How are brands engaging with the social media channel and what challenges and opportunities are they encountering?

Written by Robert Weidner


If not from our own constant obsession with checking our Facebook newsfeed to see what our friends are doing or tweeting about something that bothered us on our way to work we have probably become aware of the ubiquitous presence of social media in our lives.  We have learned about social media’s explosive growth in the last decade, sometimes through traditional print media but many times through the online channel itself.  Statistics like surpassing 800 million unique visitors a month, Twitter having 90 million Tweets a day (Madway, 2010) or 1 billion users registered on Facebook makes it clear that social media has become increasingly important in most people’s lives and is taking up much of our attention.

Because the online channel (and more specifically social media platforms) have become so important in so many consumer lives so quickly many brands are trying to figure out how to approach the space.  Social media isn’t an online version of a brand’s brick-and-mortar store.  At its core it’s a platform for friends and family to connect.  It was probably easier for brands to advertise on traditional media (e.g. print magazines, television, billboards) because when consumers watch television, read a magazine, or who pass a billboard on a freeway are not at the moment trying to connect with their friends and family only to be interrupted by brand advertising.  Hence, brands and their advertising agencies have had to learn new tactics in the social media space which has changed how consumers spend their time and interact with each other.


The purpose of this paper is to use mostly assigned course literature to discover what social media challenges and opportunities brands are facing and how brand management is different in the social media space. This paper should help brand managers define and execute effective social media strategies instead of engaging in the channel blindly and obtrusively.

Perhaps, because of how quickly and disruptive social media has been on traditional marketing, brands have struggled to effectively incorporate social media strategies into their marketing mixes (Armelini, G. & Villanueva, J., 2011), while relinquishing some control of their brand and cultivating brand advocates especially in online communities.


The aim of this paper is to conduct a literature review of academic articles to show the importance of defining and incorporating social media strategies into a brand’s overall media mix. 

Furthermore, the paper will use peer-reviewed articles and secondary sources to show that brands cannot view consumers as passive listeners (Singh, S. & Sonnenburg, S., 2012) where brand managers can pass on the desired brand image through corporate communications (Christodoulides, 2009). 

Instead the social media channel allows customers to be active co-creators of the brand identity by creating user-generated-content (Christodoulides, 2009) and brand communities (Krishnamurthy, S & Kucuk, S., 2008) thus giving consumers greater power in the branding process sometimes even to the point that they begin to interfere with the brand’s original values (Christodoulides, 2009).


Companies using social media within their marketing mix was expected to reach 88% by 2012 (Smith, A., et al, 2012) but many still do not understand how to manage the social media channel effectively and how it complements their traditional advertising (Hanna, R. et al, 2011).  In most instances, brands need to complement their traditional media with a social media strategic plan that begins with active listening, confirmation that the brand is strong enough to withstand criticism, clearly defined goals, defining the purpose of their presence, deciding on the brand’s content & tone and setting key-performance-indicators (Armelini, G. & Villanueva, J., 2011).  By setting a clear social media plan, brands can gauge how effective their social media efforts are contributing to their business goals and have a greater chance of success in the social media space.

Other literature re-enforces the same ideas but identifies different constructs in defining social media strategies such as needing to visual the ecosystem, identify and tracking key-performance-indicators (Hanna, R. et al, 2011), having knowledgeable teams participating (Armelini, G. & Villanueva, J., 2011) and re-enforcing the brand’s story while being unique (Hanna, R. et al, 2011).  If a brand’s social media strategy does not contain these characteristics there is little chance of them succeeding.

Before describing how consumers in the social media space contribute to the brand building process through user-generated-content and online communities, it is important to define what social media is.

The seven functional blocks of social media that can be viewed as constructs for further analysis include identity, conversations, sharing, presence, relationships, reputation, and groups (Kietzmann, 2011) although brands should use the 4C’s; cognize, congruity, curate, and chase when approaching the social media channel (Kietzmann, 2011); after defining their strategies based on the earlier discussion.  By following the 4Cs framework brands can benefit from the social media channel.  For example, brands can get customer insights very quickly, use the channel for crisis control (Barwise, P. & Meehan, S., 2010) and engage with consumers online lowering their marketing costs (Weinberg, B. & Pehlivan, E., 2011).  Although to reap the advantages of the social media channel brands also need to build trust by delivering on their promise while balancing the need to protect the brand while following the unwritten “social rules” of how to engage with customers (Barwise, P. & Meehan, S., 2010).

Irregardless, if the brand is active and executing its social media strategy, there is a possibility that either anti-brand communities arise to voice frustration against the brand (Krishnamurthy, S & Kucuk, S., 2008) or consumers join online communities for other motives (Sera, J., 2012) liking helping promote a movie (Armelini, G. & Villanueva, J., 2011)  or creating user-generated videos (Liu-Thompkins, Y & Rogerson, M., 2012) for the brand which can lower their overall marketing costs. 

In addition, the emergence of social media has changed the role of the consumer from passive listener to more of an active participant (Singh, S. & Sonnenburg, S., 2012) and decreased the brands ability to control the conversation around it.  Brands that are on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter should become “active listeners” and try to encourage positive sentiment by addressing consumer problems as they arise and partaking but not controlling the conversation (Smith, A. et al, 2012).

Hence, incorporating clearly defined social media strategies in a brand’s overall marketing mix can benefit the brand but they need to first understand what is the exact benefit they want to get out of the social media channel (e.g. awareness, sales, referrals, etc).  In addition, they cannot control the conversation but brands must be an active participant in the space, listening and responding to consumers while allowing the brand’s identity to be less rigid than in the traditional media space.  This will provide an environment of positive consumer sentiment where brand related “word-of-mouth” news has the potential to gain virality and consumers will be more likely to create user-generated-content on the brands behalf.


This paper contributes to the literature several ways.  First, it provides a cohesive explanation of how social media strategies can fail.   It also provides a link between how social media strategies set the groundwork that allow customers to be active co-creators of the brand and participate in the brand building process.  Lastly, it highlights the importance of brands not controlling but being active in social media communication whether it’s through consumers’ creation of user-generated brand content or communication with each other in online communities.

Possible further research in this area might include examining how social media strategies are set (including anti-precedents), why consumers create user-generated brand content, the trade-offs of allowing consumers more control over the brand identity and collecting empirical data to determine specific cause-effect relationships of specific social media strategies and actions on overall brand equity.





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