NEWS11 December 2015

Social media strategy called into question by new research

Data analytics Media News Technology

UK — New research from the University of Oxford has revealed two popular social media practices thought to drive engagement have no effect at all.


The research, led by Professor Andrew Stephen of Saïd Business School, analysed over 4,000 Facebook posts made during an 18-month period by nine brands from four different industries (CPG, restaurants, retail and sports).

Researchers matched the posts to a list of 14 content characteristics covering aspects of what brands say and how they say it, and examined users’ responses, such as likes, shares, clicking through to the website, or writing positive or negative comments.

Findings were that:

  • Branded posts that received multiple likes were generally relevant to the brand but didn’t sound like advertising or marketing messages, and didn’t try to be funny
  • Product or brand information generally received a positive response, but not posts that talked about value or pricing
  • Posts that communicated very clearly expressed messages were not liked as much as those which were more conversational, informal, and less clear in tone
  • Posts asking a question or asking for consumers’ thoughts or ideas received more comments; posts that told consumers to do something (such as enter a competition or like a page) created a negative effect

But two practices considered by industry experts to be important drivers of engagement — linking posts to holidays and including rich media elements such as images or videos — were found to have no effect at all.

“In general, it seems that much of what social media marketers do is either ineffective or, worse, backfires on them,” said Professor Stephen. “Marketers need to remember that on social media, brands tend to communicate mostly with consumers who are already relatively highly interested in them, because they have chosen to follow them. Accordingly, they can be offended by the impersonal tone of much advertising content and also by the notion that they are being ‘sold to’.

“Content that is more informal and feels less like conventional marketing communications may resonate more with this already-interested consumer type, which leads to higher engagement.”