Marketing online – what is new and what is the same in communication?

Written by   Niclas Blomqvist 


When the Internet was introduced to the mass market in the early 1990's the general public began to use their own personal computers (PC's) and it did not take long before companies realized that the Internet had opened up a new channel for them to reach their consumers. In traditional advertising, where only one-way communication was utilized, the Internet was the opposite of the traditional advertisement, which broke the old rules. Using social media such as Facebook and other similar platforms, a shift was created from one-way communication to a completely open communication. Consumers are now allowed to talk to each other, talk directly to companies and also join forums that allow consumers to give their own opinions about a specific company or service. The relevance for a marketer to understand communication through social media is of great interest. It also helps to manage and understand challenges and opportunities marketers face when they are entering the world of social media. However, how do marketers reach traditional consumers through social media?

This paper will focus on how marketers communicate through social media to attract customers. In order to enlighten the issue, examples of social media marketing in real life will be given throughout the paper. It aims to build a better understanding of mass communication through social media, by first outlining the differences between traditional marketing and marketing through social media communications. Second, it will explore the challenges and opportunities marketers are confronted with when communicating through different platforms in social media. To conclude, this paper will discuss what marketers need to consider when communicating through different social media platforms and provide possible suggestions for reaching the traditional consumer through social media.

Traditional Communication in Marketing

Until the 1990’s, traditional communication in marketing through television, radio, billboards and newspaper was by far the most effective way to reach the end consumer (Winer, 2009). According to Winer (2009), this way of communicating is still one of the most common ways of marketing. Traditional communication in marketing presumed that the marketer had the power over the whole communication process, from company via the media to the end consumer (Winer, 2009). Winer’s model of Traditional Mass Communication (see Figure 1a), a modification of Hoffman and Novak’s (1996) “one-to-many model”, clearly shows that traditional communication in marketing was and still is a linear process. It could be argued that this view of communication is an aggressive push strategy (Lamb, Hair & McDaniel, 2009), meaning that the customer’s opinion has no significance when a firm is reaching a customer.

Hoffman and Novak (1996) see this model as passive means of reaching many with limited opportunities for customer reaction.

Fig. 1. (a) Traditional mass communications model. Source: Donna L. Hoffman and Thomas P. Novak (1996), “Marketing in Hypermedia Computer-Mediated Environments: Con- ceptual Foundations,” Journal of Marketing, 60 (July), PP. 50–68

Fig. 1. (a) Traditional mass communications model. Source: Donna L. Hoffman and Thomas P. Novak (1996), “Marketing in Hypermedia Computer-Mediated Environments: Con- ceptual Foundations,” Journal of Marketing, 60 (July), PP. 50–68

Traditional marketing through radio, television, newspapers and billboards is very expensive, however, companies are still investing in these channels. For example, in 2007, American companies spent around $295 billion with the majority of the money spent on traditional media channels (Winer, 2009). Consequently, despite the presence of social media the traditional marketing communication process is not disappearing (Winer, 2009).

Today there are a great number of marketing channels companies can use to market themselves. According to Murphy (2010) it is of a company’s greatest interest to understand whom their costumers are and their habits before addressing what channels companies should market them through. By selecting the right communication channel for a specific product/service the messages will reach the right target audience, therefore companies need to know their customers to be able to find the right communication channel.

Marketing through social media

The start of marketing through social media began in the 1990's using the Internet as an “advertising medium” (Winer, 2009, p. 108). When marketers began to use the Internet as a new advertising channel, it was first used primarily for advertising links and banners.  This enabled the user to click on the relevant advertisement and read the content, nothing more. Nowadays, the user is far less restricted and has the possibility to not only view an advertisement, the user/consumer can interact with the seller, and purchase online and additionally compare prices before deciding to buy.

Moreover, social platforms have become a common mean of marketing. The early 21st century has opened up a plethora of different social platforms, such as Facebook, MySpace and Twitter, which helps people develop contacts in ways that previously were not possible. Furthermore, it has opened up avenues for marketers to reach the public without direct contact. For example, companies can reach an unassuming customer through Facebook. Marketers are now able to place banners based on an individual’s recent interactions within online shopping browsing and attract them by offering discounts on recently viewed products.  This is very different from traditional view of marketing.

The linear approach to communication that companies previously worked with in traditional marketing (see Fig.1a), does not work in the new world of social media. Social media allows customers to talk to each other, talk directly with the company, or join forums where you simply can benefit from other peoples’ advice and experiences of a particular product or service. Through this interaction the model of Traditional Mass Communication (Winer, 2009) can be modified (see Figure 2a). This model shows that Mass Communication is no longer linear and is more of an interaction (Winer, 2009), where the customer plays a prominent role in all stages of marketing process with a company as well as with each other. Consequently, companies are possibly at risk of losing customers through social media, since customers are communicating more amongst themselves rather than directly with the company, as in the traditional marketing model.

Fig. 2. (a) Modified mass communications model. Source: Donna L. Hoffman and Thomas P. Novak (1996), “Marketing in Hypermedia Computer-Mediated Environments: Con- ceptual Foundations,” Journal of Marketing, 60 (July), PP. 50–68

Fig. 2. (a) Modified mass communications model. Source: Donna L. Hoffman and Thomas P. Novak (1996), “Marketing in Hypermedia Computer-Mediated Environments: Con- ceptual Foundations,” Journal of Marketing, 60 (July), PP. 50–68

Using social media for marketing can be compared to a pull strategy, where the marketing strategy consists more of stimulating costumer demand (Lamb, Hair & McDaniel, 2009). According to Rimlinger (2011) companies must see the benefit of a two-way communication, but also understand that social media is a long-term relationship with the costumer and not a one-time push strategy.

Challenges with Social Media

”The concept of self-presentation states that in any type of social interaction people have the desire to control the impressions other people form of them.” (Kaplan & Haenlein, 2010)

Social media opens up number of channels and opportunities for companies to market themselves. Through social media, companies can interact with customers in specific target groups. This interaction cannot be achieved through traditional marketing channels (Winer, 2009). This is a clear advantage of social media, but these new opportunities create problems. Firstly, it is difficult to measure the effectiveness of marketing in the new media with the help of statistics. Winer (2009) questions that when visits per site are measured, there is no information about how engaged consumers are after their visit to the site. Further, he argues that it is obvious that the same measurement cannot be used as before. Traditional metrics, for example, Reach and Frequency, are not applicable to social media as it is difficult to know where the customer actually comes from. Traditional channels, however, such as television and radio, measurements were far easier to obtain through retailers.  

Another relevant issue is the control over what is being said about a company. Social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Blogs have restricted control over what is being said (Winer, 2009) or not being said about companies. According to Corstjens and Umblijs (2012) is that in order to influence what is said about a brand on the Internet, companies need to get involved in the brand conversation. Now when the costumers have a voice of their own, companies can no longer just listen to what is said about the brand. Giving the uses and gratifications perspective, “people communicate to satisfy personal goals” (Perse & Courtright, 1993, p.485), meaning that customers are seen as active communicators because they know what they want and therefore are able to evaluate various social media channels for content that suits their needs (Perse & Courtright, 1993; Cho, De Zúniga, Rojas & Shah, 2003). On the other hand, customers are able to seek alternatives if the chosen channel does not suit them. As a result, the customer in this perspective is easy to influence. However, with traditional marketing communication, the one-way process had far more control, as the lack of interaction does not promote feedback.

Opportunities with marketing through Social Media

Marketing through social media has had a strong growth curve since the mid 2000's, which has opened up new opportunities for marketers. Marketers have therefore experienced huge changes to be able to adapt to the Internet and the new way of marketing through social media (Hoffman, 2000). Companies are now able to use social media to communicate with their customers and in turn, the customer can communicate directly with the company. Shankar and Hollinger (2007) have broken down the social media into three groups: Pushy, where consumers are interrupted by advertising; Not Intrusive, where the consumer is an active choice of receiving advertising; and User Generated, when the consumer creates the communication itself. Companies together with consumers are now creating interactive communication, which means that the marketer can choose to reach exactly the audience that they seek. As a result, this makes the user generated communication very powerful (Winer, 2009). According to Sanderson (2007) YouTube and Wikipedia’s success in creating user generated content on their sites by providing costumers to interact and create value has also helped them gain brand equity. 

Another great example of how companies are using user generated and social media is Nike+, an application for IPhone or Android witch allows the user to keep track of their running and training by GPS. The app also allows the user to compete with friends, finding new running paths and the user can share everything on Facebook, to motivate and inspire others to start running. This app not only helps the user to get fit, but it also communicates Nike as a brand, this also helps Nike’s costumers to associate Nike as top-of-mind choice in the future.


To conclude this paper, marketers need to understand that although there are many similarities with traditional communication and marketing through social media, there are several differences that are vital. To be able to have a successful online marketing strategy, marketers need to understand the underlying factors that are of importance when communicating in an online environmental. Traditional marketing methods use one-way communication, where the company does not have to consider the customer's view in the same manner, unlike marketing through social media where the customer's opinion is of great importance.  As mentioned above, social media sites such as Facebook have limited control over what is being said or not being said about a company. Companies should use social media to communicate their marketing in a new way, but to be able to influence the customer; companies must get involved in the brand conversation. Key elements for firms to remain competitive are primarily the development of long-term relationships with consumers by use of social media and the ability to continuously innovate themselves in line with the user experience.

According to some this is considered as the future of marketing, but I say: the future is now!



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Other sources:

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