News & Views

Research / Preaching to the Choir

by Contagious Team

To reach beyond existing relationships, turn the focus away from your organisation.

That tweet you're working on announcing your brand's 10th anniversary? Shelve it. Images of the new logo yet-to-be-Instagrammed? Don't even bother with a filter. 

It turns out, according to newly published research from the University of Virginia and MIT's Sloan School of Management, content in which organizations talk about themselves mostly appeals to employees rather than prospective clients or customers. 

The study looked at Facebook content posted in and around the presences of 5,035 hospitals in the U.S., such as New York Presbyterian, pictured above. It concluded that hospitals that actively managed their social media profiles had more engagement than those that didn't, but not from their clients or customers. Their employees made up the difference. 

'Hospitals that managed their Facebook profiles actively began receiving a lot more likes, visits and comments,' wrote MIT's Prof. Catherine Tucker and Prof. Amalia Miller of the University of Virginia. 'That sounds good on the surface, but we also found evidence that this activity came from employees of the firm, not from customers.'

The crux of the matter is around the focus of the content posted. The majority of posts analyzed were about goings-on in the organization: awards it had won, staff announcements and events. Only around one quarter actually had appeal beyond the internally-relevant communications. 

One solution to driving engagement beyond the community of people working for a firm may be to overemphasize relevant extra-brand content, as difficult as it is for companies to avoid talking about themselves. According to the study, another option may by to ask different parts of the company to bear the expenses of social media. 

'In most firms social media is funded by the marketing function, even though empirically it may not be deriving the primary benefit from it,' the study says, suggesting organizations diffuse the cost and responsibility across more parts of the company, including human resources. Since much of the messaging studied appealed to the company's employees and other affiliates, it may have as much impact on recruitment, retention and community as it does on external brand perception itself.