Information behaviour theories applied to social media: how to curate & deliver the best content

In most cases when organisations post content on their social media channels they have some agenda, something they want to achieve with that particular post. But, how can organisations monitor the success of their original agenda?

One way of measuring this success is by looking to see if it has caused our target i.e., a customer to alter their behaviour. If we succeed in getting new customers then we can have said to have changed their behaviour. If we achieve our goal of getting new customers then we succeed in changing their behaviour. This change can be said to be based primarily on information behaviour.

This is because our customer behaved according to the information that was presented to him. That is, he was interested in our product and he wanted to see where he could buy it from, and then he behaved according to how he could obtain the product or service offered. The product would be purchased and then later used.

Therefore information behaviour comes before we have the customer. But what is information behaviour?

According to Professor Wilson[1] information behavior is “the totality of human behavior in relation to sources and channels of information, including both active and passive information seeking, and information use.”

 So potential customers find themselves in a position where they reading related sources and channels of information (i.e. Facebook status, blog post, tweet about our product or service) and this can happen by active information seeking (I am looking for car insurance offer) or passive seeking (I am browsing my Facebook wall and I see a post that is of interest). Or I could use some daily offer services to look for the best offer available that day.

But then, we must ask: what can actually trigger information behavior, and what starts the process of customer information behavior? It is important to understand this so we can tailor our messages and related activities better, to achieve to convert our target into a customer. Google offered concept Zero Moment of Truth[2] back in 2012 stating that there is a challenge: to meet today’s empowered customers where they want, with the information and products they need.”

Professor Wilson’s first paper about information behavior was published back in 1981[3], which stated that:

“the aim of this paper is to attempt to reduce this confusion by devoting attention to the definition of some concepts and by proposing the basis for a theory of the motivations for information-seeking behaviour.”

So more than 30 years after Prof. Wilson’s paper was published, Google suggested that potential customers before purchasing products will need to satisfy their information needs and that companies should show up in right place, more often and with right content.

However, we still need to understand what is happening at the user side and what are the general principles of his information behavior to show up at the right place, often and with right content. To explain this we would like to reference to the recent paper “A general theory of human information behaviour .[4]This is just a brief overview of the theory and how it could be applied in the business social media activities based on it propositions. As recently Sonic Social Media analyzed leading UK food retailers we looked at their Twitter accounts and analysed their tweets through the lens of below underlined propositions.

Proposition 1. Human interaction with information results from a desire to satisfy various need states that arise in the course of human existence.

So when planning social media activities we have to address needs of those customers whom we want to change behavior and turn them into new or repeating customers.

For example Tesco’s pinned tweet states that “Don’t like spicy food but your partner does? ‘David’ makes his wife’s favorite curry – with cooling yogurt for him.[5]

We are not sure what kind of information needs (if any) this tweet addresses. This emphasizes the need to keep in mind consumers information needs when developing marketing strategies.

Proposition 2. Among those need states are problematic situations that arise in a person’s work, social relations, family life, as affected by a range of environmental factors from the socio-cultural to the physical.

Using the previous tweet from Tesco we would like to continue our theoretical analysis. Tesco’s tweet did addresses problematic situations, however it should not be pinned. Similar situations could be addressed on a continuous basis, addressing all different problematic situations based on factors from work, social relationships, and family life, as illustrated below:

Work: If you had a hard busy day order some food and bottle of wine from Tesco by replying to this tweet

Social relationships: Boost your enjoyment when watching football with your friends by ordering some chips and beer

Family Life: Surprise your mother with one month free delivery services from Tesco.

The examples could go on. There are many opportunities to address problematic situations of potential customers with tweets or Facebook statuses that are published.

Proposition 3.  The person’s motivation to seek information to satisfy the need state is affected by a range of factors, the significance of which is affected by the person’s assessment of the importance of satisfying the need state.

We can imagine a situation of a person completing a complex task and at the same time browsing through Twitter or Facebook i.e., multitasking. So factors that affect the person’s information behavior is that the person is not able to fully search through your product range.

So, why not post a message that says for example, click here and talk with our representative and find what offers are available. Because if someone is leaving work hungry and is looking for dinner the easier it is for him to see our message the more likely he could find our details of our offer, and this will increase the chances of the person buying our product. For example, one of Asda’s recent posts [6] says “Charlotte on Instagram said our Baker’s Selection Cookie Pie “tasted amazing!!!”

Yet, if someone is looking for cake, maybe they are celebrating an event, so in this context it may be better to include an offer for purchasing flowers or putting a cake in a celebration context.

Proposition 4. Having decided to seek information, the person’s ability to do so is affected by a range of intervening variables, which may be characteristics of the person themselves, or of their social relations, or of the means that exist to discover information.

So if somebody wishes to engage in additional information seeking about product or service you offer it will be affected by it social relations, his own characteristic or means on disposal to find more information. Let us look on another pinned tweet from Sainsbury’s [7] that says:

YUMMM YUMMM YUMMM Check out #fooddancing by MysDiggi x Sainsbury’s.”

So let us assume a customer likes to dance, however, what are the means on his disposal to discover more information? There is the hashtag #fooddancing but there is no link to more information about the food dancing concept Sainsbury’s is offering. There are 3.7K likes and 1.2K of shares on this particular post.

Proposition 5. Information seeking behaviour may be episodic or iterative and may be influenced by the success or failure of the actions taken.

By this proposition we have to understand that information seeking could be episodic or iterative and further digging into an offer is related to the success of previous attempts to locate information. For example Morrisons top tweet pinned on their wall states that[8] “People are raising money to build a statue of Brutus the Morrisons cat … via @MetroUK”.

There is one tweet which shows interest in the results of the campaign, yet there are no replies to that tweet. Therefore, we have evidence to suggest that the user which posted this tweet will not be satisfied with the actions taken, and is less likely to engage with the company.

Proposition 6. The discovery of information may be the result of deliberate search, or accidental discovery, or information monitoring.

Therefore information which is located about our product or service could be the result of a particular search with an exact reason, unexpected discovery or information monitoring. Therefore, in posting content on social media we have to think about all three aspects: what we offer to the deliberate searcher, what we offer to the Twitter user who visits out post accidently, and finally to those users who monitor our posts regularly.

Looking at the tweets of Morrison we discussed above, the user who comes to this account accidentally would not see the company values and would hardly associate with them even if he had the same values as a company. Therefore it is important to always stream the content that satisfies all three different types (deliberate search, accidental discovery and information monitoring) of the user that could visit our social media channel.

Proposition 7. Information seeking is only one aspect of information behaviour: other activities (which may play a part in information discovery) include information exchange or sharing, information transfer to others whose needs are known, as well as the avoidance and rejection of information.

So we have to be aware that not all visitors of our social media channel are actually seeking for information, but they could come there as a response if someone shared content with them. Also some users would like to avoid content we are distributing. This proposition is challenging as it includes two extremes, avoid information (somebody is not interested at all in the content we provide) and share information (that means somebody loves the content we provide).

However, if we are aware of these extremes then we can adapt our content production strategy with this information in mind. Looking back at Sainsbury’s tweet: YUMMM YUMMM YUMMM Check out #fooddancing by MysDiggi x Sainsbury’s.” we can imagine that some Twitter users will love the idea of food dancing and are likely to share the post further, however the Twitter users who do not like to dance would avoid the tweet.

In this instance, it would be better to offer the same post options for Twitter users who would not like to dance. For instance, providing a link to the receipt i.e., if you do not feel dancing check our receipt of that meal they are dancing to,

Proposition 8. Information behaviour may be individual, collective or collaborative.

This proposition could be very important in development of the content, as we have to assume that we are addressing individuals, collective and collaborative information seeking targets. Most of the content produced for marketing purposes of social media are usually aimed towards individual information behavior. For example retail chains we address in this text could balance with their tweets and address in balance individual, collective and collaborative information seeking processes. Therefore, organisations could offer the ability to ‘share the bill’, so as to allow potential customers to participate in sharing the costs of the party ingredients together.

The ideas and concepts mentioned above are not exclusive, but are used to give examples of how the general theory of information behaviour can be applied in social media marketing activities. The post aims to demonstrate that advance machine learning activities are not required in developing superb social media tactics. We simply need to be aware of what can trigger the information behaviours of potential customers, and that we should have those propositions mentioned above close to hand when developing social media content strategies.

[1] Wilson, T. D. (2000). Human information behavior. Informing science3(2), 49-56.


[3] Wilson, T. D. (1981). On user studies and information needs. Journal of documentation37(1), 3-15.

[4] Wilson, T. D. (2016). A general theory of human information behaviour. Information Research21(4).

[5] retrieved 27.01.2017

[6] retrieved 27.01.2017

[7] retrieved 27.01.2017

[8] retrived 27.01.2017

A post by Sergej Lugovic and edited by Wasim Ahmed.


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