Written By Annie Åberg
Internet has become a big factor of influence. In the early days, the internet was mainly a medium used by nerds and companies. Companies used the internet for creating websites, and through them reach consumers. Internet evolved, and soon the internet users were able to communicate with the companies online. With the further development of web 2.0, interaction and creation of new content was enabled for the users (O'Reilly, T, 2005). The evolution of internet has reached a stage where different users can talk to each other about companies through social media instead of asking the companies when they have questions (Christodoulides, 2009).
Also society has changed, a change which according to Simmons (2008) has ramped up the individual usage of social media. With the breakdown of the traditional ties from institutions like family and church, the postmodern person acts out his or her individuality online, as well as gaining acceptance from groups through branding and consumption, which according to the author has become the new focal point for communities in the postmodern society.
The internet as a marketing tool has started to interest marketers because consumers are increasingly defecting on traditional advertising channels, exchanging them for digital ones (Deighton and Kornfeld, 2009). Another reason why the internet is important is because many consumers spend a lot of their time there and get influenced and influences others through social media. It is not a coincidence that social media have created a lot of buzz in the internet area. It is a new way of connecting, sharing and creating content between people. Also, it has a special connection to marketing since it is often brands and consumption that is the topic of discussion. The social media is a place where consumers talk about brands, and hence can both boost and lower brand reputations.
Even though social media has consequences for marketing and for the way people communicate, the vast attention the area is receiving from marketers might be overrated. While social media is a place where brands are discussed, the discussions are difficult to control and it therefore might be a waste of resources to put too much into social media. Other areas such as the increasing e-commerce that are taking place online might be areas to put focus into as well.
Is social media the most critical aspect of internet for marketers to account for?
First, it is neccessary to define the different concepts that will be used in this paper, since marketers generally have slight variations in the definitions of the same term. In describing a brand, I will use the definition from AMA which is "a name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature that identifies one seller's good or service as distinct from those of other sellers"( MASB, 2010). Social media will be defined as: "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 and Haenlein, 2011). Finally, internet marketing will be defined as: "achieving marketing objectives through applying digital technologies" (Tarnovskaya, 2013).
Following what Vargo and Lusch (2004) calls the service dominant logic, the internet is the phenomenon that has so far been most facilitating in creating this state, where the consumer and company collaborates to create customized products, instead of the company emphazising tangible and manufactured mass-produced products, following the old goods-dominant logic of marketing
Considering social media, researchers have in recent years been inquiring into ways that marketing can leverage on social media to reach consumers. Simmons (2008), Christoloulides (2009) and Muniz and Schau (2011) are considering social media a tool that companies must adapt to. Christoloulides (2009) discusses the changed role of the brand manager, from having control of the brand to having to enable more influence from consumers in form of for example user generated content (USG). Simmons (2008), are also viewing USG as one of the phenomena that can increase a brand's brand equity. The author are giving an example of the website Digg, where users write stories about potentially startling events, that often involves companies. The audience will then "digg" or "bury" the post and a successful post could give a boost to brands. Muniz and Schau (2011) claims that the potential of USG is highly underestimated for most companies and that many consumers are multitalented in their way of expressing themselves about brands.
Representing another view of the social media phenomenon are Deighton and Kornfeld (2009), Fournier and Avery (2011) and Wind (2008), which are discussing the nature of social media and marketing's issues to reach consumers in this forums because of lacking in the organization of marketing as well as low coherence with the objects of marketing vs. social media. Fournier and Avery (2011) states that the social media has empowered consumers, to the extent that they do not welcome branding into social media, and when brands are present on social media, they exploit them for their own benefit. Wind (2008) suggests that to reach the empowered consumer the organization must become less divided, more rigorous and relevant measures must be created as well as a new mindset on marketing. However, even though these researchers argue that social media was not made for branding, they all conclude that it is crucial that companies are active on social media sites to be able to reach sentiments from consumers and quickly respond to these. As outlined by Fournier and Avery (2011) the voices of consumers can force a change in products to the better, as in the case of Dove's decision to source sustainable palm oil, but the authors claim that protesting voices from consumers should not equal an instant change of products. After recieving protests from parents that the Pampers diaper gave rashes, the company conducted a series of test that proved that the rashes were not caused by the diaper and hence keeping it in its sortiment (Fornier & Avery, 2011).
All of the above mentioned articles are in form of literature reviews, hence no new primary research have been conducted, which I consider decreases the usefulness of the research. They might be seen as suggestions, but rather than building new theory, the articles give scattered examples of succesful company-involved social media interventions that are informative but do not contribute with harder data to form conclusions. This might suggest that the area of social media is a place where it is hard to get results from research, or that it is difficult to know what should be measured. However, an article by Hanna, Rohm and Crittenden, (2011), provides a useful primary source, in their example of how the Grammies used social media as a part of their overall marketing. With a clear goal: to attract more young viewers as well as relevant content, the organization managed to convince an astonishing number of young viewers to watch the show. The authors stresses that one should choose the social media sites where the target group are active, making sure that the content is relevant for the segment
as well as viewing social media as part of the overall marketing efforts, complementing traditional media.
Looking away from social media, in an article by Aljukhadar and Senecal (2011), the internet user is segmented according to what they do on the internet, which is then paired with further characteristics such as age, income and sex. This study is informative but lacking in that it presumes that brands can direct their marketing activities using the characteristics of this study. A brand cannot only think about its segment groups when producing and directing marketing but also the content to be spread as well as the brand mission.
Social media is an area that attracts much attention due to its unique way of connecting people and phenomena in an instant manner. What may often be overlooked, though, is that not only communications but also retailing has shifted dramatically due to the internet, with even more changes being expected in the near future (Zentes, Morschett & Schramm-Klein, 2011). Internet provides an easy way of searching for goods, faster than to hop stores. It is necessary for all brands that are selling goods or services to have an online presence which facilitates the buying process, through the consumer search process until the after sale services. This fact is emphasized in an article by Spenner and Freeman (2012) who argue that the most important thing to keep consumers happy is facilitating their searching and deciding on the purchase of goods, through easily maneuverable websites.
In a recent study, Scarpi (2012) examines two different types of internet users and their responses to different web site designs to determine which kind of consumer is most profitable. The objects of study were hedonistic internet users, browsing around for fun and amusement online as well as utilitarian consumers, which were looking to solve problems online. It became apparent that the consumers attracted by hedonistic elements such as customizing own products, watching videos and changing themes on the websites were inclined to buy more products and also return to the website. Scarpi (2012) adds that a website should also contain elements for the more utilitarian consumer, so that it has options for the two differing online types. It should also be noted that, according to the author, it is possible to lure consumers of a certain nature over to the other side, if the e-commerce site is designed professionally.
The study by Scarpi (2012) gives a new light to the social media phenomenon. It becomes apparent that while companies do not always have the means to actively create a presence in social media without getting consumers annoyed, they can focus their interactive features to their e-commerce sites. If these sites are, as outlined by Spenner and Freeman (2012), easily maneuverable, they will be preferred by the utilitarian consumer. Although, it is important to take the chance to interact with the consumer when they are present on the brand site and thus might be considering a purchase. By meeting consumers in a way that they are used to from social media, with fun, interactive features, the consumers that are hedonistic in their internet usage will have a higher likelihood of purchasing more from the company. With the brands having problems in controlling their presence on social media, they can build sites with features that resemble those of social media that they have more control of, and that will increase their profits.
With the increased usage of social media in the Web 2.0 era, companies are eager to fit in to this new world. However, it is proposed that exaggerated social media usage by companies are ineffective, because the medium was not built for companies, and because many consumers consider it a way to
build relations between individuals. While social media can be a good place to be perceptive to different sentiments, it is probably not the most profitable to waste all of the company resources here. As proposed by Scarpi (2012) internet sites should entice utilitarian and hedonistic consumers, and the fun-seeking hedonistic consumer that likes to browse can be attracted with similar interactive features that are emphasized on social media. The brand would hence attract the social media user in a manner that the company can have a certain control over and that will directly be translated into improved financial results. Further case-study research in this area is needed to examine how e-commerce pages could be designed specifically to attract hedonistic and utilitarian consumers, and further improve to be able to receive all of the potential future consumers and purchases through the internet.
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