“Tempting Fate”

Research by Bauer Dean Paul A. Pavlou Looks at Correlation Between Social Media Posts and Consumer Relationships

Published on May 19, 2020

Photo: Tempting Fate

In any human relationship, there is a fine line between being persistent and becoming annoying.

Research from the C. T. Bauer College of Business suggests this trade-off can jeopardize consumer relationships that organizations want to nurture and cultivate via social media posts. Knowing when it’s the wrong time to post on social media may mean the difference between a continued relationship and potential sales -- or a consumer who is so fed up, they unfollow, the study suggests.

Bauer College Dean Paul A. Pavlou co-authored “Tempting Fate: Social Media Posts, Loss of Followers, and Long-Term Sales,” which recently was accepted for publication in MIS Quarterly, a very top journal in Information Sciences with a high impact factor (5.43).

The study’s findings are invaluable in the midst of a pandemic that has put marketing budgets under stress. Organizations are looking for cost-effective ways to engage and interact with consumers, said Pavlou, the Cullen Distinguished Chair Professor of Information Sciences at Bauer.

He notes that while social media campaigns have exploded online, fine-grained research that measures what works and what detracts or turns consumers away is still mostly in the early stages in both theory and also in practice.

“There may be private studies by individual companies on their own social media efforts, but the data may be proprietary and not available to researchers to conduct rigorous analyses expected to publish in peer-reviewed academic studies,” Pavlou said.

The “Tempting Fate” researchers drew from a unique dataset: A fashion retailer’s mass non-customized information-only social media posts sent to 80,000 consumers who had signed up to receive such posts.

While earlier research has found such posts can spark an immediate sales spike, the “Tempting Fate” researchers found a correlation between information-only posts and unfollowing, as well as a decrease in long-term sales that overrides any short-term gains. Moreover, the study found consumers are more likely to unfollow a business if they live in a crowded city, or if they receive the post in the midst of rush-hour commuting.

“The penalty for posting accrues almost exclusively at times and locations where there is a spike in environmental crowdedness, such as in larger cities and during rush hour,” Pavlou said.

At a time when every customer relationship counts, the message is clear, he said.

“Organizations must be careful in terms of the frequency and timing of their social media posts to avoid long-term negative effects on unfollowing and reduction in long-term sales. They should carefully measure unfollowing over time and track the long-term effects on sales. In terms of crowded cities, the implication is not to stop posting entirely, but rather post less frequently, and do so during off-peak hours and, perhaps, weekends.

“Social media presents many opportunities and challenges, Pavlou added. “We need to consider all of them, and not view posting as a panacea for low-cost marketing. The negative and unintended effects of inappropriate social media advertising pose many hidden landmines for companies that they must be careful not to ignore.”

Co-authors of the study include Shuting (Ada) Wang assistant professor of Information Systems at the City University of New York and Brad N. Greenwood, associate professor at George Mason University.

Pavlou’s research has been cited over 48,000 times by Google Scholar, and he was recognized among the “World’s Most Influential Scientific Minds” by Thomson Reuters based on an analysis of “Highly Cited” authors in Economics & Business for 2002-2012. He was ranked #1 in the world in publications in the top two Information Systems journals (MISQ & ISR) during 2010-2016. Pavlou received his Ph.D. from the University of Southern California.