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Abhishek Borah
Abhishek Borah

How to craft social media posts that earn both clicks and profits

Abhishek Borah and his co-authors liken marketing in social media to jazz music; its beauty is not in the expected notes, it is in the improvisation. They argue that the latest technological and interactive tools are needed to create swift, agile, and interesting content.


Engaging with customers through innovative and interactive communications has become central to the practice of marketing, especially this is the key issue faced by many Marketing Technology (Mar-Tech) firms as they move from start-up to stay-up and then, scale up in global markets to offer turnkey solutions. However, a growing number of consumers have become frustrated by and have grown suspicious—if not tired—of digital communications such as online advertisements and social media marketing. To help overcome this consumer fatigue, researchers Borah, Banerjee, Lin, Jain and Eisingerich highlight a phenomenon they term improvised marketing intervention (IMI)—the composition and execution of a real-time marketing communication proximal to an external event in social media. IMI not only helps marketers earn clicks but also results in greater returns on marketing communications more broadly and social media communications, in particular.


What Did the Researchers Do?

This research addresses three previously unanswered questions: (1) To what extent, if at all, does IMI impact the virality of a marketing message? (2) If IMI messages have an impact, what particular type of IMI is most likely to achieve virality? and (3) When, if ever, does an IMI message impact firm value? To answer these questions, the researchers conducted five studies. In Study 1, they used a quasi-experiment in which a focal brand’s IMI was compared with non-IMI to determine if IMI drives greater virality. In Study 2, they conducted an experiment to manipulate important factors affecting IMI. Study 3 analyzed a uniquely compiled database of 462 IMI tweets by 139 brands over a six-year period. Study 4 used data containing IMI messages and non-IMI messages from a panel of 10 US airlines across a two-month period. And in Study 5, they investigated the impact of IMI and non-IMI messages on virality and firm value using a random sample of 25 S&P firms.

What Did the Researcher Find?

The research results showed that standalone humor cannot drive virality or firm value for IMI but must be paired with either timeliness or anticipation and that virality and firm value are not driven by what you say in an IMI message; rather, they are fueled by how and when you say it.t


  • Use quick wit: Social media managers should develop witty messages, which are well timed and have an element of surprise.
  • Engage social media users in a conversation about “what is happening now”: People in general and social media users in particular have a desire to engage spontaneously with events as they happen. Use of tools such Google Trends and top hashtags in social media sites can enable firms to be aware of current trending topics.
  • Co-opt external events: develop messages, which are related to ‘tent-pole’ events (e.g. the Olympic games) or specific events on established dates (e.g. the launch of a new iPhone); or specific events on uncertain dates (e.g. speculation about when the COVID-19 vaccine will become available) or and trending topics (e.g. Black Lives Matter).
  • Trust and empower your marketing team: give them the latitude to keep a close eye on trends and spontaneous chatter so they can quickly improvise and formulate witty messages in response to these events.
  • Relinquish some level of control over tweet content at times: to respond to external events as they unfold, businesses may need to relinquish some level of control over the message at times. Artificial intelligence and Mar-Tech tools such as social media tracking and listening significantly can significantly reduce the amount of time needed for approvals from managers. Be careful, however, not to hit the ‘send’ button too quickly; identify the right employees who can be trusted to execute timely, on point but unoffensive tweets.


Contact: Abhishek Borah

Article citation: Borah A., Banerjee S., Lin YT, Jain A., Eisingerich A. (2020) Improvised Marketing Interventions in Social Media. Journal of Marketing, 84 (2), 69-91.

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