Photo by hawkflight1066, Flickr CC

In a world of infoglut, it can be tempting to ignore most of what we see on the internet.  In order to gain attention, organizations must present their messages strategically. In a recent study, Christopher Bail, Taylor Brown, and Marcus Mann investigate how advocacy groups keep their audiences engaged on social media. The authors argue that rational arguments or emotional arguments alone are not enough. Instead, the key to successful messaging is the “cognitive-emotional current,” or switching back and forth between rational and emotional argument styles.

The researchers evaluated Facebook posts and comments for 200 autism and organ donation advocacy groups. After collecting posts and comments for over a year, the authors used text analysis to classify messaging either as rational or emotional. They also created their own application, “Find Your People,” which provided the organizations feedback about their messaging styles in exchange for information about the effectiveness of their outreach strategies. The authors measured effectiveness by recording how many unique users engaged with the organization’s content each day of the study. Based on this method, the advocacy groups in the study effectively used the cognitive-emotional current to keep their audiences engaged. After a series of emotionally-charged posts, the organizations would shift to more factual arguments, then back again.

While this alone is an intriguing finding, Bail, Brown, and Mann tell us there are larger benefits than understanding how organizations keep their audiences engaged. The methods the authors used in this study — analyzing social media posts and comments — give us insight into how humans communicate and connect in a world where much of our communication happens through the medium of technology.