Social media affordances and their contrasting influence on trust: Irish family firms.  

Ciara Feeney, Communications & Marketing Manager DCU Business School

Ciara Feeney

Ciara Feeney, Communications & Marketing Manager at DCU Business School, shares her 2023 NCFB related Master’s experience.

Completing a Masters is quite the journey, but an enjoyable one all the same! The initial hurdle for me was deciding upon a topic. I had toyed with the notion of brand humanisation on social media.  After a couple of months reading and gaining advice, this manifested into ‘Social media affordances and their contrasting influence on trust in Irish family firms.’ Once I committed to this title, my supervisor and I mapped out a plan. 

I am so grateful for all the advice and support I received from my supervisor, Dr. Tanya Lokot throughout the master’s project.  My colleagues in the DCU National Centre for Family Business (NCFB) provided invaluable assistance in identifying family businesses to contact and invite to participate in my interview selection process.  I sourced a total of 10 family firms by cold calling and emailing NCFB contacts along with my own family connections.  I’m very grateful for the time and effort my interviewees spent taking part in our enquiry sessions.  

Developing the findings section of the thesis was intriguing as there was a consistent presence of shared characteristics regardless of the family firm’s size.  When it comes to family firms, one notable characteristic that drew my attention is the families unwavering dedication and commitment to their work. Once a family business makes a commitment, they pour their heart and soul into it, which is probably the reason why I enjoyed doing it so much!

Social media affordances and their contrasting influence on trust: Irish family firms   

64% of businesses in Ireland are family owned which is similar to other countries around the world. Based on these figures globally, one asks the question, why are these businesses so successful and why have family firms adapted so well to the use of digital media, specifically social media?  A large body of research has been done on family businesses and the critical role of trust in family dynamics and decision-making, emphasizing its impact on performance, resilience, and long-term success.   

Social media affordances refer to the unique capabilities and features of digital platforms that shape user interactions. They encompass elements like sharing, commenting, and liking and offer global visibility. Theorists like Gibson, Norman, and Hutchins have explored how these affordances influence user behaviour, fostering connectivity, communication, and information dissemination in the digital age. 

Social media provides family firms in Ireland with the opportunity to engage with their customers and stakeholders in real time. The transparency and accessibility offered by platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram can enhance trust by allowing firms to showcase their authenticity and commitment to their values. Sharing behind-the-scenes glimpses of the family-run operations, their supportive activities in the community, and responding promptly to customer inquiries can foster a sense of trust and reliability.   

Although, social media channels may also introduce risks to trust.  The speed at which misinformation can spread on these platforms can harm a family firms’ reputation in no time.  Negative comments or public disputes can erode trust unless the channels are managed properly.  The curated nature of content on social media can sometimes create unrealistic expectations, potentially leading to customer disappointment in products. 

In conclusion, social media affordances offer both opportunities and challenges concerning trust for Irish Family firms.  Although, leveraging these platforms wisely to develop one’s network, while staying vigilant regarding potential pitfalls, is crucial for Irish family firms to maintain and enhance trust in the digital age. 

Ciara's top tips for family firms operating social media channels 

  1. Monitor online discussions by setting up alerts for keywords, monitor comments for sentiment, use social media listening tools, and assess trending topics. 
  2. Listen, respect, and respond thoughtfully to feedback on your social channels. Use it to improve and build meaningful connections. 
  3. Address any errors in a timely fashion