Fan page followers and how firms can attract and engage them

19 December 2017
AirNZ Facebook fan page screenshot, November 2017

Are you a Quiet Follower, a Cheerleader or a Peacock? A researcher at the University of Auckland has categorised people who follow companies on social media according to how they behave on the so-called fan pages.

The study was part of research by doctoral candidate Hamidreza Shahbaznezhad that also identified how firms can engage current followers and attract new ones – in short, by creating catchy content that will generate a buzz among followers, which in turn attracts new fans.

“Air New Zealand is recognised as leader in its use of social media - its safety videos go viral. What is it doing right?” says Mr Shahbaznezhad.

To better understand the secret behind the success of popular fan pages, and what customers do on fan pages, in a series of studies he analysed data from the fan pages of 36 international airlines hosted on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

“I chose airlines because customers monitor them frequently via social media, and are especially sensitive to airlines’ service, considering you put your life in their hands when you fly with them,” explains Mr Shahbaznezhad, who is based at the Centre of Digital Enterprise at the University of Auckland Business School.

“Social media is an increasingly important communication channel between companies and customers,” he says. “Between early 2014 and late 2017, Air New Zealand’s Twitter followers rose from 275,000 to 646,000, while their Facebook followers increased from around 700,000 to 1.5 million.

“Social media also has the potential to influence firms’ bottom lines and their brand image. But less than one percent of firms’ followers actively engage, and there is little research to guide firms’ social media strategy.”

For one study, he analysed the activity on the Twitter accounts of Air New Zealand and Jetstar over five years. He focussed on followers who had made at least one comment, hashtag, retweet or “like” in that period (4196 on Air New Zealand and 539 on Jetstar). In line with earlier research, Mr Shahbaznezhad found the fans fell into seven categories.

Quiet Followers seldom participate in the companies’ promotional events. Cheerleaders, on the other hand, participate actively, and dedicate most of their comments and sharing to just one company. Loyal Fans, as you’d expect, also join in and follow posts frequently. Super Loyal Fans (often employees) use all available features to promote events and are mostly active only on that fan page. Peacocks, on the other hand, are active across many fan pages, suggesting their motivation is to increase their own exposure and follower count. Casual Learners do a modest amount of posting/tweeting, hashtags and comments, but frequently hit “favourite” and “retweet” on company tweets. The reverse is true for Casual Writers.

Hamidreza Shahbaznezhad, PhD candidate, Business School
Hamidreza Shabaznezhad

Then he analysed which fans airlines “follow back”, and found that, counter-intuitively, they were more likely to be Quiet Followers than vocal Cheerleaders. “This may be because some of the Cheerleaders will be company staff or associates, and by following them the company may signal to customers that person is an ‘agent’, which would undermine their positive influence.” 

There were also differences between the airlines. “Air New Zealand, which is a full service airline, appears to follow fans who are passing on or creating a wide range of content, from safety videos and deals to people’s flying experience. On the other hand, budget airline Jetstar seems to follow fans who focus on operational issues, such as deals, services and flight information.”

In another study, he analysed the Twitter fan pages of 36 worldwide airlines to tease out what attracts new followers. Overall, he found that the best airlines at attracting new followers also cover the widest range of topics on their fan pages – both the airline’s and fans’ topics .

“By comparing topics pushed by companies and those raised by users on fan pages, companies can find the gaps, and refocus their content generation to close those gaps,” says Mr Shahbaznezhad.

Controlling for the airline’s international ranking, the more active the company was on its fan page, and the more often fans clicked “favourite” (now “like”) on company tweets, the more followers it attracted.

Replying to customers’ tweets (both negative and positive) appeared to drive engagement by current fans but did not seem to directly attract new ones.

In another part of the study, using publicly available social media data from Facebook and Instagram in 2016, he looked at the impact of the type, format (video, image) and freshness of company posts on user engagement.

“We need to understand what users do and how they feel about company content in order to inform companies’ social media strategy.”

He found that information-based posts, such as schedule updates, drew more comments but fewer “likes”. Sales-related posts, such as competitions and special offers, got more comments and more positive comments, as did entertaining posts, such as the Air New Zealand safety videos. Videos attracted more positive comments than did photos, and overall posts on Facebook sparked more comments while Instagram posts got more “likes”.



Nicola Shepheard Media Advisor
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