Reports

Bloggers as Social Influencers: Optimizing Social Media Engagement via Blog Campaigns

Vanitha Swaminathan, Christian Hughes, and Gillian Brooks, 2016, 16-125

Sponsored blogging provides a unique opportunity for firms and practitioners to increase social media engagement through firm-generated WOM. However, little research has been done on the exact factors that drive increased social media engagement for blogs.

This study aims to provide an in-depth understanding of how marketers can leverage the use of bloggers to affect success metrics on the awareness stage of the purchase funnel and help guide consumers’ decision-making process.

Using a dataset of blog campaigns, Vanitha Swaminathan, Christian Hughes, and Gillian Brooks examine three types of drivers—blogger characteristics, blog characteristics (e.g., the sentiment conveyed), and campaign characteristics—and their interplay to determine the “success” of a blog post. Blog post success is measured through two dimensions of social media engagement: Facebook response and blog comments.

Overall, they find that blogger network size, blogger-follower similarity, follower homogeneity, and sentiment dimensions play important roles in strengthening social media engagement.

Importantly, however, follower homogeneity has a non-linear impact: at very high levels, follower homogeneity may lower social media engagement when combined with high levels of blogger-follower similarity. This points to potential negative consequences of excessive network homogeneity and provides some evidence for the “optimal homophily” argument. 

Further, they find that creative and boring blog posts detract from social media engagement and that relevant blog posts strengthen social media engagement. 

Managerial implications
This research can inform business practice in selecting and utilizing bloggers to generate online WOM and increase engagement. Current practice in the social media and blogging industry is to reimburse bloggers according to the size of their follower network. These findings suggest that follower network size is not the only important factor in driving engagement. Blogger–follower similarity and sentiment are equally important factors in strengthening social media engagement.

Using this framework, companies can choose bloggers in a more efficient and effective way. Rather than relying solely on unique monthly views as a metric of reimbursement, firms plan strategies around particular blogger types, as defined by network size, blogger-follower similarity, and follower homophily.

Vanitha Swaminathan is Thomas Marshall Professor of Marketing and Christian Hughes is a doctoral student in marketing, both at the Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business, University of Pittsburgh. Gillian Brooks is a post-doctoral research associate, Oxford University Centre for Corporate Reputation, Saïd Business School, University of Oxford.

Acknowledgments
This research was funded by a Marketing Science Institute Grant. The authors gratefully acknowledge the research support and data provided by TheMotherhood.com.

Related links

Social Media and Social Networks: What Are They Good For?
Prepared by Joseph Davin and Lingling Zhang (2014) [Conference summary]

Marketing Activity, Blogging, and Sales
Hiroshi Onishi and Puneet Manchanda (2010) [Report]

The Buzz Starts Where? New Measures of Online Influence
Paul Dwyer (2009) [Report]

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