4-step Approach to Successfully Capitalize on Social Media in Branding

Written By Filip Svensson




Times have changed. In recent years, the usage of social media has grown tremendously. It has enabled consumers to contribute and share information on the extensive world wide web. Means of communication, such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have also greatly impacted corporations. Companies have reached the epiphany that a correct design and social media strategy is an absolute must, if they are to have a chance in the rapidly shifting online environment. Armelli and Villanueva (2009) even goes as far as stating that companies are not present in consumers’ minds, if they are not active on the social media frontier. In order to best capitalize on new online opportunities and boost their brands, companies need to utilize traditional and social media as an ecosystem, where all areas strive toward a common goal (Rohm and Crittenden 2011). This paper will not discuss a four-step approach that marketers are recommended to adopt, to lay a solid foundation for success in branding through social media.

Stick to Your Promise

With the arrival of social media, marketers have experienced a shift in discourse. The revolution has gone from being a ‘’fordist’’ era, dominated by push techniques to now being an enterprise era, dominated by pull techniques. The immensely powerful tool of word of mouth is today a great technique to utilize for promoting products at a low cost (Weinberg and Pehlivan 2011). Its ability to spread and go viral, however also requires companies to exercise extra caution about what they want to spread. Many times, companies can exercise all the caution they can but they still have a lack of control about what is communicated about their brand (Aula 2010). A potentially minor scandal could expand to a major deal and within short time spread negative brand associations to consumers all around the world. Epiphanies like these and a fear of approaching the termination of traditional marketing activities are, according to Barwise and Meehan (2010) very present today. In spite of a temptation to restructure and bring about radical changes, corresponding with the shifting discourse, Barwise and Meehan( 2010) suggest a different approach. More than ever before, today’s situation calls for a need to get the fundamental principles of basic marketing activities right. Barwise and Meehan (2010) opine that the most important thing for marketers today is to prompt and to trustworthily purvey a compelling brand promise.

The focus on trust and the significance of maintaining the brand promises are at heart of marketing activities, like always. Gustafsson (2005) portrays this view with her idea of a two-way communication process. This process consists of asymmetrical reciprocity and brand trust. Gustafsson’s (2005) definition of trust includes a reliance on the goodwill of others and proposes that people trust not only in relationships that are at a correspondingly equal level. In other words, Gustafsson’s (2005) framework of a two-way communication process states that people trust even more when dealing with people who are in a higher position and possess more power, authority and influence over others. This second proposition is of immense significance. In spite of the fact that consumer power is growing, companies and manufacturers are still the ones responsible for the brand and the product. Consumers therefore trust companies even more because they have greater power, influence and authority.

Barwise and Meehan (2010) further propose a number of facets to best use social media to a company’s advantage. Firstly, they recommend sticking with what you already do. The great saying of ‘’do what you do, just do it well’’ is exactly what they mean by this idea. It is common today that producers see the revolution of social media as something that requires a revolution for the company as well. Though Barwise and Meehan (2012) recommend continuously improving and constantly innovating the brand, the core values should always stay the same.

Get to Know Your Customers

Secondly, Barwise and Meehan (2012) emphasize the possibility to gain customer insight from social media. Instead of seizing the tempting opportunity to sell your product through YouTube clips and Facebook photos, the primary goal of engaging in social media activity should be to learn about the customer. Greenberg (2010) specify that information such as hobbies, likes and dislikes, interests, associations, affiliations and much more are goldmines for getting to know consumers. As proposed by Rohm and Crittenden (2011), everyone is connected in the era of social media. This phenomenon means that brand owners have to remember that their audience is more than users or consumers of the product or brand. Non-users also play a role and must be understood as well.

Singh and Sonnenburg (2012) confirm this importance by including the understanding of audience members as one of their three propositions for brand performance in social media. As seen Deighton’s (2008) case study on Dove, the company stimulated start ups of an extensive number of online forums, picture comments, blogs and vlogs about its newly launched campaign. Even though, the campaign had several adverse effects on the brand image of Dove, it was nevertheless a great way to use social media as a cultural resource and gain consumer input. Unilever could consequently collect vast amounts of free consumer insight, by reading the feedback.

This viewpoint is seconded by Ragins and Greco (2003), who claim that the internet is not the greatest place for selling and that marketers have to create interest and help before ignite selling. Furthermore, the lessons that can be drawn from Deighton’s (2008) Dove case include the fact that firms’ main long-term goal is not selling. Instead, companies prioritize loyalty. Liquidity matters merely in the short run. One of the primary factors that make online selling especially difficult is the presence of multiple brand identities on the Internet. Because of the more frequent overlapping of image and identity online, firms recognize that it is more important to build brand loyalty for the future.

Protect Your Brand

The process of acquiring more consumer information and outside perceptions about one’s brand requires a brand to go viral. Barwise and Meehan (2012), however, argue that the most important thing when allowing the brand to go viral is to protect the brand. Christodoulides (2009) agrees with this statement and even claims that brand managers have transformed from brand guardians to brand hosts in the new Internet era. As presented by Aula (2010), eventual scandals could lurk around any corner on websites like Facebook and Twitter. Protecting a brand also means following the rules of the game on the website. Barwise and Meehan (2010) define this action as adhering to unwritten rules on respective websites. For example, companies can join in discussions on fan pages and converse with free participants but not go as far as influencing them and using the free commenting space as an advertising platform.

Co-author Your Brand with Consumers

The opinions of Muniz and Jensen Schau (2011) confirm the notion of consumer insight being of utmost significance, when it relates to social media. The reason that knowledge of consumers is so important has to do with its inclusion in the process of the co-authoring of brands. Muniz and Jensen’s Schau (2011) framework of consumer-oriented content stresses that consumer insight is necessary for co-creation and co-creation is necessary for company success. The process of co-authoring a brand, especially the role of the consumer therein is centered on continuously refreshing the brand. Renewing and revitalizing the brand preserves authenticity and can even prove useful, in the event of a need for retro-marketing. An example of a retro-marketing campaign was Adidas’ 70s look, which went on to be a success. Christodoulides (2009) also claims that co-creation of brands is absolutely necessary in today’s online-intensive environment. He states that even though brands remain brands irrespective of context, the brand enactment changes; and has changed dramatically. Marketer’s loss of control today is so great consumers may even interfere with brand values. Christodoulides (2009) suggests that the future requires creative interactions with consumers to author the brand together. He proposes an example where an advertisement is posted and where consumers vote for the values they want the brand to project.

The necessity to co-create brands with consumers is further supported by Arvidsson (2005), who bases this view on the assumptions that we have of contemporary consumers. Firstly, Arvidsson (2005) highlights the fact that brands can’t conduct reverse engineering. Secondly and more importantly, consumers know what they want. They consider change to be necessary, demand differentiation, which gives choice and are of the opinion that new is better. Saravanakumar and SuganthaLakshmi (2012) further elaborate on this phenomenon by stating that social media marketing is about ordinary people, getting together to take control of their environment and discover creative solutions to get what they want. Vargo and Lusch (2004) dub the movement from a goods-oriented provision towards a more service-oriented one a new dominant logic in marketing. According to Vargo and Lusch (2004), a service-centered view is customer-oriented and rational. Their provision therefore further supports co-authoring.

Empirical Examples

As seen in the Dove example, Unilever was not only able to collect tremendous amounts of great consumer insight, the ‘’real beauty campaign’’ was also a prime example of how to co-create a brand image. Even though, it might have given Dove the image of being ‘’a brand for fat girls’’ and was therefore not so successful, the purpose was clear. Another great example of the employment of co-authoring is Nike. On the Facebook pages of many of their superstar athletes, like Rafael Nadal, Nike asks the roughly 11.5 million people that ‘’like’’ Nadal to offer their opinions about which color socks Nadal should wear to his upcoming tournament. Another example of such involvement can be seen on the Facebook page of Portuguese football star, Cristiano Ronaldo. In the campaign of Meet&Greet, Konami Computer Entertainment Tokyo created a contest where winners of a series of Pro Evolution Soccer video games would get a chance to meet the great Ronaldo. On the pictures from the event, Konami had asked questions about the favorite and least favorite aspects of the game and gotten tremendous amount of free feedback. Especially helpful was the fact that so many people had the chance to take part, Ronaldo namely has nearly 54.4 million likes on his Facebook page.


Word of mouth has acquired the ability to damage companies’ reputations with simple clicks on a computer. Barwise and Meehan (2010) therefore claim that the most important thing when going viral with a brand is to protect it. A need to collaborate with consumers has arisen and as a result, co-authoring of brands becomes almost an imperative. Co-creation is best conducted after consumer insight has been gathered but it is crucial that ‘’the rules of the game’’ online are followed. In spite of the changes from push to pull techniques, Barwise and Meehan (2010) argue that companies must not create a revolution themselves just because a larger revolution, affecting everyone else is occurring. Instead, it is necessary to stick to what one does the best and not distract the core values. Simplicity has many charms and the brand promise must simply be kept.


In conclusion, social media marketing has shifted the discourse and stripped brand managers of control. When it comes to social media, stick to your brand promise. This imperative holds true not only for online marketing with the digital revolution, it is easy to get off track and forget that this promise is the most important thing about your brand. Then use the fantastic opportunity to gain detailed consumer insight for free. When going viral, it is crucial to protect the brand. This notion goes hand in hand with keeping the brand promise and is essential for staying on track. Finally, marketers must dive into the new online world and develop a different relationship with their consumers. In today’s discourse, consumers are part of the brand and are therefore necessary to include in a co-creation process. 


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