Academics have found that brands advertising on Facebook face a backlash from consumers if their content is too clear, too persuasive, and contains a direct ‘call to action’ – in other words, if it’s too like advertising.
‘Consumers expect people and businesses using social media to conform to the norms of social behaviour, and either ignore or respond negatively to those that don’t,’ said Andrew Stephen, L’Oréal Professor of Marketing at Saïd Business School, University of Oxford. ‘They shun posts that tell them to enter competitions, talk about price, or contain polished soundbites, much as you might avoid the person trying to sell you life assurance at a party. They are much more likely to engage with content that is informal and a bit woolly, as that is how they expect people to communicate on Facebook.’
Professor Stephen and his co-authors, Michael R. Sciandra, Dolan School of Business, Fairfield University, and J. Jeffrey Inman, Joseph M Katz Graduate School of Business, University of Pittsburgh, analysed 4,284 Facebook posts made during an 18-month period by nine brands from four distinct industries (consumer-packaged goods, restaurants, retail, and sports). They 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, whether in the form of ‘likes’, ‘shares’, clicking through to the website, or writing positive or negative comments.
Their findings included:
- 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 which 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.
Two practices that are considered by industry experts to be important drivers of engagement were found to have no effect at all, either on prompting ‘likes’ and favourable comments, or on encouraging people to share or click through to content. One is linking posts to holidays (either traditional holidays such as Christmas or pseudo-holidays such as International Talk Like a Pirate Day); the other is including rich media elements such as images or videos.
‘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.’
The full paper, “Is It What You Say or How You Say It? How Content Characteristics Affect Consumer Engagement with Brands on Facebook”, can be found here: http://eureka.sbs.ox.ac.uk/5837/1/2015-19.pdf
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