October 18, 2017
It's a question businesses of all sizes wonder at one point or another: Are customers more annoyed than enthused by social media posts?
It's a thought two researchers at Temple University's Fox School of Business, Dr. Paul A. Pavlou and Ph.D. candidate Shuting Wang, sought to tackle in a new study.
In it, they follow the five-month WeChat activity of a Chinese fashion brand, analyzing conversions and unfollows connected to social media posts distributed at random times. At-large, it found short-term sales were generally boosted by 5 percent, but came at a hefty cost: a 300-percent propensity to unfollow the firm--possibly proving detrimental to long-term sales growth.
We reached out to Pavlou, senior associate dean of the school's research office, to talk more about the study and its findings.
Are we actually losing followers--and business--when we post too much on Facebook, Twitter or similar social media channels?
Based on our results, advertising messages are likely to trigger consumers to unfollow, or unsubscribe, because of the annoyance of these advertising messages that may turn off consumers. Nonetheless, the specific nature of the [Facebook or Twitter] advertising posts may determine whether consumers find them annoying [enough] to unfollow the firm.
What are one or two of the biggest reasons why the unfollow happens?
The main reason is the annoyance of recurrent advertising messages that may be considered intrusive to some consumers. Moreover, targeted or personalized advertising messages may be viewed as intrusive to people’s privacy, thus also eliciting unfollowing.
How do you see this study of WeChat in China parallelling with marketing here in the States with media sites like Facebook and Twitter?
WeChat is one of the largest social media platforms in China and the world. Certainly, there are differences among platforms, but the notion of advertising posts are very similar across platforms. Accordingly, it is possible that repeated advertising messages would have similar effects on consumers across different platforms, albeit the specific nature of the advertising messages would likely have a different effect on consumers and platforms.
What is the significance of people unfollowing during high-traffic times and in crowded cities? Also, can you clarify whether this is traffic as in web traffic or literal traffic?
First, this is literal traffic during evening traffic peak hours--5 p.m. to 8 p.m. The significance of people unfollowing during traffic peak hours and in crowded cities is that people are more likely to be annoyed during these circumstances and are more likely to unfollow firms when they send them advertising messages. Accordingly, firms should avoid sending advertising messages during traffic peak hours in general and send fewer advertising messages to consumers in more crowded cities.
Should they send fewer messages to those in crowded cities because of the traffic, or is there another season?
Both the traffic hours and the crowdedness of the city play a role, and both of them accentuate the negative effect of advertising messages on unfollowing and long-term reduction in sales. Both contribute to the annoyance that these advertising messages create.
These principles of not annoying followers apply to other advertising mediums too, right? Is it just easier to track social media unfollows?
It is easier to track social media unfollowing because the responses are measurable, but perhaps the problem expands beyond social media to other advertising channels that are not readily measurable.
What did you find most surprising about the study's findings?
Certainly, the tradeoff between unfollowing and short-term and long-term sales was interesting and surprising, but the finding that traffic peak hours and the population density of the city have an important effect on accentuating the negative effects of social media advertising is to me the most surprising.
What can marketers take away from this, big picture?
The first takeaway is that firms should be careful not to overwhelm their consumers with too many advertising messages. And they should be able to calculate the optimal frequency of their advertising messages to optimize the trade-off between short-term sales due to advertising messages and the long-term negative effects due to the unfollowing of consumers. Particularly, since our results are staggering in this regard. Second, our study identified additional parameters that firms need to consider in their calculations, specifically the timing during the day and the population density of the city that also need to be included in these calculations.