Increase social media engagement with assertive words

Words that convey certainty (e.g. always, all, never, definitely) make you sound more powerful and increase engagement on your social media posts.

Today we look at how you can boost the engagement of your social media posts with a simple word tweak.

Fun fact: as is common in linguistics research, the authors used the text-analysis system developed by James W. Pennebaker (University of Texas at Austin). James has used this system to study speeches of Al-Qaeda leaders, US Presidential candidates, and even whether a couple is likely to stay together. Here’s a short and interesting article on the NYT about his work.

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Use words with strong certainty to increase engagement on social media

Impacted metrics: Organic reach
Channels: Social media | Content strategy | Brand strategy

Recommendation

To increase engagement of your posts on social media (e.g., likes, comments, shares/retweets), use words that give certainty (e.g. always, all, never, definitely).

This is especially effective in cultures with high power distance (e.g. China, Egypt, Mexico, Russia) compared to those with low power distance (e.g. Switzerland, The Netherlands).

Effects

  • Words that convey certainty (e.g. always, every, never, forever, nothing, true, perfect, commit, prove) sound more confident of the quality and service they provide.

  • These words also make the communicator sound more powerful. And people are more likely to engage with a communicator - and brand - that sounds powerful.

  • This is especially true in high power distance cultures (based on Hofstede’s cultural dimensions). You can check the power distance of countries here.

  • Previous research shows that more social media engagement translates into stronger attitudes towards a brand.

(Example of different messages tested in the study - Click to zoom in)

Why it works

  • We tend to aspire to maintain or gain power. Engaging with a powerful brand makes us feel powerful.

  • People in high power distance cultures tend to be focused on class and are even more susceptible to this. People in low power distance cultures may care less so on average, although plenty still do.

Limitations

  • This research is a snapshot of a specific effect. However, the tone of voice brands use on social media is usually aligned with the overall brand strategy. The effect of using words with high certainty in other channels wasn’t studied, although the psychological effects should be similar.

  • People in different socio-economic status could have different responses to power (e.g. someone already in a powerful position vs someone who isn’t). The difference between these groups wasn’t investigated.

  • There are a total of 113 words in English that convey certainty. We don’t know which ones are more powerful vs others.

Companies using this

  • The researchers found that a relatively low percentage of brand messages express certainty (21.9% on Facebook and 14.6% on Twitter).

Steps to implement

  • Use words that express strong certainty in your social media posts.

  • If needed, consider the pros and cons of revising your brand’s tone of voice to make use of this effect more widely and consistently.

Study type

Online experiment and market observation (of 7,382 Facebook and 8,226 Twitter posts by famous brands), United States

Source

Pezzuti, T., Leonhardt, J. M., & Warren, C. (September 2020). Certainty in Language Increases Consumer Engagement on Social Media. Journal of Interactive Marketing, 53, 32-46.

[Link to paper]

Affiliations

Adolfo Ibáñez University (Chile), University of Nevada, and University of Arizona

Remember: Because of the groundbreaking nature of this paper, it could be disproven in the future (although this is rare). It also may not be generalizable to your situation. If it’s a risky change, always test it on a small scale before rolling it out widely.


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