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Why high follower count may not be the best driver of engagement on social media

Does a high follower count mean that an influencer will generate engagement with sponsored content? Or are small influencers best to create engagement? A new study in the Journal of Marketing finds that influencers with an intermediate follower count represent the engagement sweet spot.

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Researchers from Goethe University Frankfurt, Frankfurt School of Finance and Management, and KU Leuven published a new article in the Journal of Marketing that examines which social media influencers are most effective at turning advertising budgets into greater engagement.

The study, titled “Finding Goldilocks Influencers: How Follower Count Drives Social Media Engagement”, is authored by Simone Wies, Alexander Bleier, and Alexander Edeling.

With consumers growing increasingly wary of traditional advertising, influencer marketing is gaining traction on social media platforms such as Instagram and has transformed from an ancillary tactic to a market worth more than $13 billion in 2021. Social media influencers are conspicuous in numerous online spaces, with follower counts ranging from a few thousand to many millions.

Many influencers create content that generates social media engagement, which is captured by the number of interactions with their followers (e.g., likes, comments), a highly relevant performance indicator that advertisers seek to optimize. However, despite the growing popularity of influencer marketing, advertisers as yet do not have a solid understanding of how engagement arises, such as which influencers are most effective at turning advertising budgets into greater engagement. A main screening criterion is an influencer’s follower count, or indegree, which defines the size of the audience an influencer can directly reach.

However, does a high follower count mean that an influencer will generate engagement with sponsored content? Or are small influencers best to create engagement? A new study in the Journal of Marketing finds that influencers with an intermediate follower count represent the engagement sweet spot.

High Follower Count or High Engagement?

Advertisers face a tricky choice. As Wies explains, “On one hand, advertisers want to leverage an influencer’s reach, which is the number of followers exposed to an influencer’s content and that, by definition, increases in indegree. On the other hand, users on social networks often seek interactive, communal relationships where they feel connected. Influencers with larger indegree often lack sufficient resources or interest to enter into meaningful, frequent interactions with their millions of followers.” Some advertisers have identified this issue, cautioning that high indegree influencers might not be able to create significant engagement and suggesting more reliance on influencers who are not as popular.

This research digs into these views with a multimethod study based on Instagram data that includes more than 1,700 influencers across more than 800 campaigns, capturing all posts and stories as well as publicly visible and privately accessible engagement metrics. It also includes a field study with two types of experimental studies (eye-tracking and online laboratory), an add-on simulation study, and an auxiliary set of qualitative interviews.

At low to moderate follower count levels, the overall engagement between influencer and followers improves. As follower count rises, the positive effect becomes increasingly outweighed by the negative engagement likelihood effect caused by low perceived tie strength, leaving followers less motivated to engage with the influencer’s content and reducing engagement.  “In short, the relationship between an influencer’s follower count and engagement follows an inverted U-shape,” says Bleier.

Content Customization and Sponsored Posts

The research also shows that higher content customization, that is, the extent to which influencers create original content in their own style instead of repeating a brand’s official communications, weakens the effect of influencers degree of engagement. This leads to small and large indegree influencers becoming more effective at generating engagement compared to medium-sized indegree influencers. Similarly, when the campaign is sponsored by a rather unknown brand, the effect of influencer indegree on engagement is less pronounced. As this relationship flattens, medium-sized indegree influencers become comparatively less effective at driving engagement.

The researchers’ work contributes to marketing research and practice in several important ways. Edeling says that “We deepen insights into the relationship between an influencer’s indegree and followers’ engagement with sponsored content. We also introduce two important campaign properties, content customization and brand familiarity, as relevant concepts to the influencer marketing literature that condition how influencer indegree drives engagement.”

Wies continues with “We highlight the peril of supersaturation effects on engagement when follower count becomes too large and show that the most effective follower count level is situated between the often-recommended very small and very large influencer tiers. At the same time, advertisers and influencers also have room to maneuver in that brands that allow influencers to promote content independently and brands that are less known observe a weaker inverted U-shaped relationship between follower count and engagement, reducing the pressure for them to collaborate with medium-sized influencers who have an optimal number of followers.”

The study offers the following advice for advertising managers to improve their influencer marketing strategies:

  • Brands should empower influencers with a large following to create original content in their own style instead of repeating the brand’s official communications.
  • To maximize engagement, well-known, mainstream brands should contract with influencers with neither too few nor too many followers.
  • Influencers with large follower counts might consider expanding their partnerships with lesser-known brands to enjoy mutual benefits.  

Tech & Innovation

Social media can be a lifesaver for international new ventures

Newly established international firms and start-ups with limited resources can effectively use social media to learn about their new foreign markets and customers in a fast and inexpensive way.

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The use of social media can be beneficial to international new ventures and help them to survive. This is according to a study – Early Internationalization in the Digital Context: A Capabilities-based Approachfrom the University of Vaasa, Finland, which also showed that newly established international firms and start-ups with limited resources can effectively use social media to learn about their new foreign markets and customers in a fast and inexpensive way.

For any international new venture, acquiring enough foreign market knowledge can be a matter of life and death. According to Emmanuel Kusi Appiah’s doctoral dissertation, an international new venture can use social media, and then employ ambidextrous learning in its knowledge development process. Ambidextrous learning means using two diverse ways of learning: exploratory learning and exploitative learning.

Exploratory learning helps the company to discover new threats and opportunities in its environment. Exploitative learning, on the other hand, utilises the current market information the firm already has.

“A company can use social media for exploitative learning, but also for exploratory learning to survive in foreign markets. The company can also switch between these two approaches,  according to the situation and company strategy. The use of social media has a positive impact on ambidextrous learning,” says Emmanuel Kusi Appiah.

Firms can benefit from social media platforms like LinkedIn and Facebook in their networking efforts. In addition, social media tools such as Buzzsumo, Tagboard and AgoraPulse can provide the necessary knowledge about customers, competitors, and existing and new markets, thereby reducing the difficulties a new firm would otherwise face in foreign markets. Acquiring knowledge is usually more difficult when a firm is new, especially if it is new and foreign.

Ambidextrous learning can help firms to combine new external knowledge with existing knowledge and prevent inefficiency and short-sightedness. It can also help firms to achieve a sustainable competitive advantage.

Emmanuel Kusi Appiah reminds us that applying ambidextrous learning is not straightforward. Entrepreneurs and companies that are planning to move into a new market internationally need to understand the drivers and mechanisms that support ambidexterity. The dissertation provides valuable information regarding this aspect.

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Tech & Innovation

Eastern Communications announces holiday deals

Bounce back and spur productivity with Eastern Communications’ special limited-time offers, featuring its reliable Fiber1 and Internet Direct Service (IDS) connectivity solutions paired with exclusive promos and freebies for new subscribers.

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The holiday season is right around the corner and it is the busiest time for many enterprises, catching up with the demand of customers. While there have been ups and downs that helped strengthen various sectors, businesses have gradually returned to normalcy in their day-to-day operations.

With the steady demand for connectivity and ICT solutions in the new normal, premier telecommunications company Eastern Communications treats SMEs with its latest holiday deals to help them further emerge in the most anticipated season of the year.

Bounce back and spur productivity with Eastern Communications’ special limited-time offers, featuring its reliable Fiber1 and Internet Direct Service (IDS) connectivity solutions paired with exclusive promos and freebies for new subscribers.

Business Boosters

Recommended for retail and e-commerce start-ups and SMEs, Eastern Communications offers Business Boosters to new subscribers of the Eastern Fiber1 or IDS Select plan until December 31, 2022. Aside from the high-speed internet service, businesses are eligible for up to Php3,000 worth of Lazada Gift Cards. With these gift vouchers, you can now check out the business devices on your wish lists!

Festive Freebies

They say great things come in threes! For businesses in Metro Manila, new Eastern Fiber1 subscribers can choose this promo to receive exclusive freebies such as three months of free monthly service fee, a Microsoft Surface Laptop, and a Sophos Intercept X Endpoint Security License.

This promo is recommended for emerging companies that have plans for expansion. With integrated ZTNA and a world-class next-generation endpoint product, the free Sophos Intercept X Endpoint Security Solution is perfect for remote working setups. Don’t miss out on this exclusive holiday promo until December 31, 2022 only.

Empowering business to emerge from the pandemic, Eastern Communications has been reaching out to support SMEs throughout the year with its expansion efforts, promotions, and award-winning E-Huddle webinars, and aims to continue doing so in 2023.

For more information about Eastern Communications’ products and services as well as promos, visit www.eastern.com.ph/ or call 5300-7000 (Metro Manila) or 0919-081-7788 & 0917-300-7788 (Regional).

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Tech & Innovation

Food advertisements on Twitch can lead to cravings, purchases

Fifteen percent of study participants reported experiencing cravings of products they saw advertised on Twitch, and 8% reported buying the advertised products.

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Food advertisements on social media are pervasive, but research has not yet comprehensively documented the effects of these ads on adolescents and young adults. A new study by researchers at Penn State and Dartmouth College found that advertisements on the social media platform Twitch can lead to cravings for and purchasing of nutrient-poor foods like candy and energy drinks among some adolescents and young adults.

Twitch is a streaming platform that allows viewers to have conversations while sharing a common video feed. It offers channels across a broad range of topics including travel, sports, food, art and music. But videogame play is the original — and by far most common — use of the platform.

The use of Twitch is growing rapidly, with over six billion hours of content viewed on the platform during the first three months of 2021. This represented a 97% increase over the same period in 2020.

“People can be baffled by Twitch, but anyone old enough to have played home videogames as a teenager likely had a similar experience,” said Travis Masterson, assistant professor of nutrition, Broadhurst Career Development Professor for the Study of Health Promotion and Disease Prevention, and co-author of the research. “You would go over to a friend’s house after school, or on Saturday morning, and if they were trying to get through a particularly tough part of a videogame, you might sit and watch them play. The videogame was an excuse for a conversation. This was certainly true for me. Twitch offers the same opportunity to hang out in a community with your friends, but now it is all online.

“Endorsement deals on Twitch can be worth many millions of dollars, and younger people — who are always attractive to advertisers — are moving their eyeballs away from television into these more interactive forms of entertainment, often to Twitch specifically,” added Masterson.

The researchers noted that, as the popularity of Twitch increased, advertising for nutrient-poor foods like candy and energy drinks became more common on the platform. The research team, which included Jennifer Emond, associate professor of biomedical data science and pediatrics at Dartmouth’s Geisel School of Medicine, and Catherine Pollack, Emond’s former graduate student, wanted to understand how advertising on Twitch affected the cravings and purchasing habits of viewers.

The team recruited 568 Twitch users through Reddit. Participants were predominantly male and either non-Hispanic White or Asian. Using three existing instruments for measuring food cravings, the researchers sought to understand whether they could predict which people were more susceptible to food advertising.  

In a publication in the journal Public Health Nutrition, the researchers demonstrated that some Twitch viewers are more likely than others to remember, crave and purchase brands that they see advertised on the streaming platform. The researchers also found that three questions from an instrument called the External Food Cue Responsiveness inventory could help identify members of this “highly susceptible” group. Highly susceptible viewers endorsed the statements, “I want food or drinks that I see others eating,” “I want to eat when people talk about food” and “I notice restaurant signs/logos.” 

Fifteen percent of study participants reported experiencing cravings of products they saw advertised on Twitch, and 8% reported buying the advertised products. Masterson said that the researchers were concerned that people who are highly susceptible to advertising and who spend multiple hours per day on Twitch could be prone to buying foods that undermine their health.

“In academic research, we are playing catch up with food advertisers,” Masterson explained. “Advertising is pervasive for a reason: It works, and companies understand how it works. People tend to understand that children are susceptible to advertising messages, but we often like to think that once we grow up and start making our own decisions, adults are immune to advertising’s power. But advertising didn’t grow to be a $100 billion-plus industry in the United States because it is ineffective. Advertising works on us, and on a subset of us, it is especially effective.”

Masterson added that academic researchers need to understand consumer behavior as well as advertisers, so that society can determine what advertising is or is not safe in different environments.

“This is a single study, and these results cannot be generalized to everyone, but the study still has broad implications,” said Masterson. “This research shows that some people are highly susceptible to advertising and that the External Food Cue Responsiveness inventory can help researchers identify those vulnerable people.

“I am a gamer. I am on Twitch and am part of these communities,” Masterson continued. “It bothers me when I am watching League of Legends, for example, and I see a branded candy ad in the middle of the game. It bothers me because I know that these ads affect people, including me. This work provides researchers with one tool for understanding who is most affected, and in the long run, that could promote greater health for gamers and everyone who is exposed to food advertising.”

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