Academic Study: Collaborative Content Increases Sales Activity

On social media, brands sit at the center of an interconnected network of brand intermediaries, partners, and consumers. The research outlined in this blog reveals that brand awareness, content quality, and consumer interactivity are the primary drivers (or mediators) of latent sales activity within brand networks. Brands that are proactive in establishing connections that empower their intermediaries have an advantage on social when it comes to driving online and offline sales activity with consumers.

Regarding customer-level advertising, brands today not only must contend with an ever-fragmented media environment, but also ever-evolving consumer expectations on what constitutes appropriate brand communication by medium. While consumer engagement has emerged as a leading KPI for brand marketers on social, its definition can range from likes to comments to clicks to sales, with the key being return on advertising. An often patient process, the modern social campaign aims to engage and eventually convert to actual sales activity.

This article focuses on academic research that explores the elements of brand content on social media that positively impact business outcomes, most notably quality and relevance in the forms of demographic differentiation and personalization. These elements are achieved through a brand-guided, distributed social advertising program in which the brand provides high-level, quality creative that activates through collaboration with and empowerment of brand intermediaries. 

A recent study in  the Journal of Brand Management, Social Media Brand Engagement in the Context of Collaborative Consumption: The Case of Airbnb, outlines the benefits of collaboration. The notion of synergetic brand communication on social media reflects a more recent shift in industry over the last few years.

The researchers in this study (Schviniski et. al.), a mix of  communication, marketing, and economic professors, examined how Airbnb uses brand-to-consumer collaboration to drive bookings outside direct transactional frames, where Airbnb resides at the center of a larger network of fractured peer-to-peer communication between intermediaries, using its considerable agency to drive sales. Airbnb’s user base is segmented into different consumer groups. The first group rents properties they own and have an interest in promoting these properties, while the other group comprises consumers who come to the platform to book properties and have an interest in collaborating with other users through reviews. Airbnb and its brand positioning sits at the center of this digital nexus. 

Through Airbnb, the researchers examined how brand equity affects consumer’s online brand-related activities (COBRAs). The researchers utilized a survey and behavioral-based approaches to examine a subset of Airbnb users on social media. Leveraging structural equation modeling (SEM) to place the results into context, they established brand content along two associations: hedonic and functional. 

The researchers note that “functional associations are related to utilitarian, economic, and rational aspects of the brand regarding, for example, reliability, competence, skillfulness, usefulness, and quality.” They define hedonic brand associations as providing “subjective meaning to the brand, encompassing emotional and affective image.” These distinctions are important to unpacking their findings that content “that [is] attractive, desirable, and strong in character and personality directly motivates CBE [Consumer Brand Engagement] behaviors toward Airbnb.” In other words, content that feeds emotional needs drives collaborative consumer brand engagement over content that simply informs. 

“This finding is in line with Kennedy and Guzmán’s (2016) finding that fun is on of the main consumer motivators to co-create, and thus, being a hedonic activity, consumers will place more trust on the information that has been co-created and is found on social media” (Reimer and Benkenstein 2016; Ruiz-Mafe et al. 2018).

That consumers would place more trust in co-created content on social media is an important finding, especially because it drives sharing and co-creation, the heart of collaborative social advertising. Contrasting with functional content, the researcher notes that “functional associations mainly lead to passive forms of CBE [consumer brand engagement] such as reading posts, while main effects on more active forms such as contributing and creating are achieved through hedonic aspects.” When brands are able to promote themselves in hedonic frames, consumer engagement increases, which is perhaps not all that unsurprising. 

It’s Airbnb’s active role in driving consumer activity with this content that gives it sales power. Schviniski et. al. note that, “in order to generate a hedonic brand image, managers should associate brands with other entities (such as people, events and places)” This highlights the importance of intermediaries in distributing brand messaging that’s trusted and valued by consumers in the consideration phase. This strategy speaks to human intuition – a trust in people over entities. In the Airbnb example, reviews on social media are a form of collaborative content that allow both ends of Airbnb’s “consumer base”, that is, the users who come to Airbnb to get bookings for their property, and the consumer who comes to Airbnb to book to interact. Through collaboration, these two groups help drive the Airbnb sales engine on social. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts, Airbnb establishes itself as a trusted place to find verified bookings to fun and exotic places and provides the market with a platform to do so. But it’s made real through the users collaborating, as Schviniski and team conclude:

“If consumers find Airbnb attractive or desirable, they will engage with the brand on social media, actively contributing and helping to co-create Airbnb brand meanings, even if their intentions toward sustaining core transactions are only low influenced.”

Going on to note

“Yet, though functional associations proved to be less relevant in this study, its role in building OBE [Overall Brand Equity, or Brand Awareness] should not be overlooked, particularly considering the need to build a trustful Airbnb brand and ensure that guests will revisit.” (Schivinski, Langaro, Fernandes, 2020)

In a manner of speaking, Airbnb’s brand marketing is what places the reviews and other consumer-facing social content into context. You can’t have a virtuous collaboration across your users and consumers, if you don’t first firmly establish the centrality of your brand as being the genesis of collaboration

Schvininski and team magnify just how closely interconnected the concepts of engagement and brand awareness are. While you may think these findings only lend themselves to brands with user provided and reviewed products, with further interrogation, we actually learn that these findings hold true in other industries, even those that operate in the brick and mortar space. 

Hedonic Frames in Practice

With use of the intermediary (the bar) for publishing, the company facilitates sales by creating a community connection with the consumer versus simply selling product. Additionally, the company strengthens its partnerships with establishments pouring its brands and dramatically lowers its cost of advertising.  Read the Full Case Study.

To further underscore the importance of a brand establishing and maintaining control over its core message, check out our blog Academic Research: High Quality Creative Unlocks Consumer Trust and Purchase Intent, where we examine Amal Dabbous and Karine Aoun Barakat’s work Bridging the online offline gap: Assessing the impact of brands’ social network content quality on brand awareness and purchase intention. Pairing these findings with our previous blog – looking at two different industries and independent studies – it is notable the similarities across their findings as it pertains to the centrality of the brand in distributed social advertising.

Learn more about how collaborative advertising increases sales activity for the brand and channel partner. Read The Indirect Majority – Why the Future of Social Advertising is Collaborative. 


Tiger Pistol is a collaborative advertising platform that enables our clients to deploy optimized and scalable campaigns within minutes. By simplifying high-performance collaborative advertising for our clients and their partners, we help you achieve your most ambitious goals in customer acquisition and sales growth.