Over the last decade, participation in social media has increased significantly, and firms have benefited from this trend. When an individual first joins a social media platform, they are, generally, the most engaged they will be with it, as over time participation often diminishes. To sustain a successful social media marketing program, customer engagement must be sustained over time. To understand the drivers behind consumer engagement, Aarti Ivanic, Seshadri Tirunillai, Suresh Ramanathan, and Utpal Dholakia conducted a natural, longitudinal, online field experiment.
We first examine whether online engagement can provide a psychological benefit such as self-affirmation. Self-affirmation is defined as the process of increasing attention to valued aspects of self-concept and personal values, relationships, and important personal characteristics. Engaging in self-affirmation is a way to bolster one’s self-worth, particularly in response to a threat that is real or perceived. In particular, we examine whether individuals change their online posting in an OC after receiving a social comparison threat.
The first step was to create an online discussion forum: www.moms-rock.com. From there they examined how consumer engagement, defined as the number of posts, can become a vehicle for self-affirmation. Researchers also investigated how empowering certain users moderates self-affirmation in online engagement. The researchers found that participants who were told they “performed worse than others” in an unrelated domain increased their online posts relative to those who were told that they “performed the same as others.”
Further, giving certain users power moderated these effects. Individuals designated as “super users” did not increase their posting behavior in response to the “performed worse” feedback. This finding suggests that being given power as an alternative form of self-affirmation does not increase postings to self-affirm and is thus not a strategy to help sustain social media engagement.
The research suggests that when firms create online communities, there are mechanisms they can build into them to increase posting. One is giving site members feedback about participation such as their number of posts, votes or likes in the forum, relative to other members. The study also suggests firms should consider carefully who they give power to on the forum to increase engagement. Power structures are beneficial for moderating the health of the community. But for some users, attaining power might also reduce posting behavior because it serves as a means of self-affirmation.
Read the full working paper, Customer Engagement in Social Media Platforms: Findings from a Longitudinal Field Experiment.