Dr Rodrigo Perez-Vega (@rpvega) is an Assistant Professor in Marketing at Heriot-Watt University. He is the Programme Director for the MSc in International Marketing Management with Digital Marketing at this institution. His research focuses on how to make branded social media presence more engaging for customers. He has consulted companies on digital marketing and social media strategy in the UK, France, Spain and more recently in Dubai.

Facebook offers companies several options to contact and communicate with their customers. Four behaviours are possible for a Facebook brand page user. Users can decide to look into a page of a brand and “Like” the page, which will lead to being able to see further messages from the brand later in his Facebook newsfeed. Furthermore, once that content is displayed, the platform allows users to “react” to the content, leave a comment on the content, and share the content with others. Let’s examine more in detail all these engagement behaviours:

Page liking

‘Liking’ a page on Facebook essentially serves as an opt-in mechanism for ongoing communications with the owner of that page.  In general, a fan can be anything from a devotee to an enthusiast of a particular brand. Typical characteristics of fans are self-identification as fan, emotional engagement, cultural competence, auxiliary consumption, and co-production (1). The internet has made it possible to overcome geographical restrictions and to build fan communities worldwide. In practice, users become fans of a Facebook fan page by pressing the “like-button,” which indicates to their social network that they like this brand; this preference is then added to their profiles. The new content of this fan page may be shown in the user’s newsfeed, and they can react to this content, share it with their friends,  post comments on the fan page, get in contact with the company and forward offers from this page, as well as interact with other fans. Therefore Liking the page is the first step towards other forms of interaction with the brand in this environment. Researchers have examined the degree to which participating on a Facebook fan page affects customer behaviours. In a longitudinal study conducted in cooperation with two restaurants, and they found an effect of membership on the fan page to behavioural loyalty, spending in the restaurants, and the restaurant category overall. Their findings support the idea that Facebook fan pages are useful for deepening the relationship with customers, creating online communities and increasing consumer engagement (2).

Reacting to content

Until recently, Facebook only allowed users to react to the content by “liking” it. However Facebook reactions were introduced in 2016, and it allowed users to express more emotions (like, anger, love, sadness, surprise and laughter). Since this new modality of reacting of content was introduced, more research is needed to understand the implications to branded content. To date, the majority of research has focused on ‘liking’ content, and therefore we will explore the implications of content liking more in detail.

Facebook defines “liking” content on its platforms as making a connection. The consequence of “liking” content in this platform, according to Facebook, is to generate a story, and it may then appear in that individual’s timeline, it may be displayed on the Page that the individual is connected to, and next to content in third party sites. Liking content also may result in the person endorsing the content or other brands, as well as delivering branded messages to others around your networks (3).  A study reports that 33 percent of Facebook users are fans of brands, and 60 percent of these consumers are more likely to purchase or recommend to a friend after ‘liking’ brand content. Some researchers suggest that liking content in social media is a manifestation of affective evaluation of people, situations or objects. However, other researchers argue that motivations behind liking contents are aimed at financial or social rewards, with users looking to receive discounts or to show brand support to their friends (4). This evidence suggests that liking content is not a mere meaningless action by users of social media, but there are other cognitive, affective and behavioural drivers underpinning their liking behaviour. Therefore, in this study, “liking” content is to be included as one of the different manifestations of consumer engagement behaviours in social media.

Content sharing

The barriers to sharing content online and in particular on social media websites are considerably lower compared with earlier times (5). Recent developments on the web and in the realm of other digital media have made it increasingly possible for people to share their creations with others. Sharing is a simple way to for users to co-create together with the message source content that is relevant to them and to build their identity based on the content that is being shared (6). In some social networking sites (i.e. Twitter) sharing content is perceived as a way to show support to the content being shared. Sharing content is one of the most important criteria for the success of social networking sites, together with sociability (7).

Content commenting

Giving the possibility to comment on someone’s post is a feature that has been added to social media sites to encourage sociability (8). Sociability, according to Preece (2006), is the ability to interact with others or to socialise, and it is another of the important features in the success of social media websites (7). By allowing users to comment on content, social connections are being strengthened, and the formation of online virtual communities is possible. There is some evidence that strength, which is one of the factors identified by social impact theory as determinants of influence, affects the generation of consumer communication, in the form of word-of-mouth (9).

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