I examine how firm-investor communications on social media affect investors' perceptions of the firm. I focus on a case in which a Twitter user criticizes a discretionary accrual adjustment and management chooses whether and how to respond. I collect data using multiple experiments in which I vary the perceived validity of a criticism via the number of retweets it receives and/or the firm's response. Results suggest that the influence the criticism has on nonprofessional investors' perceptions depends on the number of times it has been retweeted. Results also suggest that following a criticism perceived to be valid, there are benefits of addressing the criticism directly or of redirecting attention to a positive highlight from the firm disclosure (relative to not responding). The findings advance our understanding of how a firm can effectively manage investors' perceptions by participating in, rather than abstaining from, conversations about the firm on social media.
Social media is characterized by the dynamic two-way exchange of user-generated content (Kaplan & Haenlein, 2010). As such, social media offer those capital market participants who have no direct line to management the ability to publicly voice questions and interact in ways that give managers incentives to take action (Elliott, Grant, & Hobson, 2018). In 2014, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) approved firms' use of social media to release and discuss financial information (SEC, 2013; 2014). Because it remains unclear whether and how firms should interact with constituents who voice their concerns on social media, more firms are experimenting with social media in an effort to develop best practices (Joyce, 2013). In this paper, I investigate how firm-investor communications on social media affect investors' evaluations of the firm as an investment and the firm's reputation. Examining how investors judge communications on social media is important for several reasons. First, social media differ from traditional media—such as press releases and company websites—in that social media promote public two-way interactions in which firm managers do not have complete control over what is said about their firms (Miller & Skinner, 2015). Thus, what we know about investors' reactions to corporate disclosures from existing research may not generalize to investors' reactions in today's evolving information environment. Second, recent archival research has demonstrated the relevance of social media activity for security prices (Curtis, Richardson, & Schmardebeck, 2016; Lee, Hutton, & Shu, 2015), for returns (Chen, De, Hu, & Hwang, 2014), and for information asymmetry (Blankespoor, Miller, & White, 2014). As individuals continue to increase their reliance on social media for firm-level news and investment advice, firms that fail to participate in the conversation are likely to be noticed for their silence (e.g., Apple, Facebook, and Google (PR Newswire, 2015)). Third, public relations agencies have expressed concerns about the risk that social media pose to corporate reputations (e.g., Accenture, 2014) and empirical evidence links reputational capital to firm value (e.g., Chakravarthy, deHaan, & Rajgopal, 2014).