July 27, 2020 | By Wisconsin School of Business | Back to blog

Social media: whether you love it, loathe it, or fall somewhere in between, most of us recognize that it can be a powerful tool for business strategy and a personal outlet for connection and community.

While it might feel like it’s been a part of our lives forever, social media is actually quite new from a research perspective, with much left to explore and understand.

Here are some excerpts from Wisconsin School of Business faculty research on social media and its impacts:

Sung Kim

Think twice, tag mindfully. Sung Kim, Peter T. Allen Professor and a professor of operations and information management, has looked at how social media platforms like Facebook affect relationships as well as issues around privacy and exposure.

In a virtual environment with a large reach and without in-person cues, users may be more tone-deaf to how their friends will be impacted. “Our findings suggest when you tag people in an embarrassing post, it may be seen as friendly teasing or shared enjoyment when you have a large number of friends in common,” Kim says. “But it looks very different when you do that with an audience that doesn’t know the both of you and can leave the target of the post feeling hurt or humiliated.”

Evan Polman

You don’t have to live your best lockdown life. Forget about that perfect bread you’re seeing on Instagram, says Evan Polman, because not everyone is having a creative rebirth during the COVID-imposed quarantine. An associate professor of marketing and a researcher of consumer psychology, Polman says that, due to social media, we tend to think that others are living more exciting, fulfilling lives than we are, and we hold our lives up for comparison. Take the pressure off, especially in the midst of a pandemic. “Most of us will be satisfied to just survive this crisis, much less use it to our advantage,” Polman says. “Unfortunately, research shows that we often compare ourselves with others who are punching above their weight. This shouldn’t be depressing. None of us is Shakespeare. Let’s be okay with that.”

Liad Weiss

FOMO may cloud your decision-making. The constant barrage of social media images and event updates can really kick our “Fear of Missing Out” (FOMO) into high gear, says Liad Weiss, assistant professor of marketing.

Instead of valuing the activity we’ve chosen, we’re distressed by comparing it with what others seem to be doing—or what we think we should have done. That’s illusory, Weiss says, because those options were never at our disposal; social media channels just make it feel that way. “Such updates increase the saliency of what consumers could have done differently—the opportunity cost of the choices they make—possibly leading consumers to doubt their choices,” Weiss says.

Joann Peck
Joann Peck

Brands should consider putting emojis to use. Emojis can enhance a brand’s social media strategy—at  least in moderation, says Joann Peck, the Irwin Maier Professor of Business and an associate professor of marketing. Her study found that emojis can not only increase consumer engagement with a brand on social media, they also make the brand seem warmer, something consumers seek out in a brand’s identity. But don’t load up those tweets with smiley faces just yet: the study suggested that brands can be seen as less competent depending on how the emojis were used, and that companies should factor in the suitability of emojis for their specific audience.

Read more WSB faculty research on the Forward Thinking blog