Popularity of social media posts important for sales and loyalty

We know that content that gets a lot of reaction is more likely to make it to our customers Facebook newsfeed than other content, because of the way Facebook’s algorithm prioritises what to show.


Image source

But the question is, is this type of content also likely to get customers through the door?


A study by researchers Ashish Kumar, Ram Bezawada, Rishika Rishika, Ramkumar Janakiraman and P.K. Kannan [1] indicates that the answer to this question is Yes. The study, which I also mentioned here, examined the link between the level of engagement in a wine retailer’s social media page, and the company’s instore sales.


In terms of engagement, the study looked at:

  • Valence – i.e., the sentiment of the posts. This factor is controlled by the firm.
  • Receptivity – i.e. the popularity of the posts. This factor reflects the customer involvement with the content.
  • Customer susceptibility to social media posts – i.e., the customer’s predisposition towards using social media. This factor reveals “the underlying mechanisms that may drive observed (subsequent) effects” (p.8).


As illustrated in table 1, the researchers found that popular posts had the most impact on both customer spending and cross-buying. Cross-buying refers to the

number of product categories that a customer buys from. A high number is taken to signal a strong relationship between the customer and the firm.


The next factor influencing sales was the post’s valence (i.e., the emotion conveyed or elicited by the post). Customer susceptibility had some impact, but not much.

Table 1. Impact of ongoing marketing communications on sales

Social to sale table 9

Source: Kumar et al (2016)

In other words, this study reinforces the view that, when it comes to generating sales and developing the relationship, it is important to create content that is likely to get noticed, and create a reaction (likes, shares, comments…). I.e., volume of reaction is important.


A similar effect had been observed in a study looking at the impact of online product reviews. That study (which I mentioned here), found that, for a mass market product, the number of online reviews that the product received had more influence on its success than the valence of the reviews.



Hard evidence that social media activity helps the bottom line

Social media activity can improve brand perceptions and customer service, but does it translate into more sales and profitability? That is the question tha06847e420ee287917c097ed3e602c23dt I am often asked. So, I was very pleased to come across two studies, recently, which measured exactly that. Here is a very brief overview of these two studies, and what the findings mean for marketers.


Study 1. Impact of short-term advertising campaign on sales

The first study was done by two researchers at Monash University, Peter J. Danaher and Tracey S. Dagger [1]. They studied the impact of a four-week advertising campaign on the sales of an Australian department store. The advertising campaign included television, radio, newspaper, magazine, online display, sponsored search, social media, catalogue, direct mail, and e-mail channels, and the adverts focused on the promotions taking place at that retail store during the month-long sales campaign.


They found that traditional media were more effective than digital media at generating short term sales, as illustrated in Table 1 [2]. Specifically, catalogues, television, and direct mail have the most influence on sales during that period, while social media has a negligible effect, only.


Table 1. Impact of blitz campaign on sales

Social sales 01

Source: Danaher and Dagger (2013)


Study 2. Impact of ongoing marketing communications on sales

The second study was done by a team of researchers based in Finland and in the US, namely Ashish Kumar, Ram Bezawada, Rishika Rishika, Ramkumar Janakiraman and P.K. Kennan [3]. As with study 1, this study examined the impact of marketing communications on sales, this time at a large, US based, wine retailer on sales. However, this study looked at a mixture of promotional and non-promotional messages. Furthermore, this study looked at both customer spending (as study 1 did), and cross-purchase behaviour (which is seen as an indicator of “the breadth of a customer’s relationship with a firm” (p. 8).


As had happened in study 1, this study found that traditional media were better than digital or social at generating short term sales (See table 2). However, the study also found that that advantage decreased over time… Moreover, social media were better than traditional or digital media at generating cross-purchases (which, as mentioned above, is deemed to be an indicator of the strength or quality of the relationship between the firm and the customer).

Table 2. Impact of ongoing marketing communications on sales

social to sale table 7

Source: Kumar, Bezawada, Rishika, Janakiraman and Kannan (2016)


Implications for marketers

Taken together, these studies show that while traditional media still plays a very important role in blitz campaigns aiming to generate short term sales, social media is clearly important in terms of developing the commercial relationship in the long term.


Let me know what you think about these studies. 


[1] Danaher, P. J. and Dagger, T. S. (2013) Comparing the Relative Effectiveness of Advertising Channels: A Case Study of a Multimedia Blitz Campaign. Journal of Marketing Research: August 2013, Vol. 50, No. 4, pp. 517-534. (here, but paid access, only)

[2] The authors think that the poor performance of online display ads is due to the fact that it is not possible for customers of this retailer to make online purchases.

[3] Kumar, A., Bezawada, R., Rishika, R. Janakiraman, R., and Kannan, P.K.  (2016) From Social to Sale: The Effects of Firm-Generated Content in Social Media on Customer Behavior. Journal of Marketing: January 2016, Vol. 80, No. 1, pp. 7-25. (final version here, but paid access, only; or print version here, open access).

Using Snapchat as an academic

This thing of being a researcher interested in how technology impacts on interactions between an organisation and its customers has its advantages: I get to experiment with the latest technology crazes, without feeling a weirdo. No, I am not playing with Pokemon Go. I am just doing research😉 After all, I need to understand the technologies that customers are using, right?!


Because of this, I have been playing around with Snapchat – you know, that social media platform that is very popular with teens. I confess that, initially, I felt very much like this:


Image source

But, now, I am actually enjoying the immediate, minimum editing nature of Snapchat communication, specially the stories. Here are some thoughts about what I am liking, what puts me off, and how this platform might be good for researchers.


What I am liking

I find Snapchat stories great for experimentation and for making sense of one’s thoughts – much better than than, say, YouTube. And I get a sense of connection with the story teller much stronger than on a blog, for instance. Also, the time-limited nature of the postings does create (in me, at least) a certain compulsion to keep checking if there is something new (unlike, say, Instagram).

As viewer / consumer, I like when the stories are entertaining and/or make me think. I also like to see some sort of pattern or consistency in the type of content shared.

Two users that I find particularly entertaining are:

  • Chocolate Johnny – He is a chocolatier based in Australia who shares a mix of behind the scenes images, testimonials, and amusing stories.
  • Tristantales – He produces fiction stories on Snapchat, sometimes inviting followers to decide the next step on the story (e.g., leave through the door or the window).



On the ‘making me think’ front, I find these users really interesting and worth my time (in alphabetical order):

  • Chris Marr – Founder of The Content Marketing Academy, based in Scotland. He snaps a lot (! maybe bit too much?!), offering a mixture of behind the scenes content (e.g., choosing a venue for one of his workshops), reflections (e.g., deciding on pricing strategy for an event), and helpful content (e.g., top tips on coming up with good content for your company).
  • Ian Anderson Gray – Ian is quite irregular both in terms of frequency and type of content shared. I think it is because he is still finding his voice on Snapchat, and experimenting… which I enjoy. I also like how he verbalises what is going through his mind, social media wise, and offers a very human side to the business man. Ian is based in England.
  • Jill Walker Rettberg – Jill is the only academic on this list. She is a professor of digital culture at the University of Bergen (Norway), and I like her reflections about the nature of Snapchat, about how we communicate on this platform, and so on… as well as about research in general (for instance, grant applications). As with Ian (above), I feel that she is experiment and finding her way on the platform, and I like that vulnerability.
  • String Story – Suzanne (not sure if this is the right spelling), is a digital marketing consultant, based in Australia. She clearly puts a lot of thought into how she uses Snapchat, and what stories she tells. For instance, she has a schedule: Mondays are about Snapchat; Tuesdays about Technology; and Thursdays are for swaps with other Snapchat users. She also plans the topic and content of each session carefully (love her handwritten plans. Nice touch.) I am learning a lot (!) with her.
  • Thomas Moen – Thomas is marketer based in Norway. I became aware of him via Jill (above). He shares short stories with varied marketing advice – mostly relative to digital communications, but not exclusively. I like that this stories are short and straight to the point. They are  told in a matter of fact way, with minimum use of filters and other distractions. His stories are all about the message, not gimmicks.


What puts me off

I really do not have much patience for endless pictures of coffee mugs, or sunsets, or ‘look where I am today’.

I also don’t like too much use of filters – it’s difficult to take someone seriously, when they are wearing a virtual flower garland, or have a dog’s nose and ears super-imposed on their face.

And, finally, please no posts from your bed, in your PJs or, even worse, in bare chest (yes, really!).

Again, this is in a professional capacity. Any of the above might be fine if you were sending a snap to your friend… maybe. But definitely not when you are sharing content in a professional capacity.


Using Snapchat as an academic

I have experimented with exploring / talking through something marketing related that caught my attention (for instance, this one), or about an interesting research article or fact that I came across (like this one). I really enjoy this type of interaction, and plan to produce a lot more of these stories, particularly to share cool papers or reports that I come across. I figure that, by doing so, I can help my followers find new stuff, and it will motivate me to read even when I am super busy with teaching or marking. Win-win. Also, it is not very time consuming – certainly less than writing a blog post.


I also experimented with just talking through some daily occurrence (e.g., last day of the term), but I don’t like doing this type of content that much – maybe because I do not have much patience to watch this type of stories, myself.


Finally, I also shared my students’ presentations. This type of content got a lot of positive reaction, but I don’t feel very comfortable doing it, because of concerns with ‘informed consent’. I need to find a better way of doing this!


I would love to see some stories from my fellow academics about research in progress – I could learn about things as they are developing, rather than wait many months for the results to be published. And maybe stories about books and papers being thought of, written, and so on. It would be very informative and inspirational. Though, I do appreciate that such stories might present problems in terms of making anonymous peer reviewing more difficult, or even present a threat to ‘intellectual property’.


Your turn: What stories would you like to see from an academic? And what one snapchat account should I start following?

Digital technology reduced diversity in music charts

If you had to venture a guess, would you say that digital technology has increased diversity in the music industry, or decreased it?


The dawn of the Internet promised to increase diversity in markets. Diversity would come about because digital technology reduces the costs of production, distribution and promotion, making it economically viable to launch a niche product. Digital technology also promises to reduce search and transaction costs for customers interested in those products.


In the case of the music industry, digital technology enables unknown artists to produce and record their own tracks, on a computer. They can also promote their music on social media, and distribute their work on SoundCloud or another audio distribution platform. In turn, music fans can find and listen to new music, independently of radio station producers or music store managers. They can also sample music tracks before buying them; and, of course, stream music as and when wanted, rather than downloading the track or buying a physical CD. Free from the constraints of gatekeepers and physical limitations, a broader range of artists could find their way to the public and, presumably, to musical charts.


However, this study by Simon Sjolander shows that the exact opposite happened.


The author analysed the musical top charts in the US, between 1958 and 2015. That’s 57 years of data, including multiple forms of music consumption, from physical sales to radio plays, digital downloads and streaming!


Sjolander’s study shows a clear decline in the number of artists making it to the top 100 chart, year on year (Figure 1). At the same time, there is an increase in the average number of weeks a title spends on the chart (Figure 5). That is, there is a clear, long-term trend of decreasing diversity in musical charts, which the Internet did not overturn.


Most interesting, however, is the analysis of the number of titles per artist during this period. Figure 6 shows an initial decrease in the mean number of titles per artist, on the top charts. However, this trend reversed around year 2005. After this date, there is a sharp increase in the mean number of titles per artist on the charts. So, rather than seeing more variety of artists and tracks on the top charts, we see more and more instances of one artist having several tracks on the chart.


music fig 6


This is, of course, the year when YouTube was launched, mp3s players were now very popular, and downloading music was a well-established behaviour. Rather than increasing diversity, these and other digital technologies seem to have created bigger superstars.

music headphones


The author advances several reasons for this, including:

  • the ability to consume individual, preferred tracks rather than the whole album may increase the number of individual titles consumed;
  • the possibility to consume tracks at low or no cost allows people to consume more music from their preferred artists;
  • the ease to spread word of mouth via social media amplifies buzz for artists who already have the attention of their audience;
  • recommendation systems favour existing artists, by ranking and connecting their multiple titles, while struggling to classify and establish connections for new artists.


Surprised by these findings?


Designing hands-on learning activities for marketers

gomc_icon_smallA little known fact about me is that, back in 2007, I was in involved in the design and development of the Google Online Marketing Challenge (GOMC). The GOMC is a group-based, hands-on learning activity, where students develop and implement an online marketing plan for a small to medium sized company. It is now in its ninth year, and has attracted over 100,000 students and professors from around 100 countries. So, it is something that I am very proud to have been involved with.


The idea started in March 2007 when Jamie Murphy was talking with one of his recent graduates who had joined Google, Lee Hunter, about real world exercises for marketing students. I joined them very soon after and, a couple of months later, two US academics (Larry Neale and Charles F. Hofacker) joined the team, too. Perhaps counter-intuitively, none of us had ever used search engine marketing. However, we all had, and continue to have, a keen interest in the use of new technologies in teaching and learning, as well as on online marketing.


I am not going to lie; it was hard work. And engaging with a technology that we were unfamiliar with was, at times, quite an uncomfortable experience. Even today we are the first to admit that there is a lot of room for improvement, particularly around simplifying instructions and answering questions promptly.


However, I am happy that we did it because experiential learning (the technical term for this type of exercise) initiatives such as this help to ensure deep learning, help to improve engagement, and help to develop employability skills.


You can learn about (and join) the GOMC here. What I wanted to share in this post, though, are Jamie’s and mine top tips for developing your own experiential learning initiative, for your team or for your students.


Benefit Principle Example
Deep learning The initiative should run over more than one period, and include a feedback mechanism such that participants can use data outcomes from one period to inform decision-making in the subsequent one. Participants should be asked to design and implement their marketing plan, within a set time period. For instance, students can be asked to plan a communications plan, as well as create a YouTube advert to demonstrate their ideas, or set up a blog and produce a content schedule.
The initiative should require participants to explain the rationale of their decisions, and to reflect on the meaning of the data outcomes. The online environment has the advantage of offering various forms of feedback to monitor performance — quantitative (e.g., number of views or number of likes) and qualitative (e.g., comments). Participants can be asked to reflect on the meaning and significance of those indicators, and to use the insights to inform further action (e.g., the content of future blog posts).
Engagement The initiative should incorporate gamification mechanics.


To provide a sense of progress, we should introduce milestones (e.g., submitting the campaign plan by a given date) and specify tangible targets (e.g., achieving 1,000 views). We can also introduce an element of competition, for instance by making progress towards targets visible to the whole group. And we can consider token prizes for the winning teams, though these must reward both desirable behaviour and factors that the participants can control.
The initiative should provide structured guidance and training to participants and facilitators. We can provide links to video tutorials on how to set up social media accounts, and perform key tasks. We can also host guest talks with experienced users of the technology in question, to share best practice and examples.
Employability skills The initiative should develop general skills such as communication or inter-personal capabilities, as well as technical expertise. While soft skills such as team work, written and verbal communication are likely to remain in high demand by employers, hard skills such as familiarity with particular software or social media platform are likely to change.


Jamie and I wrote about our experience in a paper entitled “Learning from simulation design to develop better experiential learning initiatives – An integrative approach”, which has been published by the Journal of Marketing Education. It is available here (though, behind paywall).


Do you like simulations, live projects and other forms of hands-on learning?

Facebook changes newsfeed algorithm, again. Now what?

Facebook did it again. Change its news feed algorithm, that is.


Image source: Facebook-Designers.com via AdEspresso.com

Facebook’s Engineering Director, Lars Backstrom, announced that:

“we are updating News Feed over the coming weeks so that the things posted by the friends you care about are higher up in your News Feed”.


This move goes in the opposite direction of that announced by Mark Zuckerberg, in 2014, when he said that the company was:

“focused on driving success for partners, whether they’re news organizations that are publishing content that people share or public figures and individuals who are engaging directly on Facebook”.


Backstrom justified the move by saying that user feedback indicated that

“people are still worried about missing important updates from the friends they care about”.


fb recentSo, seemingly, this recent development is about giving Facebook users what they want. Though, the sceptics among us would point out that, if user feedback mattered, Facebook would stop tinkering with users’ privacy settings, and would let users choose once and for all whether they want their news feed organised by ‘top stories’ or by ‘most recent’.
What else could explain this move, then?


According to technology news website The Information, Facebook users have been sharing less on the website. In 2015, Facebook users shared 5.5% less content than in the previous year; and, most importantly, they shared 21% less personal stories, like announcements, pictures and personal thoughts. This downward trend is particularly significant amount users 30 years old or younger.


The downward trend creates three problems for the social network.


First, it provides Facebook with less insight into its users’ desires, thoughts and other valuable information for its targeted advertising profiles.


Second, it reduces engagement (likes, comments, …) and, simply, reasons to visit the network.


Third, it means that people are moving their personal sharing to other platforms where the audience is less broad than on Facebook – so much so that, according to Statista, Snapchat is now the preferred social media platform for US teenagers.



What will this move mean for users?

This initiative means that personal posts will be given more visibility in the users’ news feed, than generic posts from other users, and even more than posts from institutional pages.


This move, alongside other initiatives such as prompts to share recent photos, prompts to revisit personal posts from previous years, and live video are, indeed, likely to increase the instances of personal, original content in users’ news feed.


However, attention is limited. Hence, with more and more personal content on the news feed, there will also be less and less time and attention for third-parties’ content. This is worrying because more and more people use social media as a source of news and, so, they will end up with a narrower and narrower view of news, debates and opinions. Or, as Wired put it, the latest algorithm tweak means that the

‘Facebook echo chamber just got a whole lot louder’.


What will this move mean for institutional page owners?

For charities, businesses and other owners of institutional pages, it means that their pages’ reach will decrease. To get Facebook users’ attention, page owners need to invest in display advertising, and pay for their content to be boosted.


Other than that, the best chance of having content placed on users’ organic feed is if it is shared by other users. So, page owners might want to incentivise users to share their content – for instance, against entries into a sweepstake.


Finally, it is even more important for page owners to:

  • Pay close attention to analytics, to understand what topic and format most resonates with the audience;
  • Post content tailored to the users’ interests, over and above the reasons why they buy your product (e.g., hobbies);
  • Keep posting new content, both upping the frequency of posts and posting at a time when the target audience is most likely to be accessing the platform;
  • Create content that generates a reaction. Questions are good for this, as are posts where users are invited to tag friends. It is also important to remember that people are most likely to share content that makes them look good;
  • Understand the type of content that the platform is prioritising. For instance, video content with subtitles and headlines.


Over to you: as a Facebook user, are you happy with this move?

June 2016 round up

Brexit. That’s what dominated my June 2016 – first, the worry about it; then, the feeling of despair at the outcome. Which is a shame, because there were many good things happening this month, too, such as the graduation ceremonies.


Moving on… Here are my highlights from June. Tell me yours, in the comments below.



I conducted a pilot study for the project that I mentioned last month… and I am very happy that I did that because it showed a significant flaw in the design of my questionnaire.



When I tell students that they need to run pilots of their surveys or interview guides before they launch into data collection, I am usually greeted with a “but do I really have to?”. They feel that, surely, everyone will understand what they mean, and that there will be no problems with timings, etc.  Yet, there usually is some sort of problem. Sometimes, it is something minor, like a typo or the survey / interview taking a bit longer than expected. But, other times, it can be more serious like the person not understanding a question and, hence, giving a misleading answer or not being able to answer all together. Or it can be a link not working, or something being deemed offensive.


In this case, the terminology that I used led participants to say ‘I never do that, so I can not help you’. Yet, when I rephrased the question, it was clear that they did, and that they had lots to say.


Other than that, I have been thinking about a new project on digital platforms, and exchanging ideas with two colleagues in other institutions. It is still very early days, but it sounds like an exciting line of work – it was their idea, actually; not mine (and I am very grateful that they thought of me).


Oh, and I joined the ‘International Research Conference’ that took place at Brookes. I presented my work on algorithmic decision making, and heard about fascinating work on orchestras as decision making units, and the nature of conceptual frameworks, to name a few.

Conference 2016



I finished revisions on one paper, and submitted it again. It took me much longer than I expected, as I had to rethink the framework, recode the data, and rewrite significant chunks of it – but, on the plus side, I think that it is a much stronger paper. So, yes, the reviewers were right! Fingers crossed, the paper will now be closer to acceptance. (Not familiar with the academic publication process? See here).



Once those revisions were out of the way, I did some work on a co-authored paper, and went back to work on another co-authored paper which has been neglected for too long (but which I am determined to submit this summer!). Please hold me accountable on this, will you?

Bin with papers


The most interesting thing this month, teaching-wise, was preparing and running a workshop on using social media in student recruitment, with my colleague Diana Limburg. I wrote a post about it, here.



This month saw the Science Festival and the Arts Festival, and I attended a few sessions. So, I have been learning about a variety of things, from insect eating to mental health.


What were June’s highlights for you?