This paper examines how alternative food networks (AFNs) cultivate engagement on a social media platform. Using the method proposed in Kar and Dwivedi (2020) and Berente et al. (2019), we contribute to theory through combining exploratory text analysis with model testing. Using the theoretical lens of relationship cultivation and social media engagement, we collected 55,358 original Weibo posts by 90 farms and other AFN participants in China and used Latent Dirichlet Allocation (LDA) modeling for topic analysis. We then used the literature to map the topics with constructs and developed a theoretical model. To validate the theoretical model, a panel dataset was constructed on Weibo account and year level, with Chinese city-level yearly economic data included as control variables. A fixed effects panel data regression analysis was performed. The empirical results revealed that posts centered on openness/disclosure, sharing of tasks, and knowledge sharing result in positive levels of social media engagement. Posting about irrelevant information and advertising that uses repetitive wording in multiple posts had negative effects on engagement. Our findings suggest that cultivating engagement requires different relationship strategies, and social media platforms should be leveraged according to the context and the purpose of the social cause. Our research is also among the early studies that use both big data analysis of large quantities of textual data and model validation for theoretical insights.
Link to work