Ted Matherly, Jared Watson and Kalinda Ukanwa, in preparation for submission, Journal of Marketing.

With increased competition in the attention economy, content creators need sustainable strategies for cultivating consumer engagement, and one of the most important is to develop relationships with audiences. In this work, we explore how the use of first-person singular pronouns (FPP), such as “I” or “me,” can help initially build these relationships that generate engagement. Combining experimental and field data from multiple domains, including social media, news and message boards, we show that FPP increases relationship-motivated engagement (including votes, likes, and comments) in initial interactions. However, because relationships are dynamic, we expect the effects of FPP on engagement wane over time, as their continued use suggests self-focus, rather than relationship motivations, to audiences. Using data from a three-year panel of Twitter creators and their followers, we show that after 13 months, higher levels of FPP causes a decrease in engagement. Our results demonstrate the potential of short-term as well as long-term pronoun usage in content engagement strategies, and suggest that content creators must consider the stage of their relationships with their audience members and their mix when using FPP to generate engagement.

Cover photo by bixentro, licensed Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0 DEED).

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