CAMBRIDGE, MA: Brands need to adopt a portfolio approach to the material they post on social media, with a mix of emotional content and product information, to drive both engagement and purchase, an academic has said.

Kartik Hosanagar, Wharton professor of operations, information and decisions, and two fellow academics analyzed data from nearly 800 different US brands and 106,000 messages or posts they had shared on Facebook – along with information on likes, comments, shares and clicks by roughly 450m Facebook fans.

“What we found was brand personality content was associated with much higher levels of engagement - specifically, likes, comments and shares - than product informative content,” he reported.

Product informative content scored lower on these metrics, unless it was combined with brand personality information.

“If we drill down into the individual variables, it turned out that emotion was the most influential variable,” said Hosanagar.

Adding an emotion, such as humor, was found to drive a more than 20% increase in the number of likes an average message got; similarly, the addition of emotion pushed up the number of comments by almost the same figure.

“That’s a pretty significant increase in engagement by adding one new variable into your content mix,” he suggested.

Deals, meanwhile, were seen to drive path to purchase rather than social engagement.

“When we see a brand post humorous or emotional or philanthropic content, we like, comment and share it because that’s socially visible and that says something about our own personality,” Hosanagar explained.

“But when we like, comment or share on a deal, we don’t want to appear cheap. But we are happy to click on those and then go pursue the deals and even buy.”

Hence the advice to adopt a “portfolio approach”. Even if looking to promote product and price information, “recognise that consumers are often looking at brands on social media to understand brand personality,” he said.

“But overdoing just brand personality without the product information can hurt you,” he added.

“If you are going to push product information and deals and pricing and sales, figure out if there are clever ways in which you can pair it with brand personality.”

Data sourced from Knowledge@Wharton; additional content by WARC staff