Engaging the eye: the role of visual modality of engagement (VME) in social media

Jaylan Azer, Lorena Blasco-Arcas, Matthew Alexander

Research output: Contribution to conferenceOtherpeer-review


Introduction & Literature Review: A plethora of new media channels provides consumers with numerous opportunities for engagement (Blasco-Arcas et al. 2016; Azer and Alexander 2020). Photo-based social media platforms, such as Facebook and Instagram, are key means of self-expression and brand-related posts are shared publicly by a myriad of customers including 1.8 billion photos uploaded and shared daily, receiving 200% more attention and interaction than textual posts (Perez-Vega et al. 2018; Argyris et al. 2020). Despite the acknowledged influence of visual compared to textual manifestations in online contexts (cf. Townsend and Kahn 2014; Akpinar and Berger 2017; Villarroel et al. 2019; Filieri et al. 2021), research investigating other forms of communication in social media beyond text and numerical rating remains rare (Rosario et al. 2020). Although VME is likely to create value for the brands, the extant research exploring the visual brand-related content generated by users on social media has mainly focused on content type rather than users’ behavioral manifestations of engagement they enact using visual modality which are likely to differ in their impact on brands in line to studies with a predominant focus on the textual modality of engagement. Methodology/approach: Netnography is selected as an appropriate method to guide this study. As a marketing research technique, netnography uses publicly available online information to explore the activities of relevant online consumer groups (Kozinets, 2010). To ensure the diversity of contexts and the robustness of findings, Instagram and Facebook were selected. 30,000 Facebook and Instagram pictorial posts created by customers on the official pages of top four brands (identified based on their total analytics scores across social visibility, web visibility, sentiments, growth, and search visibility according to Brandwatch.com (2020)): Amazon, Apple, American Airlines, and Nike. Pictorial analysis was conducted following the theory of visual rhetoric, where visual images are viewed as communicative artifacts, symbols used to perform communication (Bakri et al., 2020). Findings: This study presents a typology of seven forms of VME and classified them into positive (evidential, experiential, inspirational, and devotional) and negative (disparaging, mocking, and dissuasive) forms. The study shows that customers engage in these distinct forms of behavior using four types of pictures: Brand selfie, brand only, emotional accessory, and logo parodies. By running an NVIVO pro query matrix, the study reveals what type of pictures they use when engaging in each form and the percentage of frequency of using each type of picture and the frequency of engaging in each form of visual engagement. Implications: This study contributes to the engagement and visual content literature with the first typology of VME that reveals the importance of understanding modality as well as the context for engagement. Practically, we offer valuable insights for managers to build the brand in social media by leveraging VME in their engagement marketing activities.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 18 Jun 2022
Event12th AMA SERVSIG conference - University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, United Kingdom
Duration: 2 Jun 20224 Jun 2022


Conference12th AMA SERVSIG conference
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


  • visual modality
  • engagement
  • social media


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