The major challenges and opportunities marketers are facing when branding through social media

 Written by Masters Student at Lund University


In the recent past, if companies wanted to publish themself or its products they would launch an advertising campaign in traditional media, such as television, newspapers, PR and/or point-of-sales activities. Now, thanks to social media, some people say that we are witnessing a revolution regarding how marketers are branding their products and their companies. Social media has grown rapidly the last years and is expected to continue to grow in the future both among consumers and companies, and it is often at the expense of traditional media. (Armelli & Villanueva, 2011) 

According to Armelli & Villanueva (2011) 84 % of the European Internet users are using at least one social media site, and from April 2009 to 2010 the users of social media have increased by 24%. According to Smith et al (2012) the percentage of companies using social media in 2008 was 42% and this percentage is expected to grow twice as much in the end of 2012 (88%). In other words marketers have realized that social media is here to stay, but with this revolution come new challenges and opportunities for the marketers to consider. 


The purpose of this paper is to emphasize and clarify the major challenges and opportunities marketers are facing when branding through social media. The purpose will be fulfilled through relevant concepts and examples, which will later on be the base for the discussion. In the end a conclusion will be presented. 


Before defining what social media is, we have to clarify another concept, Web 2.0. Web 2.0 is a term that describes a new way in which end-users and developers utilize the World Wide Web. In Web 2.0 all users continuously modify content and applications in a collaborative and participatory fashion, instead of how it was before, where content and applications was created and published by individuals. (Kaplan & Haenlein, 2010) 

There are many definitions regarding social media, but I will use in this paper Kaplan & Haenlein’s (2010) definition that includes not only social networks but also other community sites such as You Tube for example: 

“Social media is a group of Internet-based applications that build on the ideological and technological foundations of Web 2.0, and that allow the creation and exchange of User Generated Content”. (Kaplan & Haenlein, 2010, p.61) 

Theory and examples 

According to Laroche et al (2013) marketers are attracted to social media because it is a powerful means of influencing customer perceptions and behaviour, and that social media also bringing likeminded, but different people together. Another reason why marketers are attracted to social media is that brand communities and social media are highly connected with each other. For example, persons that have a Harley Davisson motorbike create special groups on Facebook. This makes it a lot easier for marketers to reach all of them. (Laroche et al, 2013) 

According to Hanna et al (2011) branding through social media is a very powerful tool for companies. However when or if companies are branding through social media they can’t just focus on only that, they need also to combine the social media branding strategies with the traditional media strategies. This is a big challenge for marketers, due most marketers separate these marketing channels from each other. Branding through traditional media creates a trade- off between reach and consumer engagement. Social media on the other hand enables both, by using all platforms and formats. (Hanna et al, 2011) 

A great example of this is Dove’s campaign “Campaign for Real beauty”, where Dove involved both traditional media (billboards, television) and social media (The “Evolution”- film on You Tube) for marketing their brand and also to addressed the same meaning in every channel. Make women understand that no matter how you look, you are always beautiful. (Deighton, 2008) 

The relationship today between consumers and companies are far different from how it was 10 years ago and thanks to social media many opportunities for the companies have arisen, By branding through social media, consumers interact and influence companies’ brand message and meaning. The consumers’ opinions also help to dictate the products and the assortment for the companies. Letting the consumers talk about companies’ products in social media and express their minds, helps companies to create better products in the future. Therefor companies need social media in order to create experiences for the consumers to achieve companies overall goal of attention and influence. (Hanna et al, 2011) 

According to Kwon & Song (2011) social media has open many doors for marketers. Social media has made it easier to create brand awareness, consumer attention and familiarity. Marketers that are using social media as a branding tool such as Twitter for example, generates knowledge and exposure of the brands and also traffic on the companies websites. However this doesn’t mean that it all ends up with selling products and services. One exception is Dell, which created 6.5 million dollars in revenue 2009, through Twitter accounts. (Kwon & Song, 2011) 

One of the biggest challenges for marketers when branding through social media is to measure the Return On Investment (ROI). Marketers are struggling how to measure their ROI in today’s media market, because the frameworks are mostly driven by “reach and frequently” and are very badly suited for interaction between companies and consumers. (Hoffman & Fodor, 2010) According to Hoffman & Fodor (2010) marketers need to take on a different perspective. Instead of measuring in dollars (currency) the marketer need to measure in customer behaviour (customer investment) tied to a particular social media application (blog, Facebook, Twitter, You Tube Etc.). Examples of customer investment are time spent with the application, comments, how many “likes” you get on Facebook Etc. These kinds of investment can then be used to measure changes in level of awareness and/or how much word-of-mouth increasing over time. (Hoffman & Fodor, 2010) 

Kellogg’s is a good example of this, when they in 2007 created an integrated digital media experience for the “Special K Challenge” presenting a support website that offered consumers to customize a diet using Special K cereal, participate in online forums, join a Yahoo! E-mail support group and to buy the cereal, consumers clicked through to Kellogg’s succeeded to translate the interactions on the site and all the click-throughs, and realized that the online ROI for Special K cereal was twice as large comparing to television. (Hoffman & Fodor, 2010) 

According to Hoffman & Fodor (2010) and Rubin (2011) marketers are facing a control issue. Instead of one- way communication from the marketers, now it is a two- way communication and it is the user who is in control in social media (Wetsch, 2012). This makes it difficult for marketers to control and supervise what the users are writing about (Hoffman & Fodor, 2010). However many companies are trying their best to take over the control from users by fighting back through social media or trying to help them whatever they are unhappy with. Many companies also hiring new employees only for this particularly reason. ( 

Having the above written in mind, a good example of this is when Dr. Pepper/7UP launched their chocolate milk “Ranging Cow” in 2003. The company enlisted six teenagers to publish good reviews and spread positive word-of-mouth on their blogs about the company’s new chocolate drink. In return the teenagers got free samples and t-shirts. The company’s goal was off course to let people think that the bloggers have taken their own initiative to start writing about the product. What happened was that some other bloggers became suspicious and revealed that the company was behind it. This marketing campaign became heavily attacked in the blogosphere and in the end bloggers started a boycott. The product disappeared from the market. (Hoffman & Fodor, 2010) 

Another challenge for marketers when branding through social media is to be accordant with the message you want your consumers to receive. Using different contact channels, such as Twitter, Facebook, You Tube Etc. can be worthwhile and profitable but the marketers most have in mind that all your social media activities is aligned with each other and that they are not the only one in the company using social media networks. The more employees in the same company that are using social media, the bigger is the risk for delivering several messengers and confusing the consumers. (Kaplan & Haenlein, 2010) 


There is an on going debate regarding brands and companies in social media. Some researchers say that it is a very good way to interact with your consumers and building relationships. Other say that brands and companies don’t belong in social media, that social media is a place for people to interact with each other. (Laroche et al, 2013) 

In my own opinion based on the theory above, social media is in general a great opportunity for marketers, but with this opportunities come also challenges. Social media makes it possible to have dialog with consumers and also create more brand awareness. This is good, but it is only one step in the right direction, next step is to turn this awareness into sales, and it is now the challenges arise. 

I believe that companies will learn how to use social media better in the future and also turn social media more beneficial for the marketers and their companies. More beneficial for companies and marketers in the sense that they will be able to control different social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and You Tube. Today, there do already exist tools regarding how to control social media, for example, if someone write something bad about a company, this tool will help the company find where it is written. But if more and more companies starting to use social media as a branding tool, what will than happen with the original concept with social media? Will the future of social media be conquered by ads, and the original idea of keeping touch with friends and share pictures with each other fade way? 

Because there are some challenges with social media, especially regarding ROI, I believe it is good, if not crucial to have a combination with traditional media as well. In my own opinion 

you than can create awareness for your brand through social media and also have traditional media such as television there the marketer can focus more on sales. With that said I share Hanna et al’s (2011) opinion regarding the use of different channels. 

Overall I believe that the opportunities that social media creates for the marketers overpower the challenges. However I have some doubt if all marketers really understand what they should do with the collected data that branding through social media produce. I believe that branding through social media is a relatively new concept for marketers and I think the more companies using social media, the more marketers will learn about this great branding channel. 


The purpose of this paper was to emphasize and clarify the major challenges and opportunities marketers are facing when branding through social media. 

The major opportunities marketers are facing is that social media creates brand awareness, interaction with consumers, attention from consumers and also familiarity. Another opportunity is that branding through social media, marketers can reach likeminded but different persons. Through social media consumers are also helping marketers and companies to create better products in the future, and in some cases generate even more sales comparing to only branding through traditional media. 

The major challenges marketers are facing are how to measure the ROI, what to do with the gathered data and also that it’s the consumer that is in control. As I have said, the challenge is to take back the control from the consumers. Another challenge is to deliver an accordant message through all channels both in traditional media and in social media. 

Having that said, I believe that I have fulfilled the purpose of this paper. 


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

Deighton, J. (2008), “Dove: Evolution of a brand”, Harvard Business Review, 9-508-047 

Hanna, R., Rohm, A. and Crittenden, V. (2011), “We’re all connected: the power of the social media ecosystem”, Business Horizons, 54, 265-273. 

Hoffman, D. L. and Fodor, M. (2010), “Can you measure the ROI of you social media marketing?”, MIT Sloan Management Review, 52(1). 

Kaplan, A. M, & Haenlein, M. (2010). ”Users of the world, unite! The challenges and opportunities of social media”. Business Horizons, 53, 59–68. 

Kwon, E, S. & Sung, Y. (2011), “Follow me! Global marketers’ Twitter use”, Journal of Interactive Advertising, Vol 12 No 1, pp. 4-16. 

Laroche, M. Habibi, M, R. Richard M, O. (2013) “To be or not to be in social media: How brand loyalty is affected by social media?” International Journal of Information Management 33, 76–82, Elsevier Ltd 

Rubin, A. (2011), ”Living in the age of emotional rationality: Wendell Bell, social media and the challenges of value change”, Futures 43, 583–589. Elsevier Ltd. 

Smith, A. E. Fischer & C. Yongjian (2012), How Does Brand-related User- generated Content Differ across YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter?”, Journal of Interactive Marketing 26, 102–113.* 

Wetsch, L, R. (2012), “A Personal branding assignment using social media”. Journal of advertising education,, posted by Jon Norris, Monday 16 July 2012, accessed 15 Feb. 13