Brubaker, Pamela Jo & Wilson, Chris. (2018). Let’s give them something to talk about: Global brands’ use of visual content to drive engagement and build relationships. Public Relations Review, 44(3), 342-352. doi:10.1016/j.pubrev.2018.04.010

Summary
The rise of social media has provided a new avenue for organizations to develop stronger relationships with their publics. This study explores the value of brands leveraging visual and text-based content engagement strategies on Facebook to help build relationships. It investigates the extent to which high-profile brands utilize visual content. It also explores the level of engagement that brand visual content receives from publics. Finally, the study assesses whether or not organizations are indeed altering their communication strategies over time to better meet the needs and interests of its publics. The study shows that as brands adapt and adjust their Facebook visual content strategy to capture the attention of their publics in crowded News Feeds, they also need to employ text-based engagement strategies that get users to engage and interact with brand content. Once users start interacting with brand content, it is more likely that other users will engage with the content as well, igniting a conversation. The combination of brand posts with visuals and text-based messages gives brand publics something to talk about and ultimately can lead to stronger relationships.

Method
This study utilized a longitudinal content analysis to examine Facebook posts made by 100 of the world’s leading brands. Brands were selected from Interbrand’s ranking of the 100 “Best Global Brands 2013” because this ranking features brands that play a prominent role in the lives of consumers around the globe. The brands on this list are also well-known, profitable, and likely to invest resources into engaging with publics online. Researchers analyzed one week’s worth of Facebook posts during fall 2013 (n = 785) and fall 2014 (n = 608) for a total of 1,393 posts. During the time period studied, 94 global brands posted content.

Key Findings

(1)  Brands refocused their content strategy over time to put more emphasis on original visual content, particularly original videos.

(2)  The shift to visual content did not mean brands abandoned text-based posts or engagement strategies. The number of text-based posts were consistent over time. And brands’ use of crowdsourcing and commenting was consistent across post types whether they were text-only or visual.

(3)  Brands have a significant but small influence on the number of people who like and share a brand post when the post contains visual content and the brand makes comments on that post.

(4)  In terms of overall engagement, sharing was the best predictor of liking, sharing and liking predicted user comments, and liking was the best predictor of sharing.

Implications for Practice
The results of this study indicate that brand posts on Facebook either need to be visually appealing enough to generate initial likes and shares from some users or offer inviting comments to start conversations that users can join. Further, leveraging visual communication is not enough for brands to solicit engagement – brands also need to employ text-based engagement strategies that get users to engage and interact with brand content. Once users start interacting with brand content, it is more likely that other users will engage, igniting a conversation. As brands utilize social media to foster relationships and ignite conversations with publics, visual Facebook posts serve as a conversation starter that sparks engagement and gives publics something to talk about.

Article Location
The full article is available at: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0363811117302114

Twitter ID(s)
@prbrubaker
@cwilson2006

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Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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