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Using Social Media to Combat Bad Experiences

February 4, 2020

With an estimated 40 percent of consumers following their favorite brands on social media, marketers now have ongoing opportunities to engage with and influence their audiences. The types of posts shared by those marketers can impact how brands weather trials and storms. According to a recent study from Haslam College of Business professors Kelly Hewett and Michel Ballings, informational interaction via social media can increase positive consumer sentiment, even when customers are temporarily unhappy with an organization’s performance.

The pair co-authored “The Role of MarketerGenerated Content in Customer Engagement Marketing,” published in November 2019 in the Journal of Marketing. The study investigates how marketers’ social media engagement can influence the sentiment of customers’ digital engagement during and after experiential events (such as concerts and sports competitions). Previous research has shown a link between consumer sentiment and purchase behavior, but few studies have examined marketers’ ability to enhance digital audience sentiment.

The study considers two categories of marketer-generated content (MGC): emotional (meant to prompt sensory or emotional reactions) and informational (providing brandrelated updates not specifically intended to spur audience engagement).

The research reveals that emotional MGC improves the sentiment of customers’ digital engagement regardless of event outcomes, but when outcomes are negative, informational content produces greater positive effects.

Using evidence from a European soccer team’s Facebook fan page, the researchers found that when fans experienced an undesirable event outcome such as the team losing, informational MGC had a considerable positive impact on customer sentiment. “What surprised us was that the effect for informational content is so pronounced that with more informational posts, customer sentiment for poor experiences can be brought up to the level of sentiment for wins,” Ballings, assistant professor of business analytics and statistics and Jane and Jeff Davis Faculty Research Fellow, says.

Based on these findings, the researchers encourage firms to customize MGC strategies during and after experiential events. Surrounding desirable outcomes, emotional content can strengthen consumers’ experience-related positive sentiment, increasing positive digital engagement. For undesirable outcomes, posting brand-related information can minimize customer backlash.

The researchers say an important benefit of the findings is that customer sentiment on social media can be monitored more frequently than other sources of customer feedback such as purchase behavior or surveys. “As a source of input,” Hewett, associate professor of marketing and Haslam Family Faculty Research Fellow, says, “customer sentiment may be much more effective in enabling firm interventions.”

Research indicates that the study’s findings could extend to personalized post-purchase communications such as recommendations and educational content. Customizing these messages may increase the positive sentiment of customers’ digital engagement and enhance future purchasing behavior.

“The Role of Marketer-Generated Content in Customer Engagement Marketing” was supported by a grant from the Marketing Science Institute and co-authored by Matthijs Meire of the IESEG School of Management, V. Kumar of Georgia State University, and Dirk Van den Poel of Ghent University.