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SASA Research Series #1: Social Media (3 of 8)

Updated: Jul 1, 2023

This week, we bring you the third installment of the SASA Research Blog Series #1: Social Media. Titled Social Media Theory and Strategies, this post addresses some theories and strategies surrounding the usage of social media by organizations.

Last week’s post dissected the barriers to social media use in the humanities; it was concluded that whilst tangible obstacles to the utilization of social media do exist, social media is gradually cementing itself as a mainstay and key player in the realm of academia and is adopting a role that is not to usurp but to supplement conventional papers, lectures and emails. However, it is of the utmost importance that one examines the manner in which social media is used by academic organizations such as SASA in order to assess how it can reach its full potential in regards to efficacy.

Whilst social media certainly has a place in the academic realm, according to academics like Brady Lund, “posting alone is not sufficient to acquire a useful audience; rather, engagement (reactions and comments) is necessary to see substantial change.” An organization may well establish spaces on social media to represent its brand, advertise itself, and disseminate educational material, but, without two-way interaction between creator and consumer, the endeavor becomes largely superficial. Engagement is paramount for the objectives of any organization.

What engagement is, and what it means for SASA and other non-profits, must first be examined. Engagement refers to ‘actions that reflect and measure how much your audience interacts with your content’ (Jamia Kenan, 2022). It can be in the form of likes, comments, and shares. Learning how engagement can be garnered is important for organizations to be able to use social media tactically by prioritizing certain platforms, formats and mediums.

The requirements for engagement on the behalf of the consumer are illustrated in Petri Hallikainen’s five category model, which shows the values of content that influence consumer choice– essentially, what types of content motivate people to engage. An equilibrium should be cultivated between these values, preferably in a tested and curated combination for maximal consumer engagement (Hallikainen 2015).

The five category model consists of: functional value; social value; emotional value; epistemic value; conditional value. The functional value denotes the capacity of social media to provide functionality, such as providing ease of access for the consumer. The social value is the value a consumer receives from associating with a network of different groups of people, a common example being networking opportunities between geographically or conceptually distant communities. The emotional value indicates evocation of certain feelings in the consumer, such as creating positive or negative emotional associations. The epistemic value fulfills the cycle of curiosity and knowledge acquisition– especially important for academic organizations that aim to spread awareness such as SASA. The conditional value applies to special situations such as birthday offers or “VIP” content, which can make an organization feel more personable and relatable.

A combination of these particular values are what creators and organizations should strive for, as they encourage continued user consumption and long-term engagement. This model is further supported by a survey taken by SASA of 267 undergraduates. The study pointed to three ultimate factors that predict a user’s time spent on Facebook: expressive information sharing, entertainment value, and social interaction. These factors align with the five values of Hallikainen’s model, and highlight the importance of these elements in inspiring engagement on social media platforms.

Companies that use social media must thus appeal to these elements and values in their social media practices to garner any sort of two-way engagement. For example, posts that acquire the most engagement include photo content and quality, calm coloring, lower contrast and a professional quality. This indicates that “aesthetics” play a significant role in engagement. Visual content that feels personalized and human, rather than clinical and mechanical, is important as “promotions [are] not enough to engender engagement, but rather, engagement [requires] companies to make things personal” (Brian G Smith, Tiffany Derville Gallicano, 2015). Studies find that posts using human faces, natural settings, and positive emotions perform better than those without.

An organization’s efforts to enhance social media practices must also be able to distinguish which mediums are superior. Studies have shown that video posts encourage active engagement through users commenting their own opinions, while photo posts stimulate a more passive engagement through likes. This suggests that solely photo-posts are becoming outdated, especially owing to the emergence of platforms such as TikTok. Organizations might consider accommodating this shift by creating more video content. However, this is still a growing field, with conflicting studies, such as that referenced in the Media Richness Theory: posts with photo content stimulated higher engagement compared to video posts (Kim et al, 2015). This lack of clarity and irresolution complicates matters for academic departments that wish to tentatively enter the already complex world of social media. The complexity of such elements points to how so many academics and institutional departments might find themselves unable to make the correct content to engage users and consumers– which in their case, are young, hip students who are likely to already be well-versed in technology and social media.

It is clear that, to ensure online longevity, organizations and academic entities that wish to create content must adapt to the advancements made in social media. They should aim to create content that incites personal connections in a broad audience, and try to cultivate a network for those who have engaged with their content.

Research by Emma Renz

Written by Mia Felt

Edited by Yuna Kim


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