Customer Engagement in Social Media Platforms: Findings from a Longitudinal Field Experiment

Aarti S. Ivanic, Seshadri Tirunillai, Suresh Ramanathan, and Utpal Dholakia, 2020, 20-103

Consumer participation in social media has increased over the last decade with significant financial benefits for firms. However, while individuals may join social media platforms, participation often diminishes over time. For social media marketing programs to be sustainable, marketers must maintain customer engagement over time.

Aarti Ivanic, Seshadri Tirunillai, Suresh Ramanathan, and Utpal Dholakia conduct a natural, longitudinal, online field experiment in order to understand the drivers of online consumer engagement. They created an online discussion forum ( and examine: (1) how consumer engagement – measured by number of posts – can serve as a vehicle for self-affirmation; and (2) how endowing users with power moderates the effect of self-affirmation on online engagement.


Participants who were told that they “performed worse than others” in an unrelated domain increased their online posts relative to those who were told that they “performed the same as others.” Further, power moderated these effects: individuals who were endowed with high power (i.e., designated as “super users”) did not increase their posting behavior in response to the “performed worse” feedback.

This suggests that power serves as a form of external self-affirmation whereby participants do not need to change their posting behavior (i.e., increase postings) as a means to self-affirm.

Put into Practice

This work has significant managerial implications. It suggests that, as firms design online communities, they can build in mechanisms to encourage online posting, perhaps giving site members feedback about their participation (e.g., number of posts, votes, likes etc.) in the online community, relative to other site members.

The findings also suggest that firms need to carefully consider endowing a few members with “power” – actual or perceived – in order to change behavior. While power structures are beneficial as they can help with moderating the health of the community, attaining power may also reduce posting behavior because it serves as a means of self-affirmation.



  • Corporate: FREE
  • Academic: FREE
  • Subscribers: FREE
  • Public: $18.00



Employees of MSI Member Companies enjoy the benefits of complete online access to content, member conferences and networking with the MSI community.



Qualified academics benefit from a relationship with MSI through access to, conferences and research opportunities.



The public is invited to enjoy partial access to content, a free e-newsletter, selected reports and more.




Learn more about becoming a member of the institute

Read More

Stay Informed

The MSI Mailing List

Subscribe to our email list to stay informed about upcoming events, news, etc.

Social Media