What gets people engaged on social media?

Marketing & new consumption

publication date 23/01/2018

Social media can be used as a marketing tool by branding teams thanks to active followers.

The challenge of keeping followers active

We live in a context of online information overload and reduced attention span. Getting consumers to be active on social media (in other words, “engaged”) with their brands is therefore highly challenging for companies.

An average social media user spends a lot of time scrolling, browsing, and clicking on content without paying much attention to it. On Facebook, for instance, we can easily « follow » a brand that we like, and never click on that brand page again, or never read their posts in the future. Studies show that up to 83% of the online followers of a brand are lurkers, i.e., people who merely observe and are passive on social media. Avoiding lurking behaviours and inducing people to be really involved in the brands they follow is an intriguing and complex topic.

Social media engagement: what is it ?

First of all, when we follow a brand on a social media, we can be engaged with the brand itself (asking a question on the brand, replying a post), but we may also develop interactions with the other followers because of our common interest (the brand!). Social media engagement is therefore about involvement both in the brand, and in the community around it.

Second, one can be engaged emotionally (I enjoy watching a video posted by Sephora), cognitively (I cannot think about anything else when I am watching a video posted by Sephora), and behaviourally (I share the link to the video on my profile, or « like » it). Companies want followers to be engaged on these three levels of engagement. The question is then: what gets people engaged on social media?

Individual characteristics play an important role

Our findings show that three important individual characteristics determine how much we engage on social media.

First, we need to be involved in the product at issue. In other words, I am more likely to comment on a Sephora video if I am highly interested in cosmetics. Such personal preferences may be used on social media in order to target specific users.

Second, I need to have a positive attitude toward the brand community: being part of the community has to be a good, pleasurable and favourable experience for me. It is up to the branding team and community managers to ensure this.

Last, I need to have an inherent propensity to interact online. People who are reserved and shy by nature, or who do not like to exhibit their feelings and thoughts online will not do it just for the sake of your brand.

Why does it matter ?

When a high level of social media engagement is achieved, i.e., when online followers are emotionally, cognitively and behaviourally involved in the brand and the community, benefits are substantial for the company. Engaged consumers will develop higher levels of trust in the brand, they will be more committed to their relationship with it and, most importantly, this will generate brand loyalty.

Branding teams therefore have to target users with the right interests, foster positive attitudes towards the community, and must be aware that some individuals will naturally be more enclined to be active, while others will not. The role of firms is to identify the individuals who are most prone to be active, capitalising on them in order to reach other social media users.

Dessart, L. (2017). Social media engagement: a model of antecedents and relational outcomes. Journal of Marketing Management, 33(5-6), 375-399.