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Research Insight | Getting the Recipe Right: How Different Content Combinations Drive Social Media Engagement

Like milk, eggs, flour, and baking soda in a recipe, social media content incorporates sights, sounds, words, symbols, and social elements. Yet most guidelines for social media managers consider each element separately. In this study, the authors explore how different content combinations drive social media engagement.

For instance, social media managers can use strong and bright colors (visual), songs (auditory), text and hashtags (linguistic), emojis (symbolic), people (social), and evocative images like hearts (emotional) in their posts.

The authors analyze engagement behaviors across 516 Instagram stories and identify distinct social media content “recipes” that drive successful engagement. They identify four specific combinations for engagement: “loud,” “informative,” “affective,” and “relational.”

For example, the “loud” combination relies on auditory elements like music or talking. To enhance this recipe, marketers can add visual content (such as bright colors), social elements (like a smiling person), and emotional images (such as a heart). But avoid using linguistic elements (text or mentions) in this combination—it will spoil the recipe!

As in baking, social media engagement success depends on combining the right ingredients in the right amounts.

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What You Need to Know

  • Designing social media content for maximum engagement is crucial. 
  • Consider a range of content—not just linguistic and visual—and adopt a holistic content design strategy, considering how all the elements fit together. 
  • Loud, informative, affective, and relational content can all drive engagement when the elements are used in the right combination.


Social media has become a key touchpoint in contemporary customer journeys. Consequently, prior studies have investigated how social media content drives outcomes. However, much of this research has focused on the design of individual, isolated content elements, paying limited attention to how individuals respond to their holistic combinations. Drawing on multimodality, this study investigates how combinations of content elements drive social media engagement behaviors (SMEBs), a critical social media outcome. Through a fuzzy-set qualitative comparative analysis with 516 Instagram stories, the findings reveal four content element configurations that can drive high SMEBs: the loud, the informative, the affective, and the relational. These findings contribute to the literature by demonstrating that multiple configurations of content elements can simultaneously drive SMEBs, thus challenging the dominant view in the literature, which has focused on the effectiveness of isolated elements on diverse outcomes. 

Sara Lapresta-Romero, Larissa Becker, Blanca Hernández-Ortega, Harri Terho, and José L. Franco (2024), Getting the Recipe Right: How Content Combinations Drive Social Media Engagement Behaviors,” Journal of Interactive Marketing, doi:10.1177/10949968241251694.