How you say it, matters.”A study of the relationship between message complexity, message emotionality, and online social media customer engagement

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Nowadays, customer engagement is the key performance indicator for social media. However, for marketeers it is still unclear what content works best. Earlier research points to linguistic styles as a means to evoke greater customer engagement. Two important linguistic styles that have been mainly overlooked in this context are message emotionality and message complexity. Earlier academic work by Deng et al. (2020) has already studied the impact of these linguistic styles on customer engagement. However, the interaction between message complexity and positive message emotionality has not yet been examined. Yet there is reason to assume that such an interaction effect exists, as a certain degree of message emotionality might help to process a more complex message. Therefore, this paper adds to prior research by examining the effect of message complexity on customer engagement with special attention to the moderating role of message emotionality. These effects are studied in the context of Instagram since it is an important branding platform for marketers. To research this topic, an online 2x2 between-subjects factorial experimental design was performed. In total 156 participants took part in the experiment. Results indicate that there is no direct effect of message complexity on customer engagement. However, message complexity does have a negative indirect effect on customer engagement via the attitude towards the message. Additionally, emotionality was shown to have a direct effect on both advertisement attitude and customer engagement. The proposed moderating effect of message emotionality on the relationship between message complexity and customer engagement was not found. This knowledge could help marketers to implement certain levels of message complexity and message emotionality in their brand posts in a way that gains customer engagement. Keywords: linguistic styles, message complexity, message emotionality, customer engagement, attitude, involvement, social media brand post, Instagram, marketing
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