Social media posts with higher fat foods lead to higher engagement new research shows

French fries and a double cheeseburger

New research published recently in the Journal of Consumer Psychology indicates that visual displays of calorie-dense food is a key factor in boosting viewer engagement on social media.

Theodore J. Noseworthy
Theodore Noseworthy

According to the study, co-authored by Theodore Noseworthy, an associate professor of marketing and the Canada Research Chair in Entrepreneurial Innovation and the Public Good at York University’s Schulich School of Business, the caloric density of food dishes depicted on food sites positively influences social media engagement. Researchers examined visual depictions of food on popular food sites such as Buzzfeed’s Tasty, the world’s largest digital food network, which has more than 100 million followers on Facebook and over a billion monthly views.

The findings were published in a research paper titled, “Content Hungry: How the Nutrition of Food Media Influences Social Media Engagement.” The paper was co-authored by Noseworthy as well as Ethan Pancer, an associate professor of marketing at the Sobey School of Business, Saint Mary’s University; Matthew Philp, an assistant professor of marketing at the Ted Rogers School of Management, Ryerson University; and Maxwell Poole, a graduate student at the Sobey School of Business.

The researchers examined the recipes and ingredients of hundreds of videos from Buzzfeed’s Tasty on Facebook using a text-processing algorithm. They discovered that some nutrients are more effective than others when it comes to driving social engagement. In particular, researchers determined that nutrients people can readily see, like saturated fats, are more likely to draw positive comments, likes and shares. Saturated fats are prevalent in butter, cheese, meats, and oils, and are known to give foods their juicy, chewy, and creamy sensory experiences.

According to Noseworthy, the depiction of saturated fats is a major reason why food photographers spray foods with WD-40, which gives them an artificial sheen to make them look more plump, moist and juicy. “Is it possible to make other healthy foods like vegetables more appealing by applying visual characteristics associated with fattier foods?” asks Noseworthy. “Future research should consider identifying these visual characteristics of nutrients to better inform strategies for garnering engagement with more health-conscious food media content.”

The findings have implications for advertisers, consumers and health advocates. “Understanding the specific characteristics that shape engagement on social media is of critical importance to content producers looking to tailor media towards viewer preferences, to advertisers seeking to increase impact, and to health advocates interested in helping consumers make better food choice,” says Noseworthy.

A video summarizing the research paper can be found here.