man pointing at Google analytics on a large computer monitor
April 2, 2018
Tom Snee

A new study suggests that businesses generate more traffic to their websites if they turn them into online communities, with blogs, discussion forums, and links to social media sites.

The study finds that corporate websites featuring more community engagement functions get more visits from consumers and potential consumers. It finds that websites with pro-social functions draw considerably more users than traditional websites that offer only one-way communication and provide little more than information about their products and services.

“The study shows that if your website is not engaging, then you will have fewer users,” says Gautam Pant, the study’s co-author who is an associate professor and Henry B. Tippie Research Fellow in management sciences. “Pro-social functions are like bees to honey. They bring users to a firm’s website so they have a chance to influence them.”

Pant and his co-author, assistant professor of finance Shagun Pant, analyzed the websites of more than 2,700 publicly traded firms between 2008 and 2013 and looked at how many of them had discussion forums, blogs, or links to social media sites. They found the number of websites that included these types of community engagement functions increased significantly during the period, from 21 percent in 2008 to 65 percent in 2015, reflecting the exponential growth of platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat during that time.

They then used data from Amazon’s Alexa Web Information Service to measure each site’s traffic. They found an increasing shift in traffic through the study period to pro-social sites, as users who had grown used to social media communities were more attracted to sites that created communities themselves. For every 10 percent increase in the number of social pages on a firm’s website, the study found a 4.5 percent increase in user traffic compared to other firms.

“Websites with these pro-social functions create a platform where people can engage and learn from each other, and can keep coming back to,” Gautam says. “Users are automatically drawn to websites with pro-social connections.”

Gautam says a good example of a corporate website building community is the one for electric vehicle maker Tesla. The site was not included in the study—Tesla was a privately held firm until 2010—but Pant says it’s a destination where users can talk with each other not only about the company and its products, but about electric vehicles in general, clean tech, even politics.

“There are about a million posts across tens of thousands of threads that show the power of multi-way communication facilitated by social pages on firm’s website,” he says.

The study, “Visibility of Corporate Websites: The Role of Information Prosociality,” appears in the February issue of the journal Decision Support Systems.

CONTACT: Tom Snee, Office of Strategic Communication, tom-snee@uiowa.edu, 319-384-0010.