When advertising on social media, one size does not fit all, according to PSU study
Author: Crista Tappan, The School of Business
Posted: March 11, 2020

When it comes to advertising on social media platforms, one size does not fit all, according to new research from The School of Business at Portland State University

The Journal of Consumer Psychology published the study titled “An Appeal to Intimacy: Consumer Response to Platform-Appeal Fit on Social Media.” Researchers Brandon Reich of PSU and Matthew Pittman of University of Tennessee, Knoxville found the impact of different ad appeals on social media users depends on the platform. 

The researchers discovered that ads emphasizing interpersonal connection ("intimate appeals") produced a better reaction from users when communicated through an 'intimate' social media platform like Instagram versus a non-intimate platform like Twitter. However, the reverse was true for ads that lacked an interpersonal element ("non-intimate appeals").
Brandon ReichBrandon Reich

Different social media platforms can make users feel intimately connected to other people, which researchers define as “platform intimacy.” Intimate platforms include Instagram and Snapchat, and non-intimate platforms include Twitter and Pinterest. Marketers should match the intimacy level of their ad content to the platform where it’s posted, the researchers advised. This “platform-appeal fit” is key to producing successful content each audience will enjoy, according to the researchers.

“When consumers view an ad that feels like it 'fits' on that platform, it generates a sense of fluency that we as humans like to feel,” said Reich.

Coca-Cola’s “Share a Coke” advertising campaign, which focused on consumer-to-consumer relationships, is an example of an “intimate appeal,” the researchers wrote. Such a campaign is more suited to an intimate social media outlet like Instagram because it will produce a higher level of consumer engagement, they found.

“Social media marketing is pervasive, but not all platforms are equally suited to any given advertising strategy,” the study explains. “Consumers are accustomed to exchanging interpersonal sentiment on certain platforms (e.g., Instagram), and these platforms may themselves take on intimate associations through repeated use.”

$187 billion Worldwide

The study is noteworthy because by 2023, social media advertising is projected to exceed $187 billion worldwide, according to one estimate by Statista (2019).

“Yet there is little research into the interaction between ad content and the social media platform through which it is communicated,” wrote Reich and Pittman.

The experiments demonstrated that promoting intimate content on intimate platforms resulted in a successful platform fit, which increased user engagement. The researchers used fictitious and real brands in their study and found the pattern was consistent across products and platforms.

“Our findings suggest that, rather than employing a mass-marketing approach, brands should emphasize different message components depending on the platform,” the study says. “It costs little to produce additional variations of a campaign’s concept, and the payoff in consumer engagement may be worthwhile.”