even been studies conducted inside the Walt Disney World resort. Disney is so enamored in pleasing their guests; they lie and lie often to please their guest members. In a recent article with the New York Times, Alex Stone discusses the positive agenda that the Walt Disney World enforces at its parks:
Disney, the universally acknowledged master of applied queuing psychology, overestimates wait times for rides, so that its guest – never customers, always guests – are pleasantly surprised when they ascend Space Mountain ahead of schedule (2012).
Disney creates an agenda of positivity among their guest so much so, that they lie about the wait times.
In 2009, Joel Best and Kathleen Lowney studied the reputation management of The Disney Corporation. They conducted a rhetorical case study of the Disney Company, arguing that “the Walt Disney Corporation’s close associations with what are widely considered positive moral values serve to make it an attractive target for a broad range of social problems claimsmakers” (p. 433). The study began by tracing the positive reputation of the Disney Corporation, arguing that the reputation precedes its founder, Walter Disney. The study concludes that Disney itself may not have an agenda, but that organizations that attack Disney are doing it for publicity; “Charging that Disney—a name long associated with wholesomeness—has such corrupting effects is relatively startling and newsworthy” (p. 446).
After reviewing the literature, there is no consensus on the agenda or type of messages that Disney is sending out. Some believe that Disney is an evil empire consuming America, while others argue that companies try to corrupt Disney for their own gain. Regardless, Disney must continue to be studied because of the amount of power they is gaining in the world (Bagdikian, 2004).
A Brief History of the Walt Disney World
The expanse and intricacy of the Disney Corporation begins with Walt Disney. In 1952, Walt Disney began his pursuit of building a theme park. Walt’s vision of building a theme park came when he took his daughters to an amusement park:
It all started when my daughters were very young, and I took them to amusement parks on Sunday. I sat on a bench eating peanuts and looking all around me. I said to myself, dammit, why can’t there be a better place to take children, where you can have fun together? Well, it took me about fifteen years to develop the idea. (as cited in Schöne, 2008, p. 5).
In 1958, Disney hired Economics Research Associates to begin the quest to find the perfect location for the second Disney theme park. The study revealed that the best site for the park would be in Orlando, Florida. Walt Disney eventually purchased 30,000 acres for a little more than $5 million. The land was designated for EPCOT, Experimental Community of Tomorrow (Veness, 2009), but before Walt could see the theme park in Orlando, he died in 1966 (Tieck, 2010, p. 30). In order to build EPCOT and the Magic Kingdom, Disney wanted complete autonomy from the local government. Disney lawyers drafted a “legislation that, in effect, made Walt Disney World a self-governing political entity that would tax itself and provide its own services” (“The Disney Vision” 1992, p. 25). Out of this legislation, the Florida State Legislature created the cities Bay Lake and Lake Buena Vista (where Disney employees lived) and the Reedy Creek Improvement Company to operate the Disney utility. The legislation helped to lead to autonomy and zoning rights. Without this legislation, buildings such as Cinderella’s Castle could not have been built (1992). The company began building Walt Disney World Resort in 1967 (McDaniel, 2005).
The first Walt Disney World Resort, Magic Kingdom, opened its gates on October 1st, 1971. The park was a huge success – drawing millions of visitors during the opening year (McDaniel, 2005). In addition to the theme park itself, Disney’s Contemporary and Polynesian Resorts, along with the Wilderness Campground, were the first Disney Resorts on the property that allowed guests to stay overnight. In 1975, plans for Walt Disney’s futuristic theme park, EPCOT, were announced (Foglesong, 2001). EPCOT opened in 1982 and was the second Disney Park. The Walt Disney World opened its third theme park at the Walt Disney World Resort, Disney-MGM Studios, and in 1998, Disney’s Animal Kingdom opened and Disney took its adventures to the seas launching Disney Cruise Lines (Polsson, 2012).
Present day, The Walt Disney Company (NYSE: DIS) is the largest media conglomerate in the world in terms of revenue and is the largest media company in the world (“The Walt Disney Company”, 2012). The company’s entities include theme parks in America, France, Japan, and China – with a new park currently being built in Shanghai (“Disney and Partners,” 2011). The company also has assets encompassing movies, television, book publishing, and a cruise line. The company ranked #65 on the Fortune 500 list in May 2011 and collected over $40 billion dollars in sales in 2011 (2011).
Disney Agenda on Twitter
Emeritus Dean Ben Bagdikian (2004) at the Graduate School of Journalism for University of California – Berkley argues that Disney, along with four other companies set the agenda for what citizens learn. “Though today’s media reach more Americans than ever before, they are controlled by the smallest numbers of owners before. In 1983, there were fifty dominant media corporations; today there are five [Time Warner, Viacom, News Corporation, Disney, and Bertelsmann]. These five corporations decide what most citizens will –or will not-learn” (p. 16). The Disney Corporation is in control of the media – they have the potential to set an agenda. In an article for the Sociological Quarterly, Best and Lowney (2009) argue that although Disney has much power “few members of the general public have much sense of which conglomerates control which firms” (p. 433). People do not understand the power that Disney has.
Although countless studies have been conducted on Disney’s agenda and messages within movies, their Twitter has yet to be analyzed. Twitter was initially created for people, but Twitter has been taken over by companies spreading news about their organization. Since Disney has such expanse, it is necessary to study their Twitter for agenda setting as an organization. Disney is an all-American company that is an icon of many other companies. This study will look at Disney for many reasons. First, The Walt Disney Company (NYSE: DIS) is the largest media conglomerate in the world. The company’s entities include theme parks in America, France, Japan, and China – with a new park currently being built in Shanghai (“Disney and Partners,” 2011). The company has an international influence. The company also has assets encompassing movies, television, book publishing, and a cruise line. The company ranked #65 on the Fortune 500 in May 2011 and collected over $40 Billion dollars in sales in 2011 (“Disney and Partners,” 2011). Secondly, Disney is active in their social media. With over a million followers on all of their Twitter accounts (@Disney, @DisneyWeddings, @DisneyMemories, @DisneyParks, @DCLNews, @DisneyLand, and @Walt DisneyWorld) Disney sets the framework for future studies.
Traditionally, agenda setting has not moved outside of the scope of news organizations. In the previous literature, all of the studies included news organizations. In this study, not only will Twitter be used to measure salience and attribution, it will also apply agenda setting to a variable lacking study – organizations. In the past, news organizations set the agenda because they controlled the flow of information. But with the introduction of social media and Twitter, organizations now have as much influence or more when setting an agenda. Disney was selected because they bridge the gap between news and companies. Disney owns many enterprises from ABC to The Walt Disney World. Since agenda setting is normally applied to news agencies, the next logical step is to apply that theory to a company that functions in the news sector (ABC, Disney Channel, ESPN networks), and also as a business organization.
Disney is an expansive company, and studying all of their media outlets from their four segments would take years. The company is currently broken down into four business segments: Media Networks, Parks and Resorts, Studio Entertainment, and Consumer Products. This thesis will look at one section of the Disney Corporation, the Walt Disney World. Many Twitter users get their information from The Walt Disney World. As of March 27th, 2012, @WaltDisneyWorld has a following on Twitter of 295,901 people. There are also millions of people that do not follow Disney, but with the ability of users to retweet what Disney posts, and the powerful role of Twitter as discussed in the literature, the impact can be far reaching. Disney is a leader in many categories: news, television, vacation retreats, and television owned and operated companies. Tracing the impact of the agenda setting theory and Disney could potentially trace a domino effect of what other companies will do.
Using qualitative content analysis, the research sought to answer the following research questions:
General Research Question: Does The Walt Disney World set forth an recognizable agenda on their Twitter (@WaltDisneyWorld)?
RQ1: What is the agenda set forth by The Walt Disney World?
RQ2: (Using Twitter’s search service to measure public salience) What is the public’s opinion of Disney as expressed on Twitter?
RQ3: Does the agenda set forth by Disney match the opinion of the public?
In the literature, it is unclear as to whether Twitter is helping companies set an agenda or if Twitter is giving users their own voice, and they are setting the agenda now. Using Twitter’s research tools, this study looked at Disney to determine which direction the salience was flowing. After this study, this framework can be used with different companies. This study will set forth the material to quickly measure agenda setting when large events occur on social media sites.
Agenda setting no longer refers to the process where the media solely sets the agenda for the public. The Internet and social media have fostered an environment where the public can influence and potentially set the media’s agenda. In the ever-growing field of Internet media, studies are trying to bridge the gap between the agenda setting in traditional media and online media. To date, few scholars have researched the impact that social media is having on the agenda setting theory, fewer have looked at agenda setting and twitter, and to date, no one has studied agenda setting using Twitter to set an agenda and using Twitter to gauge public salience. The purpose of this study is to test the agenda setting theory by comparing tweets of The Walt Disney World to the public’s opinion as expressed through Twitter, analyzing the transfer of themes from the tweets of The Walt Disney World to the tweets of the public. If there is an agenda setting on Twitter within the Disney organization, a new model and adaptive theory of the agenda setting is needed in the new social media generation. Previous studies compared traditional news media to Twitter, and measured public salience on Twitter, but a study has not been conducted measuring agenda setting through tweets. Agenda setting has also never been studied outside the scope of a news organization, i.e. New York Times.
The majority of the literature has demonstrated the frequency of the agenda setting theory in communication. With the increase of technology and the growth of the Internet, more news is occurring online, creating a need to study agenda setting online – specifically social media and Twitter. Through past research, this study has shown how agenda setting theory was used to demonstrate agendas in traditional media. The research also showed how agenda setting research moved to studies of the Internet. Now, through qualitative research this study hopes to further explore agenda setting in the context of Disney’s Twitter and how it affects public opinion and the agenda setting theory itself.
The purpose of this study was to test the agenda setting theory in the Twitter environment by comparing tweets of The Walt Disney World to the public’s opinion as expressed through Twitter, analyzing the transfer of themes from the tweets of The Walt Disney World to the tweets of the public. If there is an agenda setting on Twitter within the Disney organization, a new model and adaptive theory of the agenda setting is needed in the new social media generation and will be discussed later. This study tested the research questions of agenda setting within Disney’s Twitter. Using qualitative content analysis, categories and themes were created to measure trending topics on Disney’s Twitter and then compared to the public’s responses. The resulting data of the tweets were analyzed and categorized into themes. This chapter will further detail this rationale, the tweet collection, data analysis, and validation for the approaches taken.
Qualitative Content Analysis
Social media sites like Twitter are in their beginning stages of research, and it is crucial to study communication in the online social media environment (Baym, 2009). Prior to this study, there was limited information about agenda setting within social media – specifically within organizations. Thus, exploratory research was appropriate to examine agenda setting in online environments (Pfeil & Zaphiris, 2009). A flexible research methodology or qualitative research was most appropriate to examine the theory and find out, “What is going on here?” (Lundsteen, 1988, p. 25)
Qualitative content analysis was used to illuminate the agendas that emerged in the tweets from The Walt Disney World to the public, which answered the first and second research questions. Holsti defined content analysis as, “any technique for making inferences by objectively and systematically identifying specified characteristics of messages.…Our definition does not include any reference to quantification” (Holsti, 1969, p. 14). There are two varying types of content analysis research methods (Pfeil & Zaphiris, 2009), and this methodology focused on the latter. Quantitative content analysis “is concerned with the frequency of occurrence of given content characteristics” (Krippendorff & Bock, 2009, p. 145). Qualitative content analysis is defined as “a research method for the subjective interpretation of the content of text data through the systematic classification process of coding and identifying themes or patterns” (Hsieh & Shannon, 2005, p. 1278). Qualitative content analysis was used instead of quantitative content analysis. Since Twitter does not follow journalistic norms or the Associated Press guidelines, quantifying words was nearly impossible with the number of misspellings and abbreviations used on Twitter and SMS messages sent to Twitter. Additionally, since this was an exploratory study into agenda setting, qualitative methods were best to understand the phenomenon, rather than predict the phenomenon.
Philipp Marying defined qualitative content analysis as “an approach of empirical, methodological controlled analysis of texts within their context of communication, following content analytical rules and step-by-step models, without rash quantification” (Mayring, 2000, p. 3). This study, qualitative in nature, took an inductive approach. In an inductive approach, “the researcher first examines the communication messages in question without preconceived notions or categories. Researchers note applicable content categories, key words, themes, etc that can be used on their own or as the basis for forming categories” (Kondracki, Wellman & Amundson, 2002, p. 226). After collecting the data, the researcher examined the data without presupposed categories. Using inductive analysis, the researcher looked for themes and ideas within the data that related to the agenda setting theory. The researcher immersed himself in the data and allowed insights to emerge.
Based on Mayring’s model of qualitative analysis, the research followed Mayring’s model for content analysis. The researcher started the data analysis by reading all of the data from the tweets of The Walt Disney World. Reading immersed the reader into the data, which allowed the researcher to gain a sense of the entire environment, and it also allowed the researcher to dismiss unusable data (Mayring, 2000). Next, the data was read word for word to examine the data more closely. Then, the researcher highlighted and marked words and phrases that appeared to capture thoughts and concepts. Next, the researcher made notes of his impressions, initial analysis, and thoughts. As the process continued on, labels and themes emerged from the data. The themes and labels were then sorted into categories based on how the tweets were related and then linked into clusters. Ideally, the researcher would find between 10 and 15 clusters (Mayring, 2000).
As this process continued on, the researcher constantly consulted the data to reevaluate themes. Once this has been accomplished, the researcher then completed the process for the public’s opinion concerning The Walt Disney World, which answered the third research question. Finally, the researcher attempted to identify relationships between the categories and themes – looking for the transfer of themes from one to another, an agenda setting process – answering the final research question.
Limitations to Qualitative Content Analysis
There were limitations with this type of content analysis. First, because the content analysis happened in the online Twitter environment with tweets that had already been created, there was no clarification about the data, such that could have been done when conducting interviews or focus groups (Pfeil & Zaphiris, 2009). Secondly, the researcher was subject to his own bias (Platt, 2012). Although contextual analysis follows a specific procedure, categorizations, and themes were subject to the researcher. Third, since Twitter only allowed its users to post 140 characters, the contextual information of the statements were missing at times. Finally, the sample of The Walt Disney World may not have been representable to the entire population as a whole.
Advantages to Qualitative Content Analysis
There were also numerous advantages for conducting this particular methodology. First, a qualitative content analysis created an “unobtrusive” and “nonreactive” way to study a sample (Babbie, 1992). Using qualitative content analysis allowed the researcher to gain insight from data that was freely given. Since interviews could not be conducted with all participants on Twitter, a content analysis was necessary. Secondly, it would have been nearly impossible to collect a valid, objective opinion of The Walt Disney World, as it solely related to Twitter, through other methodologies such as interviews and surveys. Third, qualitative analysis studies have been proved as a valid methodology through their repeated use in studying agenda setting (Mayring, 2000; Rostovtseva, 2009; Pfeil & Zaphiris, 2009; Smith, 2010; Weberling, 2011). Fourth, qualitative content analysis put forth rules of analysis that were followed step-by-step, imputing rules of procedure (Mayring, 2000). This step-by-step guideline created a process that could easily be replicated and reproduced. Fifth, this method allowed for a thorough examination of the phenomenon of agenda setting on Twitter. Sixth, qualitative content analysis created a way to examine research questions that would have been impossible to study with a quantitative method (Marying, 2000). Quantifying words on Twitter would have been meaningless. Since users on Twitter were more than likely to use slang words and intentional misspellings, a more subjective method that allowed for interpretation is needed. Finally, using this method allowed the researcher to examine the agenda setting theory on Twitter, and propose a new theory of agenda setting in the online environment.
The study sampled The Walt Disney World’s Twitter, using the Twitter handle @WaltDisneyWorld. Since Disney is an expansive company, studying all of their media outlets was not possible for this thesis. Thus, this methodology only focused on one of the segments and media outlets of Disney, and the most interactive portion of a corporation. The company is currently broken down into four business segments: Media Networks, Parks and Resorts, Studio Entertainment, and Consumer Products (“The Walt Disney World”, 2012). This thesis looked at one media outlet of Disney’s Parks and Resorts segment, the Walt Disney World’s Twitter. Twitter was chosen over other platforms because of its ease in gathering data without infringing on privacy.
Since this was one of the first studies to apply agenda setting outside of journalistic norms, purposive sampling allowed the researcher to select samples “based on a predetermined criteria related to the research” (Hussey, 2010, p. 924). Purposive sampling was particularly applicable in this study because of its ability to collect data that potentially set an agenda (Kushin, 2010).
This study purposively studied The Walt Disney World’s Twitter for a multiple of reasons. First, The Walt Disney Company (NYSE: DIS) is the largest media conglomerate in the world in terms of revenue. The company’s entities include theme parks in America, France, Japan, and China – with a new park currently being built in Shanghai (“Disney and Partners,” 2011). The company also has assets encompassing movies, television, book publishing, and a cruise line. The company ranked #65 on the Fortune 500 in May 2011 and collected over $40 Billion dollars in sales in 2011 (2011). When moving agenda setting outside of the normal journalistic standard, The Walt Disney Company stood as a transitional company, with both news agencies and organizations under their control. Secondly, in the past, news organizations set the agenda because they controlled the flow of information. But with the introduction of social media and Twitter, organizations now have as much influence or more when setting an agenda. As of March 27th, 2012, @WaltDisneyWorld had a following on Twitter of 295,901 people, while NBC Nightly News only had a following of 106,857 followers (“Twitter,” 2012). This is just an example of how Twitter has given organizations the power to set spread news more than a traditional news agency – a phenomenon that has not received attention or research.
Third, many people gather information about The Walt Disney World through Twitter – which created a viable channel for agenda setting. Admittedly, there are also millions of people that did not follow The Walt Disney World on Twitter, but with the ability for users to retweet (Kushin, 2010) what Disney posted, the impact was far reaching. Fourth, The Walt Disney World’s Twitter made studying agenda setting on Twitter operational. Since this study happened in the ever-changing media environment, The Walt Disney World was best to be studied. Unlike when McCombs and Shaw (1972) studied the Chapel Hill area for an agenda, agenda setting theory in social media takes place rapidly (Kushin, 2010). Since the timing of events could not be controlled, and Twitter stopped showing available information after 1500 searched tweets, a study on a company was a viable option that set forth a new framework for agenda setting. This framework can now be used in any situation or with different companies.
Fourth, The Disney Company has been studied previously for its messages and hidden agenda. In an article for the Boston Globe, the Disney agenda phenomenon is further explained. Not only is The Disney Company powerful, but “Disney holds a position unique in the world. As the biggest player in children’s entertainment (it owns the Disney Channel, ABC-TV and radio, ESPN, Miramax, Touchstone and Disney Pictures), it sets the agenda for everyone else. With 660 stores worldwide, Disney’s reach is international” (Meltz, 2001). But more importantly than Disney’s reach, is the agenda that its messages send. Some scholars argue that Disney plays a vital role “in shaping public memory, national identity, gender roles, and childhood values; in suggesting who qualifies as an American; and in determining the role of consumerism in American life” (Gabler, 2006, p. 121). This study evaluated these assumptions in light of the agenda setting theory. The Walt Disney World was purposively sampled because of its power to set an agenda. There had been countless studies examining the messages Disney portrays in their movies (Couldry, 2001; Coyne & Whitehead, 2008; Gabler, 2006; Meltz, 2001; Ostman, 1996; Shortsleeve, 2004), but examination of Disney’s social media had not occurred until this study. The Twitter of the Walt Disney World was examined because of its absence of examination in the past, and because many organizations use Twitter to spread their news and messages among the public – specifically Disney.
The sampling frame for Disney’s tweets was anything posted to Twitter using the following Twitter name: @WaltDisneyWorld. When Disney posted a tweet, a message less than 140 characters, it was posted on @WaltDisneyWorld and collected for study (Miller, 2010). To analyze the public’s tweets, search terms were input and all data with these terms was analyzed: “Walt Disney World,” “WaltDisneyWorld,” “#WDW,” and “#WaltDisneyWorld.” These terms allowed the researcher to see what a person expressed about The Walt Disney World in their tweets. These terms were picked based on the relevancy they had with the Walt Disney World’s Twitter.
Tweets from the Disney Twitter were collected on a weekly basis for two weeks during June of 2012, the 7th- 21st. This time during June was cited to bring in large crowds into the park, which increased Twitter postings (“Frequently Asked,” 2012). Additionally, this time frame provided ample opportunity to research their tweets. Tweets from the public were also collected during the same two weeks using the aforementioned search terms. Using the software tool “Archivist” the researcher collected over 20,000 tweets in CSV format sample during the two-week time frame. Archivist was a free tool downloaded by the user that used Twitter’s API to find and extract all information in a search query. Each tweet was then input into Excel and served as a unit of qualitative content analysis.
Tweets were initially read to get a sense of the data – to understand the information. During this process, unusable data was disregarded. Unusable data included: tweets not written in English, SPAM, personal replies, irrelevant words or characters, or unreadable Tweets. Tweets not written in English, such as “- nee yusu nu ? #WDW”, were classified as unusable. Due to limited time and inaccurate translator software, only Tweets in English were examined. Tweets outside of the English language created a language barrier, and the understanding of tweets was difficult to decipher due to contextualization that other cultures and languages have. Spam, such as:
“Speedy’s Page for @GreatOrmondSt (GOSHCC) every Â£ or $ helps. #Disney 5k Fun Run November 10th @ #WDW http://t.co/8dmJ951M”
was not included in the data because it would have skewed the data and presented irrelevant information.
Personal replies from Walt Disney World were also not considered in the data. For example, if @waltdisneyworld tweeted, “@mickeymouse we hope you are having a magical time!” this was considered a personal reply. These messages were not considered for three reasons. First, these messages were only directed at an individual; they were not concerned with spreading an agenda among the Twitter public. Only the person initially tagged in the post would be able to see the response, unless a person specifically looked at the Disney twitter feed. Secondly, since personal replies were considered an online conversation, for the sake of privacy, they were excluded. Third, some people locked their Twitter for privacy and that information was made unavailable. Referring back to the @mickeymouse example, if @mickeymouse had his tweets locked, his response was unavailable to the researcher, and the data on both sides was disregarded. Additionally, messages with irrelevant words or characters, such as “adafsdfa,” “ih” or “ty” were thrown out. Also, unreadable tweets such as “ujdoa”” were thrown out. Finally, all identifying information was removed to protect the public communication that was portrayed on Twitter by its users.
Strengths and Weaknesses of Qualitative Method
Purposive sampling created many advantages and a few disadvantages for this study. First, purposive sampling was advantageous in that the researcher could collect data that related specifically to the study (Kushin, 2010). In this case, this sampling technique allowed the researcher to analyze The Walt Disney World because of its susceptibility to agenda setting. Secondly, the researcher could select certain artifacts, tweets, of interest to be included in the study (Beyea & Nicoll 1997). Third, the sampling of The Walt Disney World created the groundwork for future studies. Finally, purposive sampling allowed the researcher to gain perspective of “What is going on?” in a specific situation (Lundsteen, 1988, p. 25). Two major deficiencies of purposive sampling methods were its susceptibility to research bias, and its inability to represent an entire population (Kushin, 2010). The tweets only represented a certain population and may not have reached all of the followers. The WDW had over two hundred thousand followers, but that does not necessarily imply that all of those followers read every tweet.
Data Collection Factors
Collecting data on Twitter did not follow the norm for the agenda setting data collection process (Kushin, 2010). Twitter clears all data to viewers after 10-15 days or after 1500 tweets in the search query (2010). Because Twitter hid the data, the research could not take place about past instances or search farther back than 15 days. This meant that the researcher could not follow the norms of agenda setting research, which include: 1) identify keywords to topics, 2) conduct a literature based on the topic, 3) establish a quantitative code book to be used throughout the study, 4) or examine archives (Kushin, 2010). Instead, the researcher had to pick a topic, The Walt Disney World, which could be researched in present discussion. This meant the researcher had to 1) study the data inductively, 2) draw conclusions from previous research, 3) develop themes as the appeared, 4) and conduct the study in present time (Kushin, 2010).
Validity and Reliability
Although the results are based on the interpretation of the researcher, there were measures in place to allow for validity and reliability. Lincoln and Guba (1985) developed four criteria to validate qualitative and interpretive work: “credibility, transferability, dependability, and conformability” (p. 43). First, the study achieved credibility and dependability by using “systematic and transparent procedures for processing data” (Zhang & Wildemuth, 2009, p. 311). Adhering to Mayring’s model provided an analytic process that increased credibility and dependability (Hsieh & Shannon, 2005). The researcher also used two of Lincoln and Guba’s activities for attaining credibility – “persistent observation” and checked interpretations against “raw data” (1985, p. 301-304).
Secondly, the researcher achieved conformability by providing documented records and extensive appendixes. Conformability “refers to the extent to which the characteristics of the data, as posited by the researcher, can be confirmed by others who read or review the research results” (Bradley, 1993, p. 437). The results and data are accessible for conformability in the appendix. Finally, the researcher achieved transferability. Transformability “refers to the extent that the researchers’ working hypotheses about one context apply to another” (Bradley, 1993, p. 436). By analyzing large amounts of Tweets, the researcher gave the study the possibility to transfer themes to other hypothesis and research questions.
Privacy issues were one of the hardest issues to control in this online research. When examining the ethicality of this study, the Code of Federal Regulations and the Belmont Report provided standards and guidelines (Sanderson & Cheong, 2010). After examining the Code of Federal Regulations and the Belmont Report, there were no breaks in ethicality throughout this study. Title 45 Part 46 of the Code of Federal Regulations protects private communication, but the code did not say anything about protecting public behavior or communication, thus it was viable to research on Twitter (United States, 1977; Sanderson & Cheong, 2010). Twitter data was similar to newspapers archives and “any person who uses publicly-available communication systems on the Internet must be aware that these systems, are at their foundation and by definition, mechanisms for the storage, transmission, and retrieval of comments” (Walther, 2002, p. 207). Since Twitter data was freely given to public domain, this “qualifies the research for human subject exemption” (Walther, 2002 p. 207). Thus, since the Twitter examination did not involve interaction with human subjects, and the data was made public, it was no different than research using old newspaper articles, broadcast, or any archived data (2002; Sanderson & Cheong, 2010).
Although Twitter postings were considered “public domain,” the research protected the privacy of Twitter users by removing personal information in tweets, handles, changing URLs, and location (Sanderson & Cheong, 2010). Thus technically, this study did not involve human subjects because the data was not linked to the human subjects (Sanderson & Cheong, 2010). Additionally, the researcher did not contact the Walt Disney World, the public, or create a conversation with anyone regarding the tweets. The tweets were analyzed as documents – not as human subjects. Throughout the entire research process, the participants’ information was kept confidential, password protected, and coded with a unique identifier after removing all personal information. Overall, with those considerations, there were minimal ethical considerations during this study. Furthermore, to abide by federal law (abiding by the Belmont Report and the Code of Federal Regulations), the researcher received approval from the University’s Internal Review Board (IRB) before beginning the analysis.
Through careful data preparation and analysis, the researcher developed and supported new theories and models of agenda setting in the discussion portion of this thesis. The following chapters contain the results, discussion, and conclusion. The results chapter provides a detailed analysis of the raw data analyzed. The results begin with an analysis of the tweets sent by the @waltdisneyworld and then focus on the data received from the public. Themes and categories are discussed. The discussion chapter incorporates themes with possible new theories and new models of agenda setting. Focusing clearly on the data discovered, the discussion incorporates a possibly sixth phase of agenda setting. Finally, the conclusion finishes the study with a summary.
The results are divided into two major sections: tweets collected from @WaltDisneyWorld and tweets collected from the public about The Walt Disney World. The tweets were separated so that each section could be coded without confusing themes between each section in the data. After all the data was analyzed, the data was compared and analyzed for agenda setting effects.
Data Collection for @WaltDisneyWorld
The researcher collected data over a two-week time period during the weeks of June 7th-21st of 2012. A total of seventy-six tweets from @WaltDisneyWorld were collected during the two-week time span. Seven tweets were discarded from the Walt Disney World because those tweets were classified as a personal reply. The @WaltDisneyWorld sent out tweets everyday except for the 10th of June. @WaltDisneyWorld sent out an average of 5.3 tweets per day. The sixty-nine tweets were coded according to aforementioned form, looking for themes and categories in the tweets. The two-week collection period allowed the researcher ample time in observing themes and the possible transfer of agendas. The data was input into Excel and color-coded for ease of analysis.
The @WaltDisneyWorld data was inductively approached, using Philipp Marying’s qualitative analysis approach (2000). After collecting the data, the researcher examined the data without presupposed categories. Using inductive analysis, the researcher looked for themes and ideas within the data that related to the agenda setting theory. The researcher started the data analysis by reading all of the data from the tweets of @WaltDisneyWorld. Reading immersed the reader into the data, which allowed the researcher to gain a sense of the entire environment, and it also allowed the researcher to dismiss unusable data, of which all was usable from @WaltDisneyWorld, except for the previously mentioned seven personal replies. Next, the data was read word for word to examine the data more closely. Then, the researcher highlighted and marked words and phrases that appeared to capture thoughts and concepts. As the process continued on, labels and themes emerged from the data.
The @WaltDisneyWorld tweets were retweeted (RT) a total of 4,144 times by the public during the 14-day time span, and were favorited by users 1,511 times. Favoriting a tweet is “represented by a small star icon next to a Tweet, are most commonly used when users like a Tweet. Favoriting a Tweet can let the original poster know that you liked their Tweet, or you can save the Tweet for later” (Twitter, 2012c). The @WaltDisneyWorld created their own content for sixty-two of the tweets, but retweeted a celebrity three times, another Disney Park entity, and two employees in six of their tweets, and responded publicly to one celebrity in a tweet.
The @WaltDisneyWorld data, the sixty-two tweets, was coded and categorized into four key themes, with one subtheme: Company History, Events – primary theme (sub-theme: Fantasy), Celebrity, and Company Promotion. Below are examples of each (also see Figure 4.1).
Company History: One of the first themes that arose from the data was company history. These postings recorded past events or times of the Walt Disney World, especially in connection with the late Walt Disney. The Walt Disney World has a strong, proud heritage – one that is especially fond of their founder, Walter Elias Disney. Tweets that contained the terminology “remember”, “today in history”, “Vintage Walt Disney,” “Did you know?” were key phrases that triggered a company history theme. These tweets were different than other categories because they were narratives of past events relating to the Walt Disney World. Examples of this theme include:
“Today in #DisneyHistory: “Beauty and the Beast – Live on Stage” debuts at Disney-MGM Studios (Now Disney’s Hollywood Studios) in 1994” (WDW-029)
“Today’s Vintage Walt Disney World post looks back at a classic space-themed attraction – Mission to Mars! bit.ly/JPpHJ8” (WDW-001).
Of the sixty-nine tweets, twelve of them pertained to Walt Disney World’s History. The content analysis revealed that the Walt Disney Company wanted to expose and reinforce its legacy. Hashtags of #DisneyHistory were prevalent, and the slogan “Today in History…” was seen in many tweets. These postings looked back at the heritage of WDW and specific events that endorsed the vision of the company. In an article summarizing the importance of spreading a company’s history, Reuber and Fischer (2007) state the following:
A positive reputation is arguably the most valuable intangible asset that a firm can possess. Firms with favorable reputations are more attractive to investors, customers, suppliers, exchange partners and employees; this attractiveness yields price, cost, and selection advantages, and it often persists over time (p. 54).
The Walt Disney World is proud of its history because it is a remarkable history, impressive to customers, investors, visitors, and Twitter followers. History tweets received 698 retweets.
Table 4.1 Inductive Thematic Code – Company History
Label Company History
Definition Postings that record past events or times of Walt Disney World, especially in connection with Walt Disney.
Indicators Postings that use the terminology: “remember”, “today in history”, etc…
Differentiation A posting that specifically looks back at an event.
Example “Today’s Vintage Walt Disney World post looks back at a classic space-themed attraction – Mission to Mars! bit.ly/JPpHJ8” – WDW-001
Event: In their twitter postings, The Walt Disney World often tweeted of events that were happening at the park. This theme arose often as the tweets encouraged the audience to engage with the Walt Disney World. Postings that recorded a noteworthy happening at the Park, a social occasion, or an activity to participate in fell into the event category. For companies “drawing the right type of audience into a conversation before, during, and after an event creates a buzz that will allow even those who don’t attend to feel part of the action” (Bilba, 2008, para. 1). Examples include:
“Love Phineas & Ferb? Join our #DisneyChat at 1:15 p.m. to learn about Agent P’s World Showcase Adventure. bit.ly/LiZALM” (WDW-002).
“Attention Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom fans: Our #DisneyChat w/Imagineers begins at 1:15 p.m. EST. Details: bit.ly/LiZALM” (WDW-004)
“Ready to make some trades? The annual ‘Mickey’s Circus’ trading event returns to Epcot September 7-9! bit.ly/MFzHpt” (WDW-038).
The difference between history and event, is that event theme was an invitation whereas the history theme was an appeal to the nostalgia associated with Walt Disney.
Table 4.2 Inductive Thematic Code – Event
Definition Postings that record: a noteworthy happening at the WDW, a social occasion, or an activity at the park.
Indicators Use timing metaphors inside postings.
Differentiation A posting of a noteworthy happening that is beginning soon or happened recently.
Example “Our #DisneyChat will begin in 10 minutes. Submit your Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom questions now: bit.ly/L636dL” – WDW-005
Fantasy: The fantasy theme arose from the data and is a secondary theme in events. After reading the event tweets, it was revealed that there was a theme implicit in the events – an appeal to fantasy and imagination. The theme attempted to create mental images in the user’s mind, through imagery, stories, characters, and encouraged the user to make fantasies with the Walt Disney World. Fantasy is a powerful theme that infiltrated events. Fantasy tweets mentioned characters, included pictures, or creative stories for the purpose of encouraging imagination with the Walt Disney World. Examples of this theme are:
“Beauty & The Beast fans: Take a peek inside Maurice’s cottage, coming soon to #NewFantasyland!” (WDW-022).
“Attention Beauty & The Beast fans – Belle’s father is getting his own cottage in #NewFantasyland. Here’s a sneak peek” (WDW-031).
More than an invitation to an event, these tweets are an invitation to suspend reality and to engage in a fantasy world – a world where the characters and their stories come to life. These tweets are fanciful, but they also deeply encourage the reader to escape into a future reality with the Walt Disney World through an event in the near future. It is evident that the WDW is trying to convince the public to make fantasies that will lead to reality – a visit to the parks. Of the sixty-nine tweets, twenty-six of the tweets were classified as event and fantasy themed (19 event and 7 fantasy). Event and fantasy tweets received 744 retweets.
Table 4.3 Inductive Thematic Code – Fantasy
Definition Postings that form mental images, imaginative with Disney.
Indicators Using Characters, Photos, to excite imagination.
Differentiation Postings that encourage fantasy with Walt Disney World figures
Example “Attention Beauty & The Beast fans – Belle’s father is getting his own cottage in #NewFantasyland. Here’s a sneak peek: bit.ly/KAr1iJ” –WDW-031
Celebrity: One theme that evolved very quickly in studying the research was the celebrity theme. At times, The Walt Disney World would carry on public conversations with celebrities. Tweets were classified as “celebrity” if the postings connected with a famous person, or related to fame and notoriety. The biggest indicator in these tweets was popular names, such as Jimmie Johnson, Darius Rucker, Joe Rooney, or Tom Fletcher. Examples of tweets from this category include:
“That’s great to hear, @tommcfly! It sounds like you had a wonderful honeymoon! We
hope to see you again soon :)” (WDW-008).
“PHOTO: Brazilian soccer star @Kaka and Mickey Mouse hang out at @DisneySports #ESPNWWOS” (WDW-019)
“PHOTOS: Country music artists @dariusrucker and @JoeDonRooneyboth visited Walt Disney World recently. bit.ly/KBoSIN” (WDW-069).
These tweets differentiated from fantasy because they did not include Disney’s fantasy names, such as “Mickey,” “Minnie,” or “Goofy” etc… The Walt Disney World would tweet towards celebrities in hopes of being retweeted and in hopes that new audiences (who followed the celebrities) would follow them. It can be surmised from the tweets the @WaltDisneyWorld paid celebrities to tweet for them. British celebrity, Tom McFly, tweeted at the Walt Disney World four times throughout the study, and as of August 2012, he had tweeted them an additional 19 times. In an article produced by the Associated Press (2012), it is confirmed that celebrities can make up to $10,000 per tweet to promote a company. Walt Disney World’s potential use of celebrities, especially Tom McFly, were crucial in agenda setting transfer as 2034 of these tweets were retweeted. Nine of the sixty-nine tweets were classified as celebrity.
Table 4.4 Inductive Thematic Code – Celebrity
Definition Postings that connected with a person of fame
Indicators Using popular names and references in postings.
Differentiation Postings that mention or are a RT from a person with fame and notoriety.
Example “PHOTOS: Country music artists @dariusrucker and @JoeDonRooney both visited Walt Disney World recently. bit.ly/KBoSIN” – WDW-069
Company Promotion: The final category that tweets were classified into, and the most prominent (with twenty-two of the sixty-nine tweets) was company promotion. These tweets were personal promotion of the Walt Disney World throughout their tweets. These postings acted to further the growth and development of the Walt Disney World. Indicators of this category were tweets that showed the furtherance of Disney ideology and or the sale of merchandise. One key differentiating point for this category was URL’s. A majority of these tweets used direct links and/or informative materials for the purpose of making a profit. Examples of this theme are:
“Check out this ‘adorkable’ wedding trend for grooms [email protected]”
“Buy one RIDE, get 2nd RIDE free: June 16-17 at RIDEMAKERZ at #DowntownDisney (free ride must be of equal or lesser value.)” (WDW-049).
Self-promotion by the Walt Disney World led to free third party endorsements and the transfer of agendas. Company promotion theme received 472 retweets.
Table 4.5 Inductive Thematic Code – Promotion
Label Company Promotion
Definition Postings that act to further the growth and development of the Walt Disney World.
Indicators The furtherance of the acceptance and sale of merchandise or ideology.
Differentiation Postings that use direct links and/or informative materials of merchandise for the purpose of making a profit.
Example “Need a reason to head to Tokyo Disney Resort this fall? See what’s coming this Halloween bit.ly/MDjlAo” – WDW-058
Figure 4-1. Chart of Inductive Themes
Data for #WDW, Walt Disney World, #WaltDisneyWorld, and WaltDisneyWorld
The researcher collected data over a two-week time period during June 7th-21st of 2012. A total of 19,281 tweets were collected from the public using the search terms: #WDW, #WaltDisneyWorld, Walt Disney World, and WaltDisneyWorld (See Table 4.6 and Figure 4.2). The 2,723 tweets were collected from users that contained the term “#WDW”, 5,373 tweets contained “WaltDisneyWorld,” 10,508 tweets contained the search term “Walt Disney World,” and 677 contained the expression “#WaltDisneyWorld” (overlap existed – more than one of the search terms existed in the same tweet). These expressions were used so the user could search Twitter and find out the public thoughts and opinions of the Walt Disney world. A total of 4,144 direct retweets were collected during the collection process. During the coding process, 7,051 tweets were discarded from the collection because those tweets were classified as unusable, including, 1,025 tweets on June 10th, the day @WaltDisneyWorld did not send out a tweet.
Table 4.6 Number of Tweets Collected Daily from Public
Date Number of Tweets (Public)
Figure 4.2 Number of Tweets Collected Daily from Public
Unusable data included: tweets not written in English, SPAM, personal replies, irrelevant words or characters, or unreadable tweets. Tweets that were not written in English were discarded due to lack of translation and neglected contextual information. The following tweets are a few examples of tweets not classified due to the English barrier:
“RT @Auckland_Disney: #WaltDisneyWorld te esta esperando !!! Te lo vas a perder?”
“Vai para a Disney? Veja onde treinar no complexo da Walt Disney World: http://t.co/vkA25KeV #RunDisney”.
“なんかみんなの話するから行きた Walt Disney Worldシーも行ってみたい でもパリのが自分を呼んでいるから今は我慢！ @SWATCOACH”
There were numerous tweets that could not be translated. Although Twitter is a San Francisco based company, it does not translate the tweets into a specific language based on location, and the data had to be dismissed.
SPAM tweets were disregarded because of their susceptibility to skewing the results. A few examples of SPAM tweets were:
“What New Experiences Can We Look Forward To Seeing At Walt Disney World Before The End of 2012 http://t.co/3eouNAnw.”
This tweet was disregarded, not because the content was not pertinent to study, but because the same person sent it multiple times within a minute. Another example is:
“ขายจิงๆ vtg.t-shirt เสื้อมินนี่เม้าส์ Walt Disney World It’s your job to make me happy สีแดง Hanes MADE IN EL… http://t.co/HHKebdNX”
These tweets were discarded because they were unreadable, and because they were classified as SPAM – mass messaging without particular meaning.
Personal replies were disregarded because they could have invaded personal privacy. Although the postings were made public on Twitter, the conversations were avoided to protect the user. Examples include:
“@:****** If I promise to set my next romance novel at @WaltDisneyWorld can I have lifetime tickets? #world’smostdevotedfan” (Twitter handle removed by researcher for privacy).
“@******* *in my room packing for @waltdisneyworld* lol” (Twitter handle removed by researcher for privacy).
“@******** I’m working at Walt Disney world for the summer! ( Orlando )” (Twitter handle removed by researcher for privacy).
These tweets were removed to avoid problems with the IRB and ethical consideration. The last tweet revealed a location and work place, which could be endangering, and was removed for protection and privacy.
Irrelevant tweets were discarded because they were not understandable to the researcher. These tweets included:
“RT @WatDoenWe: RT @RichYorke: RT @mrsyours: Wat gebeurt op je ava haha :s:s @SontjeKMB – hahahah woomi @WatDoenWe :ss – AHAHAHAHAHA #wdw”.
“Soarinâ€™ â€“ Flying to New Heights (thanks to @chitowngal71) http://t.co/hrEmoaR8 #wdw”.
There were numerous tweets that were discarded due to this nature. These tweets included unreadable grammar and spelling mistakes, symbols, and missing information. The last group of tweets that were discarded were tweets that were collected on June 10th. Since the aim of this thesis was to find an agenda setting effect, a transfer of salience, all of the tweets on the 10th had to be removed because @WaltDisneyWorld did not send out a tweet on that day. It would be inaccurate to assume that the 1,025 tweets collected on that day were opinions that derived from the Walt Disney World if they did not even tweet. Thus, they were discarded.
An average of 1,377 tweets were collected each day. The 12,230 usable tweets were coded according to aforementioned form, looking for themes and categories in the tweets. The two-week collection period allowed the researcher ample time in observing themes and the possible transfer of agendas. The data was input into Excel and color-coded for ease of analysis. The data was inductively approached, using Philipp Marying’s qualitative content analysis approach (2000). After collecting the data, the researcher examined the data without presupposed categories. Using inductive analysis, the researcher looked for themes and ideas within the data that related to the agenda setting theory. The researcher started the data analysis by reading the data from the public, and focused on keywords because of the amount of data collected. Reading immersed the reader into the data, which allowed the researcher to gain a sense of the entire environment and the mostly used keywords. It also allowed the researcher to dismiss unusable data, of which there were 7,051 tweets of the 19,281 tweets. The researcher highlighted and marked words, keywords, and phrases that appeared to capture thoughts and concepts. As the process continued on, labels and themes emerged from the data. The data, including retweets, was coded and categorized into 6 key categories with themes: High Relationship Intensity (sub-themes: Disney Advocates (Advocating)), Disney Memories, Disney Fantasies, and Disney Characters) Negative Dispositions To the Walt Disney World (sub-themes: Displeased, Improvement, and Employee Frustration), Factual Information about the Walt Disney World (sub-theme: Event), Political, Company Promotion (sub-theme: celebrity endorsements), and Company Heritage. The tweets were labeled for reference in the Appendix. They are labeled with a unique identifier. The identifier “PUB” represents the public’s tweets, and the numbers represent a unique identifier, (i.e. PUB-234). Below are examples of each category, theme, and qualifications for being classified into a certain theme.
High Relationship Intensity (adapted from Duncan, 2005): The high relationship intensity category of the Walt Disney World (WDW) existed in four key themes: Disney Advocates (Advocating), Disney Memories, Disney Fantasies, and Disney Characters. The themes within the high relationship intensity category are on a variety of levels, beginning with positive awareness and WDW identity, moving to feeling connected and in communication with WDW, to wanting to be a part of the WDW community, and finally, being a Walt Disney World advocate (adapted from Duncan, 2005). A total of 3,372 tweets existed in the high relationship intensity category. The first category, Disney Advocates, included postings that indicated affirmation and spreading good news of the WDW brand. These tweets stated positive material about the Walt Disney World. Examples include:
“Disney owns the world. One day you’ll wake up and there will be seven dwarves around your bed. #waltdisneyworld #fairytale” (PUB-3337).
“I’d sell the family jewels to be at #WDW right now. I guess it’s a good thing we don’t have any family jewels… #dependsonhowyoulookatit” (PUB-7764).
“It can be surprisingly painful to listen to people sermonizing their total misconceptions of #WDW as gospel #godforbid” (PUB-3983).
The public tweets positive affirmations of the Walt Disney World – even complimenting the air conditioning on the bus ride (PUB-034). The public, in some cases, had such a high view of Walt Disney World that they seemed to receive love, belonging, and esteem (Maslow, 1943).
“My heart is missing two really big parts of who I am. #waltdisneyworld is one of them!” (PUB-7085).
One person seems to be heartbroken because of two reasons, one of which is the lack of Walt Disney World. Even further, the advocate theme showed religious support for the WDW – even to a point of worship in their tweets.
“Just received an offer for free dining at Walt Disney World when we go later this year. Truly an answered prayer. #ItsOn” (PUB-3169).
The religious imagery and discourse reveal their intensity and love for the Walt Disney World. Disney is an answer to prayer for some. The 239 tweets praised Disney in their tweets, revealing an advocation theme.
Table 4.7 Inductive Thematic Code Elements from the Public’s Opinion
Category 1 High Relationship Intensity
Label Disney Advocates
Definition Postings spreading positivity of WDW
Indicators Use adjective/descriptions about the Walt Disney World that are positive
Differentiation Stated positive material about the Walt Disney World
Example “#10ThingsIMustDoBeforeIDie Go to Walt Disney World”
Disney Memories: The second theme of the High Relationship Intensity category was Disney memories. This was one of the most prominent themes that emerged from the public. These tweets included postings that looked back or looked forward to Walt Disney World visits. The ironic part of this theme is that people were looking forward to memories that did not even exist. For the public, WDW is and was a refuge, a place to visit that is magical, heavenly, and perfect – in a word, home.
“Why I love @WaltDisneyWorld? Where else can you completely escape reality and have the confidence that all your dreams will come true?!?” (PUB-5010).
“I’d like to be in the new Beauty and the Beast castle in @WaltDisneyWorld…. Not work. Not in the rain. Not sick.” (PUB-6001).
Although impossible in reality, these feelings and thoughts came from the personal opinions of the public about WDW. People believed the WDW was perfect. These postings included wording such as “1 week until,” “Wish I was,” “Remember,” etc… and expressed a longing about the Walt Disney World. Examples include:
“My princess begs to return to @WaltDisneyWorld daily. They made her dreams come true! #disney #wortheverypenny http://t.co/rbOR3lTI” (PUB-1744)
“Hello Walt Disney World. I love you” (PUB-1859).
“22 more days til i go to my home (~u~) #WaltDisneyWorld” (PUB-2025).
Even one guest referred to her lack of memory making at WDW a biological medical condition:
“Is there a medical term for the sadness you feel when you haven’t visited #WaltDisneyWorld in a while?” (PUB-7083)
A total of 2,303 tweets were classified as memories. The memory theme showed an intense relationship with the WDW.
Table 4.8 Inductive Thematic Code Elements from the Public’s Opinion
Label Disney Memories
Definition Postings that looked back and forward to positive happenings at WDW
Indicators Include postings such as “1 week until,” “Wish I was,” “Remember,” etc.
Differentiation Postings in which the user expresses a longing about Walt Disney World
Example “22 more days til I go to my home (~u~) #WaltDisneyWorld”
Disney Fantasy: The third theme that arose was the Disney fantasy theme. These Twitter postings exposed the formation of mental images in the users mind – specifically images of the Walt Disney World brand. These tweets aimed at an imagination of the Walt Disney World, including photos and imagery to excite concepts. These postings differed from the other themes in that they fantasized with Walt Disney World figures, and were whimsical, featuring far-fetched notions with the Walt Disney World. Examples of this theme are:
“Dreamt last night I was the random park guest chosen to spend the night in Cinderella’s Castle Suite! #WaltDisneyWorld http://t.co/PTsd77zn” (PUB-263).
“Dreamed last night I got the part of Belle in Beauty in the Beast musical @waltdisneyworld. I really need to grow up!”(PUB-7693).
The fantasies among the public are so vivid, they dream about Disney’ entities, and firmly believe that the WDW is a magical place – even to work. To the public, Disney is an escape. The public views the WDW as a magical place of pure positivity. The fantasies with the public go even deeper:
“Prince Eric & I are having an affair. @ Walt Disney World http://t.co/6yBHk5pQ” (PUB-3823).
This person creates a sexual fantasy with the WDW. The image in the tweet pictures a passionate moment in which one person is about to kiss a Disney character. The fantasy theme contained 607 tweets.
Table 4.9 Inductive Thematic Code Elements from the Public’s Opinion
Label Disney Fantasy
Definition Postings that form imagination with the WDW
Indicators Using Characters, Photos, to excite imaginative conceptualization.
Differentiation Postings that encourage fantasy with Walt Disney World figures
Example “Attention Beauty & The Beast fans – Belle’s father is getting his own cottage in #NewFantasyland. Here’s a sneak peek: bit.ly/KAr1iJ”
Disney Characters: The final theme is Disney character. The Walt Disney World is built on its characters and the face of Mickey Mouse. One day, on a train ride back to California from Kansas, Walter Disney created Mick Mouse (Evans, Buckland & Lefer, 2004; Fodor’s, 2011), and it is characters like Mickey that have impacted millions of people. People often tweeted about the characters of the Walt Disney World. Examples include:
“I get to see Mickey @ Walt Disney World!” (PUB-7596).
“Breakfast with Minnie, Goofy and Donald!! #wdw #capemaycafe” (PUB-6588).
“me and Mickey being reunited @WaltDisneyWorld http://t.co/KpZPPtyl” (PUB-6010).
“Dining With the Characters at Walt Disney World http://t.co/D2WL1JjT” (PUB-5192).
These tweets related to the actors at the Walt Disney World, and included names such as “Mickey,” “Minnie,” “Goofy”, and etc… In order to be classified as a character theme, these postings had to contain names of specific Disney characters. 223 tweets were classified to have a character theme.
Table 4.10 Inductive Thematic Code Elements from the Public’s Opinion
Label Disney Characters
Definition Postings that relate to the personality which actors at the Walt Disney World create.
Indicators Include names such as “Mickey,” “Minnie,” “Goofy”, and etc…
Differentiation Posting that refer to meeting a specific Disney character.
Example “Me and Mickey being reunited @WaltDisneyWorld”
In all, almost half of all the tweets fell into the high relationship intensity category. The relationship category follows stages and is characterized by positive awareness and personal identity to WDW (Disney Fantasy and Disney Character themes), feeling connected and in communication with WDW (Disney Memories), wanting to be a part of the WDW community (Disney Memories), and finally, being completely positive about the Walt Disney World (Disney Advocates) (See Figure 4.3 – the Relationship Intensity Category was adapted from Duncan, 2005 – as applied to integrated marketing campaigns).
Figure 4.3 Progression in High Relationship Intensity (adapted from Ducan, 2005)
Negative Disposition Towards Walt Disney World: When most companies receive a majority of negative tweets, up to 60% at times (Boorstin, 2012), The Walt Disney World received an astonishing low percentage of negative tweets – 2.0%. These negative tweets fell into three themes – displeased, improvement, and employee dissatisfaction. Displeased tweets were when customers were disappointed at the Walt Disney World and then tweeted about it on Twitter. These tweets used adjectives/descriptions about the Walt Disney World that were negative. Examples include:
“So, um, no joke. When I was waiting for my food at Tangerine Cafe in @WaltDisneyWorld a cockroach walked across the counter” (PUB-8200)
“We’ve been waiting 45 min for the Magic Kingdom @WaltDisneyWorld shuttle. We’ve seen 5 Animal Kingdom shuttles in that time. WTF” (PUB-7721),
“Take my wife…PLEASE!!! And my daughter!!! This is why I hate an anxiety attack in Walt Disney World…cause of how they acted!!” (PUB-7984).
In these tweets, an event has occurred that has displeased a guest. The public tweets their displeasures. The second theme of negative tweets was improvement. These tweets from the public encouraged the Walt Disney World to get better in areas. Examples include:
“Hey Bald guy working Kali, barking “sit down, put your seat belt on” every three seconds isn’t helping. Be constructive! @WaltDisneyWorld” (PUB-8184)
“I know the queue for #dumbo is supposed to look like a circus but come on @WaltDisneyWorld it looks cheap!!!” (PUB-7598)
“I have the impression that most of Walt Disney World is aging badly” (PUB-4085).
The public approached Walt Disney World with gentleness in their tweets. When most people would just yell their complaints, most users suggested problem-solution type tweets. The last theme of negativity came from Walt Disney World employees. Their dissatisfaction with the company is clearly seen in their tweets. Examples are:
“For once working @Walt Disney World an hating it, I don’t talk nearly enough s*** about Disney. You’re on notice Mickey. Right after Lebron” (PUB-1836)
“I miss the cross walk light every.f***ing.day. f*** you Walt Disney World and your stupid cast parking rule” (PUB-350) (Tweets censored by researcher).
It would be beneficial for Walt Disney World to monitor tweets sent by their employees to avoid negative dispositions spreading. Only 248 tweets were classified as negative.
Table 4.11 Inductive Thematic Code Elements from the Public’s Opinion
Label Negative Disposition
Definition Postings that are characterized by negativity, displeasure, and improvement.
Indicators Use adjectives/description about the Walt Disney World that are negative
Differentiation Stated negative material about the Walt Disney World
Example Back at the room and guess what room keys don’t work again ! How many times is this going 2 happen? We are only on our second day ! #wdw
Definition Displeased tweets were when customers were disappointed at the Walt Disney World and then tweeted about it on Twitter.
Indicators These tweets used adjectives/descriptions about the Walt Disney World that were negative
Differentiation Upset with no solution
Example “Take my wife…PLEASE!!! And my daughter!!! This is why I hate an anxiety attack in Walt Disney World…cause of how they acted!!”
Label Need for Improvement
Definition Postings that pointed out a negative of WDW, yet prescribed a solution.
Indicators Suggestions, fixes, etc…
Differentiation Specifically pointed out a problem to be fixed. Constructive.
Example “Hey Bald guy working Kali, barking “sit down, put your seat belt on” every three seconds isn’t helping. Be constructive! @WaltDisneyWorld”
Label Employee Frustration
Definition Postings that relate to the employees of Walt Disney being frustrated at their work.
Indicators Included names of where they worked
Differentiation Posting that were of specific employees
Example “I miss the cross walk light every.f***ing.day. f*** you Walt Disney World and your stupid cast parking rule”
Factual Information about the Company: A category that quickly appeared in many tweets was a generic category with tweets about the Walt Disney World. This theme was divided into two sub-themes, informative statements and events. The first theme, informative statements, featured postings that stated facts about the Walt Disney World, without taking a stance on the issue presented. These postings made general statements and thoughts about the Walt Disney World in their tweets and but did not contain an opinion or feeling; the tweets did not use positive or negative tones in the statements. Examples of these tweets include:
“Entrances to room at the value and moderate resorts is from the outside. Deluxe resorts have interior entrances & hallways. #wdw #Disney” (PUB-5581)
“The largest employer in Central Florida is Walt Disney World. There are approximately 50,000 people working there.” (PUB-4520).
“There is a massive system of tunnels under the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World, called “Utilidors.” (PUB-1193).
In these tweets, the public is sharing facts about the WDW. Although being the largest employer in Central Florida is positive in this economy, these tweets were classified as facts because they did not take a stance on the issue. Also, the last tweet, mentioning the massive tunnel system received many retweets because it is not a well-known fact in the WDW community. Only 228 tweets were classified in this category.
Table 4.12 Inductive Thematic Code Elements from the Public’s Opinion
Category 3 Factual Information
Definition Postings that make general statements about the Walt Disney World without stating an opinion or feeling.
Indicators Include facts or statements.
Differentiation Postings do not use positive or negative tones in the statements.
Example “There is a massive system of tunnels under the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World, called “Utilidors.”
Events: The sub-theme, events, featured the public posting events that had recently happened or were about to happen at the Walt Disney World. The public would often tweet of events that were happening at the park. Postings that record a happening or activity fell into the events category. Examples include:
“Fireworks Light the Sky for Fourth of July at Walt Disney World Resort http://t.co/F6U7COWc via @sharethis” (PUB-812)
“Signed up for the Walt Disney World Full Marathon!!! Ahhh so nervous!! :)”
“Our 2nd annual golf tournament is BACK! Friday, October 19th! Presented by Walt Disney World… It sold OUT last… http://t.co/o4ClVvbe” (PUB-1202).
These tweets are different than history – they do not relive nostalgic moments of the WDW; instead, they look to a current or future happening. Of all the tweets collected, 674 of the tweets were classified as event for a total of 902 in the Factual Information Category.
Table 4.13 Inductive Thematic Code Elements from the Public’s Opinion
Definition Recorded an activity at the WDW Park
Indicators Use timing metaphors inside postings.
Differentiation A posting of a noteworthy happening that is beginning soon or happened recently.
Example “Our #DisneyChat will begin in 10 minutes. Submit your Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom questions now: bit.ly/L636dL”
Political: Although the number of the tweets in this theme were significantly less than the other themes and categories, political tweets arose during the study. These postings related to government or someone campaigning for political office. It can be surmised that these tweets were due to the Presidential election occurring in November of 2012, since the tweets often included the names Obama and Romney. These tweets include:
“Obama, Romney hitting Walt Disney World http://t.co/PG5SDwbp” (PUB-336).
“President Obama to Visit Walt Disney World This Week For Conference http://t.co/IHesbzuV” (PUB-794).
“Stories being filed with Mitt Romney addressing Latino leadership conference at Walt Disney World. #fnnnews” (PUB-043).
These tweets were rare – there were only 33 tweets included with a political theme. These politically charged tweets, ironically, did not feature a predisposition to a candidate or a political party. Most likely, these tweets were sent by organizations who did not want to take a political stance and lose their non-profit status.
Table 4.14 Inductive Thematic Code Elements from the Public’s Opinion
Category 4 Political
Definition Postings relating to government or using the words: Obama or Romney
Indicators Include the words Obama, Romney, Political, etc..
Differentiation Only relates to political postings.
Example “Obama, Romney hitting Walt Disney World http://t.co/o72mFkuR”
Company Promotion: The largest category that tweets were classified into, and the most prominent was company promotion. The company promotion theme existed for three primary reasons: the public was satisfied with WDW, the public trusted the WDW, and the public liked them enough to endorse and promote WDW as their own (adapted from Duncan, 2005). The public was satisfied with the WDW; the public had positive experiences with the WDW that led to benefits for them. Second, the public trusted the WDW. To the public, WDW had always provided the benefits promised. Lastly, the public liked the WDW and wanted to share their positive experiences with others by promoting the Walt Disney World (Duncan, 2005). These three reasons are why the public felt it was their mission to endorse the WDW.
Company Promotion tweets fell into three main themes: third party personal endorsements, promotion by other organizations, and celebrity endorsements. First, personal endorsements were postings that acted to further the brand of the Walt Disney World and were tweeted by public users. Indicators of this category were tweets that mentioned the sale of merchandise or advertisements. Examples of this include:
“Carl doing what Carl does best – entertaining guests and pouring the best drinks in #Epcot. #WDW http://t.co/zdGf23HC” (PUB-540).
“Tip – the fireworks display on the 4th is also done on the 3rd at magic kingdom. A win win for anyone here both days! #wdw #Disney” (PUB-620).
“AHHH! Can’t wait! New Dooney & Bourke Items Releasing on July 14 at Walt Disney World Resort!!! http://t.co/bcUQkNUm,” (PUB-2674).
“RT @disneytips: “Visiting Walt Disney World with Children” (via Huffington Post) http://t.co/UoftKBfH” (PUB-6477).
Table 4.15 Inductive Thematic Code Elements from the Public’s Opinion
Category 5 Company Promotion
Label Third Party Personal Endorsements
Definition Postings that act to further the brand of the Walt Disney World by people.
Indicators Tweets that showed the furtherance of the acceptance of the WDW
Differentiation Postings that endorsed WDW for a personal POV.
Example “AHHH! Can’t wait! New Dooney & Bourke Items Releasing on July 14 at Walt Disney World Resort!!! http://t.co/bcUQkNUm”
The other type of promotion was done by third party organizations. Many organizations held contest or promotions on Twitter using the Walt Disney World to their financial gain. Many companies attempted to cross promote or tie in their products to the WDW for their own advantage (Duncan, 2005). Companies would try to promote two products together, tying one WDW product with their own promotion. Companies hoped to gain exposure from the WDW brand. Examples of this theme are:
“7 Fun Things to Do Outside the Walt Disney World Theme Parks http://t.co/MPFrucy7” (PUB-105)
“You can save up to 30% at select Walt Disney World® Resort hotels during the late summer period. Book through… http://t.co/2tEC0S92” (PUB-1776).
“Less than 48 HOURS LEFT to take advantage of our lowest prices of the year for Walt Disney World tickets!” (PUB-1414).
“From $49: A one-night stay for four at the Ramada Gateway, A Walt Disney World G.. http://t.co/aYFazUoj at #Louisville” (PUB-1493 – Retweeted 271 times).
All of these tweets, although endorsing the Walt Disney World, allow organizations to try and profit from Disney’s success. 4,113 personal and organization promotional tweets were collected.
Table 4.16 Inductive Thematic Code Elements from the Public’s Opinion
Label Promotion by Other Organizations
Definition Postings that act to further the brand of the WDW and their own corporate brand
Indicators Third Party Endorsements
Differentiation Postings that endorsed WDW from an organization.
Example “PHOTOS: Country music artists @dariusrucker and @JoeDonRooney both visited Walt Disney World recently. bit.ly/KBoSIN”
Celebrity: The final theme of promotion was celebrity endorsements. One topic that evolved very quickly in studying the research was the celebrity theme. In one instance, the public retweed a public conversation that Walt Disney had with a British celebrity thousands of times. Tweets were classified as “celebrity” if the postings connected with a famous person, or related to fame and notoriety. These tweets differentiated from fantasy or character because they did not include popular Disney’s names, such as “Mickey,” “Minnie,” or “Goofy” etc… These tweets also used celebrity status to promote The Walt Disney World. Examples of tweets from this category include:
“My friend @********* just saw Melissa Joan Hart at Le Cellier! #WDW” (PUB-6424).
“RT @tommcfly: and did I tell you about the Star Wars peanut butter chocolate muffin I had in @WaltDisneyWorld…imagine the best muffin you’ve had X 1000!” (PUB-3335 – Retweed 439 times and favorited 190 times).
“Olivia Newton John joins returning favs for ’12 #Epcot Candlelight Processional. #WDW http://t.co/qNtfo6zr” (PUB-4602).
2,239 tweets were classified as celebrity. In all, 6,352 tweets were classified as promotion. With the possibility of WDW using celebrities to promote, it proved to be a very persuasive technique.
Table 4.17 Inductive Thematic Code Elements from the Public’s Opinion
Label Celebrity Endorsements
Definition Postings that connect with a fame
Indicators Using popular names and references in postings.
Differentiation Postings that mention or are a RT from a person with fame and notoriety.
Example “PHOTOS: Country music artists @dariusrucker and @JoeDonRooney both visited Walt Disney World recently. bit.ly/KBoSIN”
Company History: One of the largest themes that arose from the data was company history. These postings recorded past events or times of the Walt Disney World. Tweets that contained the terminology “remember”, “today in history”, “Vintage Walt Disney,” “Did you know,” and etc… were key phrases that triggered a company history theme. These tweets were different than other themes because they were narratives of past events relating to the Walt Disney World. Another reason for a history theme, is that there are numerous Twitter profiles that tweet Walt Disney World facts hoping to increase followers through RTs. Such examples are: @WDWfacts and @imagineeringdis. These users tweet facts about the Walt Disney World that get retweeted. Examples of this theme include:
“17 years ago, today, the “Partners” Statue was dedicated at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom!: … http://t.co/y2njiXsw #reddit #disney” (PUB-1406)
“@wdwfacts: Walt Disney World Trivia of the Day: In what WDW park can you find Summit Plummet?” (PUB-1384).
1,323 tweets pertained to Walt Disney’s History, including numerous retweets.
Table 4.18 Inductive Thematic Code Elements from the Public’s Opinion
Category 6 Company History
Definition Postings that record past events or times of Walt Disney World, especially in connection with Walt Disney.
Indicators Postings that use the terminology: “remember”, “today in history”, etc…
Differentiation A posting that specifically looks back at an event.
Example “Today’s Vintage Walt Disney World post looks back at a classic space-themed attraction – Mission to Mars! bit.ly/JPpHJ8”
Figure 4-4. Chart of Inductive Themes
After reviewing the past literature on agenda setting theory, the researcher designed the current study to explore the implications of the agenda setting theory in mediums that have not been previously examined. While past literature sought to understand the agenda setting theory in traditional media with quantitative and a few qualitative methods, this study presents new information on an unexamined social media field with a qualitative content analysis. The current thesis not only looks at the agenda setting theory, but it examines the social media atmosphere as a whole. While there is still much to be studied in the field of social media, this study made strides in applying a qualitative study to the agenda setting theory in an online social environment. Below the researcher will answer the previously mentioned research questions.
Research Question 1
General Research Question: Does The Walt Disney World set forth an agenda on their Twitter (@WaltDisneyWorld)?
RQ1: What is the agenda set forth by The Walt Disney World?
The Walt Disney World does set forth an agenda on Twitter. To summarize the agenda set forth by the Walt Disney World as perceived in the tweets by the researcher:
“To create an atmosphere in which the audience is encouraged to positively connect with, reminisce about, and imagine with, while being invited to come and visit the Walt Disney World again and again.
In their tweets, the Walt Disney World (@WaltDisneyWorld) created a positive environment. The Walt Disney World did not incite any negativity in their tweets, and the wording was always gratifying. As seen in the previous themes, people vigorously believed that the WDW was magical – to the point of perfection, and the Walt Disney World wanted to further that belief. The Walt Disney World would often turn a disappointing event into something positive by tweeting:
“Star Wars Weekends may be over, but the “Carbon-Freeze Me” Experience is still open through June 16! bit.ly/KQjQWq” (WDW-033).
The Walt Disney World set an agenda of positivity. They never responded to critiques, never corrected erroneous thinking from people tweeting them, and never mentioned any negative breaking news, unlike many organizations on Twitter. For example, another organization on Twitter, US Airways (@USAirways) is often responding to criticisms on Twitter. Just a simple look at their Twitter feed reveals that they respond to many negative complaints every day:
“I’m sorry for your experience. I would be happy to assist you. Please follow/DM with the confirmation if I can help” (Twitter, 2012b).
“Sorry for your loss… If I can look into something for you please follow & DM your confirmation code with details” (Twitter, 2012b)
“Sorry for the experience. Please follow and DM your Confirmation Code if I can be of assistance” (Twitter, 2012b)
The @WaltDisneyWorld didn’t respond to or create an environment or negativity, but one of positivity. The @WaltDisneyWorld set an agenda of only happiness – and political correctness. By avoiding all things negative, WDW was allowed to continue to push and position themselves as the happiest place online “Where Dreams Come True”. During the study, even when rough storms threatened to hit the Orlando area, @WaltDisneyWorld completely avoided the news. When President Obama and Mitt Romney visited the Contemporary Resort at Walt Disney World, @WaltDisneyWorld avoided the topic altogether and instead tweeted:
“PHOTOS: Country music artists @dariusrucker and @JoeDonRooneyboth visited Walt Disney World recently. bit.ly/KBoSIN” (WDW-069).
Even when the Walt Disney World raised their ticket prices to $89 for a one day visit, and there was critique in the local newspapers and comments on Twitter, @WaltDisneyWorld avoided the news, and instead always and only pushed an agenda of positivity about themselves. Their agenda was to paint a positive and majestic view of the Walt Disney World regardless of what was currently happening, and that agenda and salience spread to the public. If WDW were to engage in any negativity, their ability to promote dreams – a mythical perfect reality would be destroyed.
In the tweets of the @WaltDisneyWorld, the public was encouraged to connect with the @WaltDisneyWorld. Although there were less than eight personal replies to people (this data was collected, but not qualitatively analyzed because it was personal), consumers were encouraged to engage with WDW in different ways. Some companies, such as Chipotle, spend 90% of their activity on Twitter responding to customers with personal replies (Klamm, 2012), but WDW conducted their strategy differently. Although @WaltDisneyWorld did not reply often to customers – furthering an online conversation, they did meet the objective of communication through various strategies. They connected with users through their postings, specifically their online events, blogs, and images. The WDW was not primarily concerned with an online conversation, but rather a personal conversation at their resorts later in time. With tweets such as:
“We’re on a mad dash to Magic Kingdom to bring you a special update today on #NewFantasyland. Stay tuned!” (WDW-042)
“It’s all about the details! RT @WaltDisneyWorld Take a peek inside Maurice’s cottage, coming soon to #NewFantasyland! bit.ly/KAr1iJ” (WDW-026).
Even people who were hundreds of miles from the Walt Disney World resort could connect with the company through photos and Twitter postings. Although there was never much of a personal conversation between them and their thousands of followers, there was an agenda to connect with the public by postings events, promotions, and magical ideas.
One of the largest agendas that emerged throughout the data was Walt Disney World’s aim for the public to reminisce about their past, present, and hope for future experiences with the company. An example of past memories through history theme was:
“Do you remember the “If You Had Wings” attraction? We’re taking a look back at this piece of Disney history today! bit.ly/KDxIGX” (WDW-011).
An example of present memories through an event theme was
“Our readers are still talking about these #NewFantasyland photos! Join the conversation: bit.ly/Kpvd8T” (WDW-017).
Finally, examples of future memories through event and promotional themes were:
“Don’t miss an all-new, Expedition Everest-inspired “My Yard Goes Disney” tonight at 8 p.m. EST on HGTV! bit.ly/LkhOyj” (WDW-015)
“Have you heard what @DisneyD23 has planned for Epcot’s 30th anniversary this fall? Details: bit.ly/MpxXDh #waltdisneyworld” (WDW-024).
It is these very themes and tweets that were salient among public opinion, which will be discussed later. WDW used mnemonic techniques in order to engage the general public, connect with, and ultimately propel them to action. If the Walt Disney World could get the public to remember, they could hopefully get the public to try and recreate those memories.
Throughout their tweets, the @WaltDisneyWorld encouraged the public to imagine and fantasize with them. Tweets engaged the audience on a psychological level – one that encouraged the users to think about the Walt Disney World in an unrealistic way. The hope was that users at home or work would imagine with the WDW and would want to be there with them, like this person:
“Wish I could go see wishes fireworks tonight! Sucks living in the UK #wdw”
This person wished so much to see the Disney fireworks that he began to disdain his own country. This individual picks up on the WDW fantasy theme and embraces it fully:
“I’d like to be in the new Beauty and the Beast castle in @WaltDisneyWorld…. Not work. Not in the rain. Not sick.” (PUB-6001)
This person even wanted to completely abandon their own reality and make a WDW reality.
Finally, the public was encouraged, invited, and persuaded to come and visit the Walt Disney World – for the company’s financial gain, and the public’s dream. Promotional tweets encouraged the public to visit the Walt Disney World:
“FYI, Beastly Bazaar at Disney’s Animal Kingdom will close this summer and transform into a character meet-and-greet location this fall” (WDW-013)
“New Disney-inspired Dooney & Burke bags will hit shelves in July. Here’s a preview: bit.ly/LHrILP #waltdisneyworld” (WDW-051).
While the public is invited to be their guest, the agenda of the Walt Disney World is profit from financial gain. These promotional tweets are also salient in the public opinion.
The Walt Disney World accomplished their agenda through their four key themes: History, Events (Fantasy), Celebrity, and Promotional. They created an atmosphere in which the audience was encouraged to positively connect with (Events theme, Promotional theme, and Celebrities theme), reminisce about (History theme), and imagine with (Fantasy), while being invited to come and visit the Walt Disney World again and again (History, Events, Fantasy, Celebrity, and Promotional) (See Table 4.18 for breakdown of themes).
Table 4.19 Themes in Tweets
Theme Number of Tweets Percentage Retweets
History 12 17.39% 698
Fantasy 7 10.14% 381
Events 19 27.54% 363
Celebrity 9 13.04% 2034
Promotional 22 31.88% 472
Research Question 2
RQ2: (Using Twitter’s search service to measure public salience) What is the public’s opinion of Disney as expressed on Twitter?
To summarize the public opinion as perceived by the researcher:
“The impression of the Walt Disney World was overwhelmingly positive; The Walt Disney World was positioned at the top of the public’s minds as they reminisced about, fantasized of, imagined with, and publicly spread the news of the Walt Disney World as their own.”
Positive: The public adored the Walt Disney World in their tweets. With less than 2% of the tweets holding a negative tone (n=248), the public’s impression of the Walt Disney World was overwhelmingly positive – matching the agenda the Walt Disney World set on Twitter. Even businesses not associated with the Walt Disney World expressed the agenda of the WDW:
“Our business phone number is one digit different than that of @WaltDisneyWorld. So, we’re always nice when say “sorry, wrong number.” (PUB-706)
Even when people referred to the Walt Disney World from the corporate world, they were still positive because the Walt Disney World was and is always positive. In other instances, people tweet:
“I love beaches and all for vacations, but I’d pick @WaltDisneyWorld over anything” (PUB-928).
“Waitress Was Talking S*** On Walt Disney World, Not While Im Around B****” (PUB-071). (Tweets censored by researcher)
“2 weeks from today i will tackle the s*** out of Mickey Mouse just like the 7 year old that i am. #waltdisneyworld #cantwait” (PUB-3361). (Tweets censored by researcher)
“The Walt Disney Company needs to run the world. Imagine how smoothly it would run. (:” (PUB-3124).
In a majority of tweets, the public expressed their love for the Walt Disney World and their need to protect their positive reputation. Using strong language, people expressed their desire to see the positivity of the WDW spread. Their past and present experiences with the Walt Disney World had been positive, and they wanted others to experience WDW too. One person even tweeted:
“I dreamed that I was jumping out of excitement bc I was going to Walt Disney World and I almost fell off my bed in real life.” (PUB-7542).
The joy of being in WDW penetrated reality and was cemented in this person’s subconscious. The Walt Disney World was so positive among the public even the tweets classified as negative still held a glimmer of positivity about them. A person tweeted:
“Who would have thought it rains in @WaltDisneyWorld ? I can’t believe what I’m seeing!” (PUB-694).
Although negative, this person holds so true to the positivity of Walt Disney World he cannot believe that anything bad happens at the Walt Disney World. Another person tweeted:
“Disneyland > Walt Disney World” (PUB-1955).
This was classified as negative for The Walt Disney World, but the company is still being endorsed positively. Even greater was the public’s ability to take negativity and make it positive:
“Humidity + Disney = best memories made #waltdisneyworld” (PUB-2591) (RT three Times).
“Despite the heat, humidity & 60% chance of a thunderstorm, I would really love to be at @WaltDisneyWorld today” (PUB-829).
The impression of the Walt Disney World was overwhelmingly positive. Despite rain, humidity, and thunderstorms, people loved the WDW. Even in negativity, people still hoped for positivity. These examples show the spread of agenda setting theory at the first and second levels. The attributes, being positivity, (second level agenda setting) and the object, WDW, (first-level agenda setting) were spread by the WDW to the public on Twitter.
Positioned: The Walt Disney World was positioned so positively in the mind of the public that they often reminisced about, fantasized of, imagined with, and publicly spread the news of the Walt Disney World as their own.
“DISNEY IS PERFECT. I lost my iPhone and it was at Guest Services! I LOVE YOU DISNEY WORLD!!! @WaltDisneyWorld” (PUB-1041).
“Sometimes Disney World does the amazingly right thing. http://t.co/ShDhjTlM” (Link features a story of a young man with Autism at the park”) (PUB-544).
“I love beaches and all for vacations, but I’d pick @WaltDisneyWorld over anything.” (PUB-1757).
The public viewed the WDW so highly that they felt the need to thank and endorse the WDW publicly on Twitter. Even among specialized communities, the WDW is positioned well:
“Disney among best perceived brands by the LGBT community. #disney #wdw #disneyland http://t.co/p2Wljklt” (PUB-148)
Very few brands or organizations have the ability to unite all types of thought and bring them all together for a positive occasion. It is through their positivity on Twitter, and the refusal to engage in anything political incorrect or negative, that positions WDW so highly in the mind of the public.
Reminisced and Imagine: One of the most predominant themes among the public was their memories (reminisce) of the Walt Disney World. People tweeted statements including:
“Last day of vacation @WaltDisneyWorld Plane leaves at 8:00 PM. What would happen if I just didn’t leave? #runoutofmoneyfast” (PUB-355).
“I just want to get on a plane right now and go to Walt Disney World” (PUB-358), “everyday is one day closer to @WaltDisneyWorld ! And that makes life grand! (can you tell I’m excited?)” (PUB-361).
The Walt Disney World often tweeted things that invoked memories or future memories (imagination) for the public. For example, the WDW tweeted:
“From earlier: Check out photos of the newly opened “Cars” wing at#DisneysArt of Animation Resort! bit.ly/Mlkwma” (WDW-055).
And then the public quickly responded to this tweets and longed to create memories in WDW by posting:
“#sigh. I want to stay in that new Cars wing of the Disney’s Art of Imagination resort at @WaltDisneyWorld” (PUB-1741).
“Lightning McQueen sand sculpture we are trying to save from the tide! #hhi #wdw #disney #cars #sand #art http://t.co/pz6xmJPS (PUB-4464).
The two examples show how WDW used their tweets to create a longing to create or remember memories at the WDW. This particular strategy implemented by the WDW incorporates four of the five phases of agenda setting: first level, second level, priming, and need for orientation. The object, WDW (first level), is transferred positively (second level and priming), and the need for orientation is voluntary use of Twitter. Following WDW on Twitter initiates a need to know information about WDW.
Fantasized: The public, through their tweet expression, longed to be in the WDW resorts:
I’m a princess at heart! #disneyworld #disney #wdw #epcot #tiara http://t.co/DcYOJEyo (PUB-6198).
I AM a Jedi! @SmileyActivtr at “Darth’s Mall” @WaltDisneyWorld’s Hollywood Studios #StarWarsWknds2012 @starwars http://t.co/eLuads9J (PUB-6779).
Another night of pixie dust! #wdw (PUB-6779).
The fantasies among the public are so vivid, they dream about Disney’ entities, and firmly believe that the WDW is a magical place. To the public, Disney is an escape. The public views the WDW as a magical place of pure positivity.
Publicly Spread: The public also spread the news of the @WaltDisneyWorld as their own. The public endorsed the Walt Disney World by retweeting Disney’s tweets 4,144 times during the study. In addition to retweets, the public’s opinion as a whole was synonymous to the @WaltDisneyWorld. The public loved and endorsed the brand of the Walt Disney World; releasing tweets such as:
“I just realized that I’ll be at #WDW the day before the 30th birthday of #Epcot!! Now I’m even more excited!!!” (PUB-282)
“The most magical place on earth! #wdw http://t.co/KCdNRHRa” and “Walt Disney World: Where dreams come true!” (PUB-765).
“I plan on doing all of my speeches in my comm class on @WaltDisneyWorld’s Animal Kingdom!! Boo yah” (PUB-604).
The public seemed to have a personal agenda to endorse the Walt Disney World positively and wholeheartedly, even in speech class.
Table 4.20 Public Opinion on Twitter
Public Opinion on Twitter
Category Number of Tweets Percentage
High Relationship Intensity 3372 27.57%
Negative Feelings 248 2.03%
Factual Information 902 7.38%
Political 33 0.27%
Company Promotion 6352 51.94%
Company History 1323 10.82%
Research Question 3
RQ3: Does the agenda set forth by the Walt Disney World match the opinion of the public?
McCombs and Carroll (2003) state about the agenda setting theory:
Although the agenda-setting effects of the news media on the people’s attention to, comprehension of, and opinions about topics in the news primarily have been studied in political communication settings, the central theoretical idea – the transfer of salience from the media agenda to the public agenda – fits equally well in the world of business communication” (p.36, Emphasis Added).
A transfer of salience, the central idea of the agenda setting, is easily seen in the tweets of the public. The frequent display of object salience was through the retweets. Out of the 12,230 tweets collected, 4,144 (33.88%) were retweets. Retweeting is an aspect of Twitter that makes it highly susceptible to agenda setting. “Retweeting is the Twitter-equivalent of email forwarding where users post messages originally posted by others” (Boyd, Golder, and Lotan, 2009, p.1). Admittedly, there are also millions of people that did not follow The Walt Disney World on Twitter, but with the ability for users to retweet (Kushin, 2010) what Disney posted, the impact was far reaching. Because retweeting sends the same message multiple times, agenda setting can easily take place. Retweeting makes the transfer of salience easy. 33.8% of all the publics’ tweets that were analyzed were the exact statements from the Walt Disney World. Debbie Mayo-Smith discusses the impact of retweets on Twitter:
Say you have 2000 followers and each in turn has 2000 (small numbers by Twitter standards). If only 20 of them ‘retweet’ (akin to forwarding an email) your contest, event, or blog, your message is instantly in front of 40,000 people – and for free (para. 6, 2010).
Retweets are powerful because they reach many people groups. “People will retweet tweets with which they agree, so that an idea that is gaining currency among one group of users will suddenly be launched into a completely different tweetstream with a completely different set of followers” (Naughton, 2011, para. 8). The transfer of object salience, through retweets, in this study occurred at a very high level. Additionally, 4,812 (39.3%) tweets had an exact transfer of theme, signifying that what the Walt Disney World was concerned with, the public was concerned with (second-level agenda setting and priming). Thus, 73% of all tweets showed direct object salience and object attribution.
Figure 4-5. Flow of Agenda
In the study, all phases of agenda setting were displayed: first level agenda setting, second level, need for orientation, priming, and intermedia agenda setting (Lee, 2005). The first phase of agenda setting deals with the first level of agenda setting – the transfer of issue salience from the media to the public setting (McCombs & Shaw, 1972; Funkhouser, 1973; Tipton, 1975; Sohn, 1975; Shaw & McCombs 1977; Williams & Larsen, 1978; Eyal & Winter, 1981; Smith, 1987; Rogers, 1993). The first phase of the agenda setting theory always focused on the object, and the object in this study was the WDW, and their categorical themes. In the study, through retweets and transfer of themes, there was a transfer of salience from WDW to the public at a very high level, 8,956 tweets of 12,230 displaying salience.
The next phase in agenda setting is second level agenda setting. Since the first phase dealt with the object (WDW and themes), the second phase of agenda setting involved what was being said about the object (McCombs, 2002; McCombs, 2005; Lee, 2005). Second level agenda setting is this study was concerned with the attribution of the WDW and how that shaped the public’s perception. In the study, it is evident that the WDW’s agenda is to:
To create an atmosphere in which the audience is encouraged to positively connect with, reminisce about, and imagine with, while being invited to come and visit the Walt Disney World again and again.
In examining the public’s opinion, it is evident that the public also held those attributes. The public firmly believed that the WDW was a magical place filled with perfection. Only 2% of all tweets were negative, and that is significant.
The next phase of agenda setting is need for orientation. As agenda setting research developed, researchers tried to uncover the reason why agenda setting effects were stronger with some individuals (Kushin, 2010). The need for orientation (NFO) was defined as “a psychological explanation for why people engage in information seeking and why some people are susceptible to agenda-setting effects while others are not” (Matthes, 2007, p. 400). Further, Weaver (1977a) argued high relevance and high uncertainty would lead to a high need for moderation. In this study, the publics’ relevance for WDW was extremely high; people would not have followed @WaltDisneyWorld on Twitter if relevancy were not present. Additionally, uncertainty was relevant, in that the public followed the WDW for updates, news, events, and stories. If there were no uncertainty or relevance, there would have been no need to follow @WaltDisneyWorld on Twitter. The study exhibited that high uncertainty and high relevance are possible by following on Twitter. The need for orientation explained why people sought to know information – why they felt the need to know.
The fourth phase of agenda setting was priming. Priming referred to the process in which the media helped create a certain image “by playing up some personal characteristics and ignoring others” (Severin & Tankard, 2001, p. 240). Iyengar and Kinder (1987) referred to priming as the process of highlighting some issues and ignoring others. In the study, priming was evident in how WDW avoided tweeting anything negative and avoided responding to critiques in an open manner.
The last phase of agenda setting exhibited by the WDW was intermedia agenda setting. McCombs, Lopez-Escobar, and Llamas defined intermedia agenda setting as the influence that one media had on another (2000). Recent research has shown that media coverage within one media can set the agenda within another media – creating an intermedia agenda setting (Roberts, Wanta, and Dzwo, 2002, p. 464). In this study, WDW received their tweets from other Disney organizations, @DisneyParks and @DisneySports. These tweets, that WDW tweeted, were from other Disney organizations:
Get a sneak peek of #NewFantasyland’s Under the Sea~Journey of The Little Mermaid. http://bit.ly/KhSeHq (WDW-061).
He’s the leader of the pack! @JimmieJohnson arrives to Disney’s Magnolia GC in Mickey Cart. pic.Twitter.com/118kG0rk (WDW-037).
In the study, WDW also received their agenda from celebrities. A singer in the English band, McFly, was the one celebrity that dictated what the Walt Disney World tweeted about. On June 7, at 3:23pm, McFly tweeted (@tommcfly) (Identity was not removed because it was a band, and not a personal identification of the person tweeting – Tom McFly is not the actual name of a person):
“Massive thanks to @WaltDisneyWorld for another fantastic, magic, romantic and fun stay! Hope to be back soon” (PUB-8329).
This was retweeted multiple times by public users until @WaltDisneyWorld retweeted (at 4:30pm) what @tommcfly tweeted. In total, the one tweet received 498 retweets 177 favorites. After @waltdisneyworld retweeted to @tommcfly, they responded to him publicly:
“That’s great to hear, @tommcfly! It sounds like you had a wonderful honeymoon! We hope to see you again soon :)” (WDW-008).
This tweet was retweeted 240 times and favorited 121 times. Later that day, @WaltDisneyWorld retweeted @tommcfly again stating:
“I can’t believe my wife was the rebel spy on Star Tours. I knew she’d been keeping something from me” (PUB-8408).
This tweet received 775 retweets and 289 favorites. Once more on the 8th, @waltdisneyworld retweeted @tommcfly:
“and did I tell you about the Star Wars peanut butter chocolate muffin I had in @waltdisneyworld…imagine the best muffin you’ve had X 1000!“ (PUB-3335)
This tweet received 439 retweets and 190 favorites. These tweets exhibited the most about of retweets. In all, the next closest tweet with the most retweets was a quote from Walt Disney World that received 165 retweets and only 57 favorites:
“”It is my wish to delight all members of the family, young and old, parent and child.” -Walt Disney” (WDW-021).
Either the celebrity really enjoyed his stay, or he was paid to tweet. The key indicator was that @WaltDisneyWorld wished him a happy honeymoon, when he never mentioned he was on his honeymoon.
The tweets illustrate two key ideas. First, the tweets show that the @WaltDisneyWorld received salience from celebrities (intermedia agenda setting). The @WaltDisneyWorld rarely responded to the public, although they were positive, and never retweeted them publicly. The tweets show that the @WaltDisneyWorld did not get its agenda from the public agenda, but rather from itself, other Disney organizations, or celebrities. Secondly, these tweets also show that Walt Disney World still set the agenda. Whether or not @TomMcFly was paid to tweet or his tweets were his own public opinion, he was endorsing the agenda of the Walt Disney World through his tweets, which was to create an atmosphere in which the audience is encouraged to positively connect with, reminisce about, and imagine with, while being invited to come and visit the Walt Disney World again and again. Walt Disney World only retweeted tweets from @tommcfly because the tweets reinforced their agenda. Clearly showing the possibility to spread an agenda on Twitter.
There were also themes found in the public’s qualitative analysis, that were not found in the @WaltDisneyWorld qualitative analysis, but they still endorse the agenda of the Walt Disney World. These tweets do not display an exact transfer of salience, but they exhibit second level agenda setting. For example, a memory theme did not exist in the WDW tweets, but the tweets still transfer attributes. For example:
“I wish I was at #WDW – really could u se the happiness & magic. I want to work there as a photographer. Maybe I will” (PUB-8388)
“Leaving the big easy and hitting the destin shore THEN #WDW” (PUB-8373).
Although they contain various themes and ideas (not an exact replica of the themes found in the @waltdisneyworld qualitative analysis), each tweet still endorsed the agenda of the Walt Disney World. Another example is when @WaltDisneyWorld tweeted, “Meet @starwars Racers designer Dave Filoni” and a person replies with:
“Bought set when we were there last weekend! RT @WaltDisneyWorld: Meet @starwars Racers designer Dave Filoni @sww2012 http://t.co/KKmyMP8P” (PUB-7541).
This person’s tweets were classified as a memory theme, because he is remembering and not promoting, but Walt Disney World’s tweet is categorized as promotion because they were pushing a product. Even though this is not an exact transfer of theme, the transfer of salience still occurred. Even though they were two distinct themes, there was overlap in salience. There are four themes that exhibited the sibilance: factual information (tweeted 228 times), Disney character (tweeted 223 times), positive affirmation (tweeted 240 times), and Disney memory (tweeted 2,303 times). Although these tweets contained various themes and ideas (not an exact replica of the themes found in the @waltdisneyworld qualitative analysis), each tweet still endorsed the agenda of the Walt Disney World, which was – To create an atmosphere in which the audience is encouraged to positively connect with, reminisce about, and imagine with, while being invited to come and visit the Walt Disney World again and again. Theses themes transferred positive attributes from the themes that the Walt Disney World tweeted. As long as the agenda of the Walt Disney World is being spread, the themes are an underlying proof of what is happening.
All three research questions were answered and supported through the qualitative study. This indicated that the agenda setting theory is a valuable theory when connected with social media and requires future research in the field. The results of the study in Chapter 4 answered the research questions, which sustained the ideas that there could be transfers of salience in tweets from an organization to the general public. Even greater, the research also showed that through the retweet function on Twitter, issue salience could quickly be transferred from one entity to another with ease.
The qualitative analysis demonstrated the existence or first and second level agenda setting in the Twitter environment, and it also found effects of priming, need for orientation, and intermedia agenda setting. Although there were complex categories and varying themes in some tweets, the agenda setting premise, the importance of the transfer of salience, was successfully supported in the qualitative analysis. Beyond the agenda setting effects found during this study, there were limitations and suggestions regarding the agenda setting theory. The remaining part of this chapter will propose an addition to the current agenda setting theory to include social media, discuss the limitations of the current study, propose future research, and discuss the practical applications of this study.
Further Advancement of the Theory
With the great advancement of social media as discussed in Chapter 1, the greater goal of this thesis was to find evidence of agenda setting in an online social media platform. The Walt Disney World was studied based on the aforementioned criteria, but proof of agenda setting in that environment opens the door for studies of agenda setting of all news and politics in the social media world – including Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Blogs, etc… If agenda setting occurred on Twitter, it is possible it is occurring elsewhere. Since this thesis set up a framework, current studies should apply this framework to current phenomenon happening in the news. The study was able to find evidence of agenda setting online, further advancing the agenda setting theory, and hopefully encouraging further quantitative research on this topic.
The Sixth Phase of Agenda Setting – Social Media Agenda Setting
The new technological capabilities, mixed with the lack of academic study, have left the field of media communication in need of research (Schudson, 1995). With social media added to the mix, the lack of research has widened. The Internet has created a “multifaceted medium” that challenges the traditional theories of mass communication – enabling diverse theories of communication (Bubas, 2001, p. 1). Additionally, adding billions of users on social networking sites, social media platforms are in need of dire research. Originally, at the base of these social networks was the ability to help one individual communicate with another individual through the computer (AIM, iChat, Email, Chat Rooms, etc..) (Bubas, 2001). But as these platforms grew, not only did they change the way people communicated, they changed in their communication process. Instead of one person impacting a few in a chat room, now an individual can communicate and create change in 140 characters or less.
As the online networks have changed, so has the agenda setting theory (Lee, 2005). At its very essence the agenda setting theory is concerned with object salience and object attributes. The agenda setting theory is not confined to a particular medium, and once again is being adapted to new mediums to explain the importance of salience. For over forty years, the agenda setting theory evolved to five phases: first level agenda setting, second level, need for orientation, priming, and intermedia agenda setting (Lee, 2005). But with the introduction of online platforms where users can share their opinions, a new opportunity has opened for this flexible theory. Social media networks have developed a platform where virtually anyone can tell the news – the Internet opened up new doors of research (Lee, Lancendorfer, & Lee, 2005; Ku, Kaid & Pfau, 2003).
This study opened the doors for agenda setting research on Twitter. The research revealed that through the power of retweeting, agenda setting can take place – quickly. In this study, users did not set the agenda; however, it was the organization, Walt Disney World, which set the agenda for the general public. Although this study only looked at one organization during two weeks of the year, it revealed that agenda setting is possible on social media websites.
In the current study, all five phases of agenda setting were seen, but an additional phase was evident: social media agenda setting. It was evident that through retweeting, agenda setting is possible. Twitter has given people, celebrities, and organizations the potential to set an agenda in an online environment. Since more and more people are turning to digital platforms for information, the social media construct must be considered as a possible phase for agenda setting.
A current day example provides more validity for this example. As this thesis was happening, the power of agenda setting on Twitter was being displayed elsewhere. Iranian Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani was charged with apostasy in Iran for converting to the Christian faith. Nadarkhani was imprisoned for three years after his sentencing and was waiting execution because of his refusal to renounce his newly found Christian faith. After the Iranian government handed down the execution orders, the ACLJ (American Center for Law and Justice) created a campaign on Twitter, “Tweet for Youcef” (Chiaramonte, 2012). The campaign contained tweets that alerted the public about his circumstance. Twitter gave three million people a voice that “reached every continent and subcontinent, including more than 93% of the world’s United Nations member states” (ACLJ, 2012, p. 14).
After gathering national attention from the news media, and receiving three million tweets, “Iran felt obligated to save face” and released Pastor Youcef (Chiaramonte, 2012, para. 6). This example shows the power that one organization can have when using Twitter. Even though the ACLJ is not a news agency, they were able to set the agenda for the news covered (intermedia agenda setting and social media agenda setting) through Twitter and retweets.
McCombs and Carroll (2003) admit the central theoretical idea of the agenda setting theory is “the transfer of salience from the media agenda to the public agenda” (p. 36). Twitter is formed to transfer salience from one entity to another. Twitter is already taking shape as a controller of news – Twitter is giving a voice. Even though it is a new technology, past studies have shown that there is agenda setting on social media as people are learning to control its messages (Vargo, 2011; Kushin, 2010). Even the present study showed that there is an agenda setting on Twitter, specifically through the use of retweets. Most importantly, regardless of the topic (@WaltDisneyWorld), this study showed it was possible to transfer salience on Twitter – creating agenda setting effects. Future studies should study the sixth phase of agenda setting research – social media agenda setting. More studies are needed to measure the fluctuation of salience – is the agenda spread from users, celebrities, news organizations, or even companies? This study concluded that The Walt Disney World did set an agenda, but most importantly, it revealed that through the power of retweeting, anyone could set an agenda on Twitter. The sixth phase of agenda setting, social media agenda setting, is already occurring.
The purpose of this study was to test the agenda setting theory with the rise of the new social media platforms. Expounding on past research by McCombs, this study is unique in that it tested solely for agenda setting on the social media platform, Twitter. The study provided insight into agenda setting in a social media environment. The purpose of this study was to test the agenda setting theory on Walt Disney World’s Twitter, but since the key issue of the agenda setting theory, is the transfer of salience, the study ultimately showed that Twitter is an optimal place for agenda setting – mainly through retweeting. The Walt Disney World was a key element in the study, but even greater, this exploratory study was able to show the application of the agenda setting theory in a new media environment – advancing the theory and the field of communication.
These suggestions, mixed with the results of this study on Twitter, suggest that social media holds a rich opportunity of research that will continue to expand communication theory. The researcher hopes that thesis will be a backbone and a framework for future studies into various types of social media – with or without the framework of agenda setting.
Limitations and Future Research
As stated in the methodology, this thesis used tweets as the object of study. While tweets were the statements of the general public and of the @waltdisneyworld, there was a limitation in interaction and clarity. The first deficiency of interaction and clarity related to the brevity of tweets. Some of the tweets were extremely short, for example, some users only tweeted, “#WDW”. Short tweets had to be removed because there was no interactivity with the participants, and the tweet did not convey enough meaning to be classified. Additionally, in other scenarios, the researcher may have misinterpreted tweets due to lack of interaction.
The second lack of interaction pertains to Twitter. Mass media communications are, by their nature, receptive and not interactive (Newhagen et al., 1995). Another interactive issue that could have occurred in this study was the publics’ interaction with the tweets. The researcher used Twitters application programming interface (API) to search all of the tweets that derived from @waltdisneyworld and all of the tweets that derived from the public who used the terms: #wdw, Walt Disney World, #WaltDisneyWorld, and WaltDisneyWorld. Although this API is available for all users, there are certain issues that could have arisen.
First, it is likely that the general public did not receive every tweet from the @waltdisneyworld. Some of the general public may not have had a smart phone, and thus they would have sent their tweets through SMS text messaging. When a person sends tweets through SMS (standard messaging service), it ensures that the public’s tweets are sent, but it does not guarantee that the general public would have seen the tweets of the Walt Disney World. Only users who requested on their phone to receive every update from the @waltdisneyworld would have received their tweets. Secondly, it is unlikely that the general public who followed @waltdisneyworld on Twitter read all of their tweets. Since it was summertime, and people are considerably less tied to technology, the public may not have been interacting with @waltdisneyworld’s Twitter feed. The general public may have also ignored the tweets of @waltdisneyworld when reading their Twitter feed. With the general public possibly missing the updates of the @waltdisneyworld, it does hurt the credibility of agenda setting on Twitter.
Furthermore, there are users that could have tweeted about @waltdisneyworld, but actually never interacted or followed them. These users could have sent out their messages without ever receiving a tweet from the @waltdisneyworld on Twitter. Since the current thesis did not include or elaborate on the aspects of interaction with Twitter, this factor may damage the credibility of the study. That is, this thesis cannot speak completely of the agenda setting power of the @waltdisneyworld because not all of the tweets that were analyzed could have been in a response to tweets from the @waltdisneyworld.
Users could have also had interaction with other sources that affected the outcome of the study. The content analysis of the tweets cannot properly explain all the other possible variables that could have effected this study: personal communication, visiting other Disney Parks, watching a Disney movie, or other social networks such as: Facebook, Pinterest, and Blogs. But it can be assumed, as the results verified, there is a prospective agenda setting pattern occurring on social networks such as Twitter.
It would also be inaccurate to assume that all the public opinions were formed as a response to @WaltDisneyWorld’s tweets during the two week time period. Most people formulate their views about certain entities and ideas at a younger age and then hold onto those beliefs for their entire life. Sampling Twitter for two weeks was long enough to study agenda setting effects on Twitter, but it cannot be determined if the views of the public were in response to the tweets they consumed. Although this problem is crucial to the study of agenda setting, it transcends this study and the same problem occurs in the first studies with Shaw and McCombs (1972; 1977). There has never been a way to know what solely effected people’s opinion. The media does play a role, as seen in the previous 300 studies conducted on agenda setting, but there are other influences that effect public opinion, such as parents, culture, and friends.
Another issue that limited this study is that Twitter is in its infancy (Hill, 2010). When this study was conducted, Twitter was ranked #9 in terms of traffic on Alexa’s website but was still in its infancy (Hill, 2010). When Twitter began, it was not a credible site. Twitter was an “avalanche of incredulity, ridicule and skepticism” (Naughton, 2011, para. 2). Since Twitter is in its infancy, it can be unreliable at times. Sometimes users will tweet what is very important to them, such as politics, democracy, and their personal convictions, and then the next tweet will be about trivial gossip (Hill, 2010; Naughton, 2011; Vargo, 2011). This limitation would make classifying the tweets correctly difficult.
The last limitation is that the study did not examine all of the Walt Disney World’s social media outlets. Due to limited time constraints, only one of WDW’s social media outlets was selected for examination. Future studies should examine their media on YouTube, Facebook, Blogs, and all of the other parks’ media outlets.
Future research should examine: Twitter quantitatively, different social media platforms, more organizations, and varying issues. The present study used qualitative methods to explore a phenomenon occurring on Twitter. Qualitative content analysis was used to illuminate the agendas that emerge in the tweets from The Walt Disney World to the public, which answered the first and second research questions. In the future, quantitative analysis is needed to signify the data. Although qualitative was the best method for this particular study (due to a lack of pre-supposed coding categories), future studies can use the themes and keywords found in this study quantitatively.
Since the expansion of social media, studies, qualitative and quantitative, need to be conducted on other social media outlets. Very few studies have been conducted on social media, and that trend needs to change. Social media will be turning a decade in a few years, and studies should not be so slow to study its impact. Future researchers should examine theories on Facebook, Pinterest, Blogs, and even more theories on Twitter.
This study found that organizations on Twitter have a powerful voice. Future studies should examine all types of organizations to study their agenda. Researchers should examine national news agencies on Twitter and Fortune 500 companies on Twitter. Personal accounts should also be examined. With some celebrities having millions of followers, the audience is wide for agenda setting.
Lastly, researchers should study varying issues on Twitter. This study examined WDW because of its potential to set an agenda, but future studies should take the current methodology and apply it to current trends. In this study, since the methodology was being established, and timing was an issue (with the deadlines and IRB), a constant object had to be studied because Twitter does not display tweet queries past 1500 tweets (using the search tool Archivist). Future studies should apply this study to crisis, political events, or current issues.
In the opening chapter, it was mentioned that results of this study would benefit communication theory, new research about social media, organizations, and the news industry. This study benefited communication theory and research on social media by studying a theory, agenda setting, which was customarily applied to traditional media, and applied it to social media. The results revealed that there is an agenda setting phenomenon occurring on social media networks, and with the exponential growth of social media, the communication theories and application are now limitless.
This study benefited organizations, specifically The Walt Disney World. In the study, results found practical implications for the WDW. First, WDW needs to monitor their Twitter for negative tweets sent from employees. The WDW does an outstanding job censoring only positive media through their personal account, but a few of their disgruntled employees revealed a state of WDW not traditionally seen. WDW should monitor what their employees are saying about the company because each employee is a representative of the company. Secondly, with the power that the WDW has on Twitter, there should never be a day that they do not tweet. On June 10th, the WDW did not tweet anything. They missed an opportunity to impact people, and they will never receive that same opportunity again.
The study also benefited other organizations by revealing the power they can possess on Twitter. The study revealed that you do not have to be a news agency to transfer object salience. Companies such as the ACLJ profited from using Twitter as a news spreading service. Organizations should take notice of the power that Twitter can provide.
This study benefited social media practitioners in multiple ways. First, the study revealed the impact of what a retweet can do for a company. Retweets give a company or an organization free publicity and endorsements, but one negative tweet or conversation gone awry, can ruin a company’s image. Finally, practitioners should monitor what is being said about their company. Twitter’s API service offers customizable scripts that gather tweets with specified keywords. This software will allow practitioners to easily monitor what is being said about their brand, create reports, and monitor digital positioning.
Finally, this study impacts the news industry. Reports keep insisting that traditional media is in a state of decline, and that the world of print is being diminished. However, the field of news media is not in decline; only the transfer of news has changed. Although newspaper publications are in steep decline, and cable news is weakening, the object, news, is still and will always be salient. This thesis gives hope to traditional media outlets, in that, their business is not vanishing, it is just transforming.
Over the next few years, social media and social networks will continue to grow. One out of every four and a half minutes of Internet usage is spent on these social media sites and those numbers are expected to grow. (“Social Networks/ Blogs,” 2010). There are already 100 social media sites and more are being created everyday (Perry, 2008). Social media is changing the way people spend time online, communicate interpersonally, and learn breaking news. With the introduction and growth of social media, and the decline of traditional media, older theories need to be reexamined and possibly recreated while other theories need to be created.
The purpose of this study was to test the agenda setting theory with the rise of the new social media platforms. Expounding on past research by McCombs, this study is unique in that it test solely for agenda setting on the social media platform Twitter. The study provided insight into agendas that are set on social media and by whom. The purpose of this study was to test the agenda setting theory on Walt Disney World’s Twitter, but since the key issue of the agenda setting theory, is the transfer of salience, the study also showed that Twitter is an optimal place for agenda setting. The Walt Disney World was a key element in the study, but even greater, this exploratory study was able to show the application of the agenda setting theory in a new media environment – advancing the theory and the field of communication.
Four primary research questions were used as a guiding framework for the qualitative content analysis.
General Research Question: Does The Walt Disney World set forth an agenda on their Twitter (@WaltDisneyWorld)?
RQ1: What is the agenda set forth by The Walt Disney World?
RQ2: (Using Twitter’s search service to measure public salience) What is the public’s opinion of Disney as expressed on Twitter?
RQ3: Does the agenda set forth by Disney match the opinion of the public?
The researcher collected data for two weeks using Twitter, and the study’s findings revealed that the agenda setting theory is applicable to Walt Disney World on Twitter, organizations as a whole, the Twitter environment, and the social media platforms. Retweet messages made the agenda setting process extremely easy for Twitter users.
This exploratory qualitative analysis benefited the field of communication by providing insight into agenda setting as it occurs in the online environment. Through the lens of the agenda setting theory, this study explored how agendas can be set on the social media networks. This study adds to past research on intermedia agenda setting, priming, and first and second level agenda setting. This study also provided evidence of how agendas are set in the social media environment, and that it is possible to set an agenda without traditional means. All users, not just the Walt Disney World, should head the informative findings. The study has shown an open door for agenda setting in the social media world.
Most importantly, regardless of the topic (@WaltDisneyWorld), this study showed it was possible to transfer salience on Twitter – creating agenda setting effects. Agenda setting is “the transfer of salience from the media agenda to the public agenda” (McCombs & Carroll, 2003, p. 36), and the results of this study show that social media holds a rich opportunity of research for agenda setting – research that will expand communication theory. This study concluded that The Walt Disney World did set an agenda, but most importantly, it revealed that through the power of Twitter, agenda setting is in the social media realm.
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