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Social media branding in the food industry: comparing B2B and B2C companies’ use of sustainability messaging on Twitter

Benjamin Garner (Department of Marketing and Management, College of Business, University of Central Arkansas, Conway, Arkansas, USA)
Ashraf Mady (Department of Computer Science and Information Systems, Mike Cottrell College of Business, University of North Georgia, Dahlonega, Georgia, USA)

Journal of Business & Industrial Marketing

ISSN: 0885-8624

Article publication date: 27 March 2023

Issue publication date: 20 November 2023




Supply chains are under increased scrutiny as consumers have become aware of the dark side of downstream production practices. Many articles and exposés have led consumers to be more conscious of purchasing products from companies who source materials in a socially responsible and ethical manner. As a result, business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumers (B2C) companies are under increased pressure to source raw materials in a transparent and ethical way. Because of the associated costs, companies then look to benefit from increased brand equity by promoting to consumers how ethical their products are. The purpose of this study is to look at the case of the food industry to analyze sustainability messaging on Twitter in both B2B and B2C companies to determine which of the dimensions of sustainability (people, profit, planet) are being emphasized.


In this study, two published dictionaries were combined to capture the three dimensions of “sustainability,” and these scales were then used to analyze Twitter posts. This study created a unique software package to classify, mine, collect and analyze Twitter data. This study used these tools to analyze 246,386 Twitter posts within a sample of 39 leading B2C and B2B food companies over a 10-year period (2012–2021) to explore brand messaging and engagement rate.


This research revealed several interesting results. These include how B2B companies have emphasized the employee (people) dimensions of sustainability, while B2C companies have had a more balanced approach that overall has prioritized the economic dimension (profit) of sustainability. The data on audience engagement revealed a mismatch between the types of sustainability messaging B2B companies and B2C companies in the food industry are posting and what engages audiences.


This study fills several gaps, including analyzing how B2B and B2C companies use sustainability language in their social media brand management, as well as looking at which dimensions of sustainability they emphasize and which ones engage audiences the most. This research is also novel in combining multiple existing scales under one project to analyze the triple bottom line in the analysis of qualitative texts.



Garner, B. and Mady, A. (2023), "Social media branding in the food industry: comparing B2B and B2C companies’ use of sustainability messaging on Twitter", Journal of Business & Industrial Marketing, Vol. 38 No. 11, pp. 2485-2504.



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