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How Marketers Can Shape Customer Sentiment During Events

Matthijs Meire, Kelly Hewett, Michel Ballings, V. Kumar and Dirk Van den Poel

Marketers of experiential events, such as concerts, sports competitions, and other sponsored events, often post informational or emotional social media to drive engagement or influence customers’ perceptions of their event experiences. For example, there was an extensive delay before the first-ever concert at the Mercedes Benz stadium in Atlanta, Georgia, performed by Garth Brooks. During that delay, the venue’s management used social media to keep fans informed of efforts to resolve sound issues in the stadium in an attempt to reduce negative sentiment being expressed by attendees about their disappointing experience.  

A new study in the Journal of Marketing investigates the role of firms’ customer engagement initiatives in social media and analyzes how firms seek to influence digital sentiment by shaping customers’ experiential interactions. The study attempts to answer these questions: Following a poor performance, can a marketer effectively engage customers and enhance the sentiment of customers’ social media contributions based on the firm’s own posts, and if so, what should those posts say? After a disappointing experience, should the firm’s posts appeal to customers’ emotions, such as the concert venue sharing images of a stadium packed with excited fans, or instead offer informational content such as the venue’s efforts to address sound quality issues? Similarly, after a positive experience, should the firm post on social media and should the content be emotional, such as images of elated fans, or informational, such as details regarding upcoming events?  
 
Many firms track buyers’ offline interactions with the goal of improving customers’ reactions to their experiences. For example, customer contact centers track the speed of response, problem resolution, and wait times; retailers monitor store traffic patterns and checkout times; organizers of events such as automobile or foot races can access statistics such as the number of lead changes and the availability of concessions or merchandise; and entertainers monitor sound quality during performances. Similarly, firms commonly design online content to coincide with customers’ experiences, and face varied performance levels during customer interactions, enabling them to modify social media posts to correspond to those interactions. Findings from our study suggest that marketers’ ability to influence user-generated content surrounding customers’ brand or firm-related interactions, and its sentiment in particular, may be an un-tapped use of social media in marketing.  
 
We seek to answer the questions posed above using evidence from a European soccer team’s Facebook fan page. We find that, if we hold a firm’s performance during customer interactions as constant, the firm’s own social media posts surrounding customers’ experiences can influence the sentiment of customers’ digital engagement. Informational, more so than emotional, content offers a substantial means to improve customer sentiment in the case of negative interaction event outcomes. For the team used in our study, an increase of roughly four informational posts from the team after a disappointing performance can increase positive sentiment by nearly 20 percent. Such increases in sentiment are shown to be valuable based on their ability to influence customers’ purchase behavior.  
 
Based on our findings, firms may also be able to influence customer sentiment surrounding firm or brand-related interactions by using personalized communications post-purchase. For instance, the beauty products chain Sephora sends recommendations and educational content to customers starting immediately after they make a purchase. Such mechanisms for responding to customers in a customized manner may help to further enhance the sentiment of customers’ digital engagement and subsequent purchase behaviors.  
 
In cases where purchase frequency is low, as is the case of the team in our study, regularly tracking customers’ digital engagement in social media can provide more frequent opportunities to impact customer sentiment and, ultimately, purchase behavior. Such efforts can also enable firms to intervene with marketing actions and to learn based on the success of those actions, or lack thereof. Based on estimates that 40 percent of consumers follow their favorite brands on social media, there appears to be a sizable opportunity for firms to influence the sentiment of digital engagement. 
 
As a result of our study, we would encourage firms to develop customer engagement marketing programs that involve customizing their social media strategies based on their own performance during customers’ interactions. They should post more informational content in social media surrounding poor performances and in general increase the volume of posts when performance is good.  

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From:  Matthijs Meire, Kelly Hewett, Michel Ballings, V. Kumar, and Dirk Van den Poel, “The Role of Marketer-Generated Content in Customer Engagement Marketing,” Journal of Marketing, 83 (November).

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Matthijs Meire is Assistant Professor of Marketing Analytics, Department of Marketing and Negotiation, IESEG School of Management.

Kelly Hewett is Associate Professor of Marketing and Haslam Family Faculty Research Fellow, Marketing Department, Haslam College of Business, University of Tennessee.

Michel Ballings is Assistant Professor of Business Analytics, Department of Business Analytics and Statistics, Haslam College of Business, University of Tennessee.

V. Kumar (VK) is Regents’ Professor, Richard and Susan Lenny Distinguished Chair, and Professor of Marketing; and Executive Director, Center for Excellence in Brand & Customer Management, J. Mack Robinson College of Business, Georgia State University. VK is also honored as Chang Jiang Scholar, Huazhong University of Science and Technology, China; Senior Fellow, Indian School of Business, India; and Fellow, Hagler Institute for Advanced Study, Texas A&M University.

Dirk Van den Poel is Senior Full Professor of Data Analytics/Big Data, Department of Marketing, Faculty of Economics and Business Administration, Ghent University.