November 10, 2014
Written by Amy Mulcahy
Purpose of the article
The purpose of this paper is to identify how the changing online environment has affected interactive consumer engagement with the medium over the past ten years. The paper will examine the evolution of consumer behaviour from the beginnings of Web 2.0 to present day, providing a case studies and a discussion of the implications for marketers and the means by which they can accommodate, utilise and ultimately benefit from such emerging behaviours. The paper will conclude with a summary of findings and recommendations for marketing practitioners.
The transition from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0 is epitomised by developed Internet technologies, user-generated content, and greater cooperation amongst internet users; it has changed both what the Web contains, and the way it works (Akar and Topcu, 2011). Whereas the audience once used the internet to expend content, today, these factors are considered “hygiene,” i.e. they have to be there. Instead, Web 2.0 is concerned with a whole host of factors outside a brand’s control, and it is these facets of Web 2.0 that interactive consumers are increasingly engaging with (Christodoulides, 2009.)
Over the past ten years, we have witnessed a divergence from the Web 1.0 user, to a user of more purposeful intent when using the internet; indeed, interactive consumer engagement has emerged. Deighton and Kornfeld (2009) distinguish five emerging marketing paradigms in response to the growing power of the consumer in the new media environment. They use the term “person” to describe the roles the individual assumes when partaking in: thought-tracing, activity-tracing, property exchanges, social exchanges and cultural exchanges. These cornerstones of interaction set the foundations for the more specific category with which we are concerned: the social consumer.
With the development of the Internet, peer-to-peer tools have enabled interactive consumers to talk back and talk to one another. As an extension of Schultz’s Social Media Ecosystem (2007), Li and Bernoff (2008) segment participants according to five different types of social behaviour: creators, critics, collectors, joiners and spectators (Hanna et al., 2011). With the rise of social media, these participants are driven to structure their daily lives around interactive technology in the pursuit of constant connectivity, motivated by connections, creating, consuming and controlling (www.forbes.com; Hoffman and Fodor, 2010). As a response to the diminution of traditional communication channels relative to the utility of applications, interactive consumers are seeking engagement with one another through new media platforms such as blogs, content sharing sites, wikis and social networking. It is abundantly clear we have witnessed a shift from the passive consumer, to a consumer empowered through greater information access, instant publishing power and a participatory audience; an environment in which it is paramount firms adapt (Krishnamurthy and Kucuk, 2009).
In recent years, companies have started going beyond simply maintaining a website for transactional purposes; instead, they are accommodating the socialising aspect consumer’s desire from their online experience and are finding new ways to instigate interactive customer engagement (Papasolomou and Melanthiou, 2013). This has proven both beneficial to firms that have engaged successfully with their markets.
CouchSurfing, the hospitality exchange and social networking site for example, has positioned itself as a tool for consumers interested in travelling and connecting with other users to foster a “cultural exchange” (www.couchsurfing.org). The service relies upon users creating detailed and accurate profiles of themselves online. The website encourages interactive consumer engagement by requesting users to leave feedback so other users can decide whether they think the member would be a suitable host or surfer; doing so provides the starting point for opening a discussion with a fellow surfer, helping members determine whether they want to instigate contact offline and arrange a CouchSurfing experience; introductory videos interactively educate the consumer and can be watched here. Forums and discussion boards further aid members to arrange events and cultural exchanges creating both an online and offline community of CouchSurfers.
Harnessing an online community means Couchsurfing facilitates interactive consumer engagement people feel within their real groups; these users are sharing information because they trust one another (Papasolomou and Melanthiou, 2013). Through offering a platform to interact and share information, the service has effectively disrupted the boundaries of the hospitality industry and provided the consumer with the power and control to collaborate with fellow users to satisfy their travelling needs.
Though CouchSurfing is exclusively concerned with the sharing of experiences amongst their users, other companies have followed suit by facilitating the users desire to construct interactive consumer engagement with other consumers. Amazon for example, the largest online retailer has successfully engaged their market by offering tools that enable consumers to create their own content in the form of wish lists and reviews (amazon.co.uk). Fellow users are not only more likely to read the consumer generated content rather than relying on summary statistics, but they also perceive recommendations and interactive consumer’s opinions as trustworthy; they are more likely to believe the opinions of engaging interactive consumers than a company representative (Chevalier and Mayzlin, 2006; Sandes and Urdan, 2013; Papasolomou and Melanthiou, 2013). Ultimately, these tools enable users to supplement information provided by electronic storefronts such as product descriptions and reviews by experts, aiding the decision making process of purchasing a good (Mudambi and Schuff, 2010).
Finally, engagement can be elevated through social media platforms in various ways, and doing so can bring about positive results for a brand when executed successfully. In an effort to achieve interactive consumer engagement, football team Tottenham Hotspur collaborated with their supplier Under Armour to create an interactive social media campaign that invited fans to submit images of themselves in the new Under Armour football kit (tottenhamhotspur.com).
Understanding how to reach their consumers and the best channels to do so enabled the brand to customize their interactive user engagement. Promoting the campaign through a microsite, video and social networking platforms, the campaign promised 2,500 recipients images would be displayed in White Hart Lane tunnel and seen by the players at every home game for the rest of the season. Understanding the importance of the teams’ history to fans ensured the tagline “earn your place in history” pulled at the heartstrings of customers resulting in a hugely successful interactive campaign. Once the spaces had been taken, a digital version of the mural was made available through the microsite, viewable here. As a result of the campaign, the football team created interactive consumer engagement with its fans, successfully targeted its customer base and raised awareness more broadly.
How can marketers’ best adapt?
In respect of the increasingly interactive marketplace, marketers must learn the power of harnessing their resources to substantiate a relationship of interactive consumer engagement that encourages two-way conversation. It is no longer appropriate for marketers to interrupt consumers with promotional material; instead customers want firms to listen (Kietzmann et al., 2011). Netnography in terms of monitoring forums, feedback and customer reviews is a good starting point for firms to understand the current needs and expectations of consumers (Elliott and Elliott, 2003). It is through these observations that marketers will learn that value creating activities develop even in the absence of marketer efforts.
Interactive consumer engagement has become the main drivers of conversations; the task for the marketer is to establish credible and durable ways to foster this value creation through interaction and engagement with their audience (Papasolomou and Melanthiou, 2013). It is therefore crucial that marketers understand the whole Social Media Ecosystem and learn to navigate and integrate these multiple platforms; they have to understand the different types of social behaviour exhibited by users and learn how to influence and create interactive consumer engagement (Hanna et al., 2011). Identifying the company’s targeted segment of the online market and understanding their underlying motivations for interactivity will enable marketers to tailor their promotional campaigns to achieve maximum exposure (Aljukhadar and Senecal, 2011).
With greater understanding of consumer requirements, marketers can instigate collaboration through their communities. Doing so can bring about new product ideas, improvements in functionality of their service offering and greater customer loyalty. Equally, as in the case of CouchSurfing, online communities can facilitate offline interaction and brand exposure. However, whilst facilitating interactive consumer engagement online can promote brand awareness, it is important to consider that although satisfied consumers are likely to spread their satisfaction to other consumers, they are equally likely to use this channel as a means of expressing their dissatisfaction (Sandes and Urdan, 2013). This has important implications for companies facilitating interactive consumer engagement online; if the product or service is deemed inadequate, electronic word-of-mouth facilitates the user to make it publicly known.
Conclusions and Recommendations
In conclusion, it has been observed that through the development of the Internet, the consumer has evolved from the role of passive listener, to interactive consumer engager, collaborator and creator of user generated content. The theoretical underpinnings demonstrate the multiple roles of user interactivity, from property exchanges to social and cultural exchanges. In response to the diminution of traditional communication channels relative to the utility of applications, users are seeking engagement with one another through new media platforms such as blogs, content sharing sites, wikis and social networking. In effect, new communication channels have ended the interruption techniques of old marketing; it is the task of the marketer to identify who and what their interactive consumer segment is online, and how best to address their needs through observing, interacting and listening to interactive consumer engagement through the multiple social media platforms that have evolved through the digital era; the recommendations are as follows:
• Marketers should understand their media landscape, their objectives and determine how best to engage their segmented market
• Firms should be aware of the Social Media Ecosystem and accommodate their strategy accordingly to the five different types of social behaviours: creators, critics, collectors, joiners and spectators
• Marketers should provide interactive opportunities for consumers, as in the case of Tottenham Hotspur, to build brand awareness
• Providing a platform for consumers to interact with one another will facilitate online communities and build trust amongst consumers
• Marketers should be aware of the implications of facilitating customer feedback and reviews; this will not always be positive and firms should be prepared to listen and respond timely and effectively
• Firms need to be patient when building online relationships; ROI is not always immediate but will be demonstrated through brand loyalty
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