Branding through social media: Opportunities and Challenges

Written by Master Student at Lund University



Introduction and Purpose

About 34% of the world’s population (about 2.4 billion) uses the Internet daily ( Of those, for example, 955 million are active users on Facebook that spend on average 6 hours and 35 minutes per month there and 58% return to the website every day. (Pring, 2012)

Having in mind those statistics, reaching customers though the medium they spend most of their time on is essential. Thus companies can no longer ignore the importance of using social media platforms to enhance their brand. Even if they do not want it, customers are there and are using and changing the image of their brands every second. However, about 55% of the companies do not respond to comments on Twitter and Facebook mainly because they do not have a process in place to do so (

By why should companies develop their brands through social media? Being present is an enormous opportunity to reach millions of potential customer fast, use consumer generated feedback to improve your products and brands, thus increasing the brand awareness quickly and if applied successfully increase the value of a company’s brand. On a study of 60 Facebook marketing campaigns, 49% of the companies reported a ROI of more than five times (

However, branding through social media poses many challenges and uncertainties to marketers. Some those are, how to successfully create our brand online, what social media platforms to use, what will the return on investment be, who are the new customers we talk to online.

Employing old offline methods to the internet world is definitely not the answer to approach the new customer in the Internet era. Marketers should learn how to do it right. And the best way to learn something new is by learning from the positive and negative experience of others.

Below is a review of the current theories regarding branding through social media. In the second section, some successful and failed cases of companies that used social media to enhance their brands will be discussed. Finally a discussion on the challenges and opportunities that companies might face when branding through social media will follow. And we will conclude with some best practices tips.

Thus the purpose of this paper is to discuss the opportunities and challenges of using social media to enhance a company brand and provide some best practices and things to avoid on the basis of real-life examples.

Theory Review

According to AMA a brand is: “name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature that identifies one seller's good or service as distinct from those of other sellers” ( The traditional view on what branding is in marketing is that it is a process in which a product or service is presented in such a way that it creates a unique value for the customer and serves their needs in the best possible way (Chernatony, 2003).

In the early days of the internet (Web 1.0) companies tried to copy the working offline branding model to the internet (Meyers, 2001), which created static websites that did not interact with the customers in any way (de Chernatony, 2001). It was a one-way communication model in which marketers tried to control and dictate how their brands should be perceived by the customers.

However, many failure cases have shown that mimicking the offline branding efforts to the internet is not successful. The new Web 2.0 Internet facilitates an open dialogue through a two-way communication between the company, the consumer, the employers, and the competitors. Consumers no longer visit a company’s website to gather information but turn to their peers for advice and recommendations. Thus word of mouth has an even greater impact online with an ability to reach millions of people within matters of hours and days and have a direct impact on sales (Armellini, 2009).

This all has led to new customers of the Internet era that are co-creators in the process of brand image creation (Vargo, 2004). And they have completely different expectation from companies and their products: customization, personalization, being part of a community, using various communication channels, various options for comparisons and increased choice and a higher demand for better value for their money (Wind, 2008; Pires, 2006).

The current literature on social media branding presents companies with three possible approached when dealing with internet branding. First one is to use the social media capabilities at its basics meaning to use it to generate customer insights, try to make viral campaigns but be ready to protect the brand in case it backfires, communicate with customer while following the rules and always stay ethical and true to your brand identity. And the way to do all that is to first get the basic connection between your brand identity and brand image straight and correct before going to the social media (Barwise, 2010).

A second option is to empower consumers to co-create the brand through the so called open source branding. In this sense the brand manager lets consumers participate through discussion, games, forums, blogs and new product ideas and feedback participate in the process of brand creation. This is a method of letting customer play the game of branding with their own rules (Fournier, 2011).

The third option is to let the customer be the leader of the show so to say. In this sense the role of the brand manager is to be responsible for the general brand image, help dissolve tensions within customer and navigate the brand. A successful companies that employee this method is Unilever with its brand Dove (Singh, 2012).

Case Studies

Success Cases


Treadless is an online company brand that started from selling customer designed T-shirts online in 2000 and is today a place where customers, artists, fans and the company meet to express their creativity and originality, share ideas and photos, vote on best T-Shirt designs and purchase the creative result of their common efforts (Threadless, 2013). It is a success story because Treadless has understood the new consumer of the Web 2.0 era. They take care of their customers and thus create loyalty by creating a common community of sharing, creativity and originally. Customers feel more like partners and co-creators of the brand and their positive attitude is spread easily through the social media like Twitter, Facebook, blogs and others. Moreover, it is fun and playful place to express their creativity. And last but not least, the products that they sell and the printed images are of good quality (Signal vs. Noise, 1999).

Book Burning Party

This is a story about the successful social media campaign of the concerned citizens of Troy, Michigan about their Public Library. Due to some financial issues the library could no longer be funded, so the taxes of the local people needed to be increased by 0.7% or the library could be closed.

As a response a smart “lie” campaign was started on Facebook as the Book Burning Party where they invited people to participate in a party to burn the books of the library. This generated tones of Facebook angry users to comment, share and tweet the outrageous situation. At the peak of the “complains”, the campaign revealed its true purpose through a short YouTube video and thousands of people supported the cause to save the library (Book-Buring Hoax, 2012).

The campaign was successful online because it created emotional response of outrage in the users of social media which became viral but did not manage to backfire since the initial cause for the campaign was noble in the minds of the consumers.

Failed Cases

Motrin Moms Commercial

Motrin launched a commercial both online and offline in which they promoted their pill as a means to relieve mothers that carry their babies in baby-slings or pouches. However, they offended thousands of mothers with the statement that carrying their baby’s is a painful process. Those angry mothers posted many Twitter complains and even made their own YouTube video response to the ad. Soon after Motrin removed the ad and apologized. (, 2008)

This is a brilliant case of a unsuccessful social media campaign that resulted most probably from the fact that Motrin did not pretested the main message before launching the campaign. Thus resulted in damage to the brand reputation and thousands of moms shifting to alternative pain relieve medications.

Kryptonite Lock and BIC pen

In 2004 in a YouTube video Chris Brennan showed a step-by-step guide of how to open the so called top security bike lock of Kryptonite with a simple 10 cents BIC pen. The number of views on the videos reached million within days. And Kryptonite kept silent for a total of 10 days before announcing that they will replace faulty locks for the cost of $10 million. However, the reputation and brand value of Kryptonite was already damaged and even now after 8 years they are still in recovery (, 2011).

This is a case that reflects the impact that negative social media coverage can have on a brand and the company behind it. In this case the company should have reacted to those videos faster through constantly monitoring the social sphere for potential problems. But most importantly they should have invested heavily in improving their locks and showing customers in a fun and engaging way that they have learned.

Discussion & Conclusion

In conclusion we can say that building brands on the internet and through social media is not an easy task. Moreover, it has new rules which each company should learn before entering the arena. Companies should make sure first that they are selling good products, know what the needs and characteristics of the new Web 2.0 consumers are and try to address those in the best possible way.

The above new arena of branding in the new and unknown Web 2.0 world presents companies with many opportunities to develop their brands, build customer loyalty and generate sales because of the fast, widespread reach of the social media. They can improve their customer service relationships by always being present and responsive to customer comments and complaints. And even going a step further and ask customers to co-create new products through social platforms by either gathering their feedback or allowing them to propose and create their own ideas (like in the case of Treadless). Or even promote a noble cause through the use of social media as in the case with the Burning Book Party.

On the other hand, brand managers face many challenges. Some of those challenges that companies and brand managers face when trying to enter the social media arena are connected to the confusion of how should they approach the subject of branding through social media/ Other questions involve who are new customers are and what their behavior and needs are, how can the return on investment be measured in an online campaign (Chrisodoulides, 2009), how to stay true to our brand identities and how can we relinquish the control of the brand solely in the hands of the customers.

The Motrin Moms Commercial showed how a not well planned and tested message can backfire and ruin the reputation of the brand in a short-term period through the internet. While the Kryptonite case showed how the power of the social media can ruin a million dollar company within days.

Thus companies should try to start their branding efforts first from presenting the customers with a good product, have their brand identity and brand image aligned and then enter the social media arena. Having in mind that the scape is changing constantly, companies should strive to communicate with their customer 24/7 and be present and responsible when problems occur.

In general more study in the area of social media impacts on the brands should be made in the future but it might be a good idea to try to do that for a specific industry or company type or even for a specific mix of social media tools depending on the purpose of the marketing campaigns in question.


Armelli, G. and Villanueva, J. (2011),”Adding social media to the marketing mix”, IESE insight, No. 9.

Barwise, P. and Meehan, S. (2010), “The one thing you must get right when building a brand”, Harvard Business Review, December.

Book-buring Hoax (2012) Award-winning book-burning hoax saves Troy, MI libraries. [online] Available at: [Accessed: 10 Feb 2013].

Chrisodoulides, G. (2009), “Branding in the post-internet era”, Marketing Theory, 9, 141.

de Chernatony, L. (2001) ‘Succeeding with Brands on the Internet’, Journal of Brand

Management 8(3): 186–95.

DE CHERNATONY, L., & MCDONALD, M. (2003). Creating powerful brands: in consumer, industrial and service markets. Oxford [etc.], Elsevier.

Fournier, S., Avery, J. (2011), “Uninvited brand”, Business Horizons, 54, 193—207. (2012) World Internet Users Statistics Usage and World PopulationStats. [online] Available at: [Accessed: 10 Feb 2013]. (2008) Top Ten Branded Social Media Nightmares. [online] Available at: [Accessed: 18 Feb 2013]. (1995) Dictionary - Brand. [online] Available at: [Accessed: 18 Feb 2013]. (2012) 55% Of Brands Ignore Their Customers On Twitter And Facebook [STUDY] - AllTwitter. [online] Available at: [Accessed: 15 Feb 2013].

MEYERS, H. M., & GERSTMAN, R. (2001). Branding @ the digital age. New York, Palgrave. (2011) When a 10-cent pen brought a company to its knees. | The Social Analyst. [online] Available at: [Accessed: 10 Feb 2013].

Pires, G.D., Stanton, J., Rita, P., (2006) "The internet, consumer empowerment and marketing strategies",

European Journal of Marketing, Vol. 40 Iss: 9/10, pp.936 – 949

Pring, C. (2012) 216 Social Media and Internet Statistics (September 2012) | The Social Skinny. [online] Available at: [Accessed: 10 Feb 2013].

Signal vs. Noise (1999) 7 reasons why Threadless rules by Matt Linderman of 37signals. [online] Available at: [Accessed: 15 Feb 2013].

Singh, S. & S. Sonnenburg (2012), Brand Performances in Social Media”, Journal of Interactive Marketing 26, 189–197.

Threadless (2013) T-shirts and other products designed by an artist community of 2 million | Threadless. [online] Available at: [Accessed: 15 Feb 2013].

Vargo, Stephen L. and Robert F. Lusch (2004) “Evolving to a new dominant logic for marketing.” Journal of Marketing, 68 (January),1-17.

Wind, Y.J. (2008), “A plan to invent the marketing we need today”, MIT Sloan Management Review, 49(4).