The Rise of Social Media: Effects on Consumers and Brands

November 29, 2013

Written by Ioannis Petalidis

Purpose – introduction

It is an undisputable fact that the Internet was a revolution that changed not only the consumption field, but in general the way people live and exist; according to Aleks Krotoski and his BBC documentary “Virtual Revolution” it actually created a brand new kind of human being: the “Homo Interneticus”. Nevertheless, the last 10 years this revolution, took a totally different shape that occurred with the rise of social media. When Mark Zuckerberg in 2004 invented the Facebook platform for his classmates in Harvard, no one could imagine that 10 years later he would be one of the world’s richest people. But what was the reason, behind the shaping of “Homo Interneticus”?   

social media connect the world

social media connect the world

 

How the rise of social media and the evolution of the Internet changed the consumption landscape

Susan Fournier and Jill Avery (2011) claim that this dramatic rise and success has its roots to one of the most basic human motivations: “the desire to feel accepted, to fit in and to belong; they name this new era “the age of the social collective” and describe it like a community through virtual connections among like-minded people, that creates “micro-targeted niche groups” to which people can easily belong.

Hanna, Rohm and Crittenden (2011) argue that the main shift in the consumption landscape through the social media revolution is that consumers are no longer passive recipients in the marketing exchange process; rather than that, consumers have a progressively active role in co-creating the marketing content. In their effort to highlight this immense change in the rules of marketing game, they are attempting to bust some prevalent myths that existed in the pre-Internet era:

1. Brand managers own and orchestrate their brands

2. Phones are for making phone calls

3. The Web is for finding information

4. Companies use marketing communications to control their message

5. Consumers purchase products promoted by marketers

6. Providing a forum for customers to talk is dangerous and risky.

Those 6 myths that marketers believed in and were building their strategies upon them are today something more than obsolete; they can prove disastrous.

For instance, if one focuses on myth number 2, it will become clear that during the last years mobile phones transformed completely from a calling and texting device to a portable mini-computer. This shift resulted to the rise of a brand new marketing field, the so-called mobile marketing. Andreas M. Kaplan (2011) defines this field as “any marketing activity conducted through a ubiquitous network to which consumers are constantly connected using a personal mobile device”. Social media went mobile and this was a revolution inside the revolution; from a broader perspective, mobile social media allowed for a tighter integration of virtual and real life, proving wrong some researchers that believed the Internet would result in less communication. (Andreas M. Kaplan, 2011). The Facebook check-in for example is a tool that has proven powerful, as a mean of exhibitionism, but also for helping people meet each other. Nonetheless, as far as the consumption field is concerned, the increasing use of check-in, pushed companies (especially restaurants and cafeterias) to engage in the social media world.

Papasolomou and Melanthiou (2012) highlighted another great change in the consumption landscape that came with the rise of “Homo Interneticus”; the existence of intermediaries or Non Media Connectors (NMC) in the marketing procedure and their crucial role in the building of the brand in the virtual world. This evolution has made marketing being a field of Public Relations, rather than the traditional detailed strategic arena. 

Furthermore, the rise of social media democratized corporate communication, while messages and information about brands circulate with or without permission of the firms in question (Kietzman, Hermkens, McCarthy and Silvestre, 2011). From this point of view, the statement of BBC Business Editor, Tim Weber, summarizes in an emblematic way the position of the brands in the era of Homo Interneticus: “These days, one witty tweet, one clever blog post, one devastating video – forwarded to hundreds of friends at the click of a mouse – can snowball and kill a product or damage a company’s share price”. It is worth mentioning that his kind of anti-branding activism on the Internet is a very common phenomenon, which indicates the online consumer power and the growing consumer sovereignty in the virtual world; what is more, the majority of online anti-brand attacks target well-established and powerful brands (Krishnamurthy, Kucuk, 2008).

Moreover, another important aspect of the latest evolution in the virtual world is the high degree of credibility with which Internet users treat the online word of mouth (Akar, Topcu, 2011). There is no doubt that customers perceive the user generated content as more reliable than straightforward business communication; as a result, electronic word of mouth has turned into a dominating channel that influences consumer behavior; social media marketing has become multidirectional, participatory and consumer driven.

Movies industry – example

After having examined some prevailing theories about the major shifts that the Internet revolution and the rise of the Homo Interneticus brought to the consumption landscape, it is time to focus on a field that the virtual revolution not only had a strong impact, but changed it radically: the movies industry.

 

 IMDb (Internet Movie Database)

IMDb logo

IMDb logo

 

“Those Eyes”, the predecessor of IMDb, was launched in 1990 by professional computer programmer and British film Fan, Col Needham and it was about listing actresses with beautiful eyes. Others with similar interests soon responded with additions of different lists of their own: “Actors List”, “Dead Actors/ Actresses List”, “Directors List”. The goal of the participants changed over time towards making the lists as inclusive as possible. By the end of 1990, the lists included almost 10,000 movies and television series. When Needham developed and inserted a program that could search among the lists, Internet Movie Database was born. In 1993 IMDb became an independent website run by its followers and the amount of stored data increased hugely. In 1998, due to restricted funding, Needham sold IMDb to Amazon.com, with the condition that he would remain in operational charge.

There is no denying the fact that nowadays, IMDb is the most powerful and useful tool for everyone, before watching a movie. The democratized way of its rating system and the message boards in which the users exchange opinions about movies and TV series, are its two strongest components that allowed it to prevail in the movie’s critic field. A series of negative e- words of mouth in the IMDb message board or a low rating can prove devastating for the reputation of a movie and lead to a catastrophically small attendance in the theaters.

Besides, the site gives the opportunity for users to make their own lists of top movies, in general, by movie category or by actor. The evolution of IMDb demonstrates the shift from the passive movie consumer to the active co-creator of movies industry’s reputation. Award ceremonies like the Oscars and film festivals like Cannes review movies every year, however, those judgments might be biased due to financial interests of the industry or lobbying and are likely not to be proportional to the public’s opinion. On the other hand, professional film critics lost their authority over the quality of a movie.

How can marketers best adapt

While in a world that is ruled by Homo Interneticus and social media, the challenges have become clearer, the answers that marketers should imply are still surrounded by fog. According to Fournier and Avery (2011) the traditional branding strategies seem obsolete, disconnected and irrelevant in a space owned by the social collective, where transparency, criticism and parody of the well established firms reign. Instead, they suggest a different approach where brand building gives its place to brand protection, as an ever present need to protect reputation from attack and demise. As it can be clearly seen, the old attack-oriented brand strategies do not apply to the world of social media; whereas, a defensive attitude is more applicable and a strategy focused on risk management and risk control is much more effective. In addition to this, Fournier and Avery (2011) highlight the need for a shift from strategic planning and proactive, pre-constructed strategies, towards a branding ruled by faith in intuition and excellence in execution; for this purpose they encourage firms to employ the so-called “digital natives” or “Generation Y” who was raised amid the social media revolution. Last but not least, for the best adaptation of marketers in this brand new world, it is proposed to stop giving priority to differentiation and turn towards the creation of resonant cultural conversations; following this road, marketers will start to focus on building short - term brands, opposing to the dominant branding philosophy that emphasizes in creating long- term brand assets.

Moreover, Kietzman, Hermkens, McCarthy and Silvestre (2011), suggest a framework with a form of a honeycomb that consists of seven functional blocks of social media activity: presence (the extent to which users know if other users are accessible), sharing (are users exchanging, distributing and receiving content?), relationships (at what point are users are related to each other?), identity (the extent to which users reveal their true identities), conversations (how often users communicate with each other?), groups (are users forming communities?) and reputation (the extent to which users can identify the standing of themselves or others in a social media setting). Having those seven blocks in mind, marketers should try to recognize and understand in depth the social media landscape, finding out if and where conversations about a firm are being held, who are the main influencers and gathering competitive intelligence. Also, they should adapt their strategies to the different social media functionalities and develop a clear understanding of how often and when a firm should interfere in conversations as well as who will represent it online; the key success factor here is to identify who has the ability to listen and care about online chatter and especially who is capable of creating emotionally appropriate content for the community. This has to be done by creating relationships that solve customer issues, not just sympathizing. It is significant for marketers to scan the environment in order to understand the velocity of information; even when it seems too late an appropriate response may turn the tide.

Likewise, the case of negative e- word of mouth and its managing by the companies has gained attention by a lot of researchers. It is claimed that bad evaluations have a stronger impact on the brand reputation than positive ones and this is based on Kahneman and Tversky’s (1979) principle of prospect theory: people perceive losses more severely than gains (Shimabukuro Sandes, Torres Urdan, 2013); consequently, companies should remain vigilant and treat the criticisms properly.

At the other end of the scale, the example of Lego Group gave another perspective; not only monitored or interacted with customer communities, but took a step further and collaborated with them; the Lego paradigm is an exceptional case of how a traditional, tightly controlled company that for decades was run by the slogan “we don’t accept unsolicited ideas”, was transformed into an open-minded, collaborative and customer-oriented business. When LEGO management was found at the crossroad of either taking legal measures against the violation of their copyright or invite users to collaborate on new innovative products, the decision was brilliant and characterized by strong peripheral vision. Antorini, Muniz Jr, Askildsen (2012) highlight the main principles that marketers should keep in mind when collaborating with customer communities; at first it is important to clarify the rules and expectations; secondly there is a need of forming a win-win mindset, by creating the feeling to the collaborating customers that the firm does not only care about “getting the job done”; thirdly, it is significant to recognize that outsiders are not insiders, which means that user communities should always be treated as independent entities and not a part of the firm; additionally, companies should not expect one size to fit all and create different environments for each type of innovation; last but not least, they should be as open as possible in order to allow collaborators to interact with each other to the maximum extent and not sacrifice this openness for confidentiality reasons.

In the same wavelength, Muniz Jr. and Jensen Schau recommend to companies to take the initiative and create on their own the virtual community of their consumers in a well structured environment that embraces the differences of the members; it is very important for marketers to give motives at the members of brand communities in order to keep their attention and interest at high levels.

Conclusion

To recapitulate, it can clearly be noticed that the dawn of the 21st century was the transition point from a world that the big brands set the agenda, to a virtual reality that consumers break their chains and take things at their hands. Nevertheless, this era of the social collective and growing criticism about the power of firms, is also characterized by an unprecedented overload of information, where the consumer is bombarded in a daily basis by a huge amount of new data. Especially in the Internet field, the new experiences that an individual gets have become countless; consequently, the challenge for marketing experts is not only to create a friendly environment that serves their customers but also to keep the attention of the consumer in an everyday tough battle, among the never ending stimuli of the virtual world. Marketing strategies should be innovative, entertaining and avoid the web’s worst enemy; boredom.    

 

Reference list

Akar E., Topcu B. (2011). An Examination of the Factors Influencing Consumers’ Attitudes Toward Social Media Marketing. Journal of Internet Commerce. 10, 35-67.

Antorini Y.M., Muniz A. Jr. and Askildsen T. (2012). Collaborating with Customer Communities: Lessons From the Lego Group. MIT Sloan Management Review. 53 (3), 73-79.

Fournier S., Avery J. (2011). The uninvited brand. Business Horizons, Kelley School of Business, Indiana University. 54, 193-207.

Hanna R., Rohm A., Crittenden V.  (2011). We’re all connected: The power of the social media ecosystem. Business Horizons, Kelley School of Business, Indiana University. 54, 241-251.

Kaplan A. (2012). If you love something, let it go mobile: Mobile marketing and mobile social media 4x4. Business Horizons, Kelley School of Business, Indiana University. 55, 129-139.

Kietzman J., Hermkens K., McCarthy I., and Silvestre B. (2011). Social Media? Get serious! Understanding the functional building blocks of social media. Business Horizons, Kelley School of Business, Indiana University. 54, 241-251.

Krishnamurthy S., Kucuk U. (2009). Anti-branding on the Internet. Journal of Business Research. 62, 1119–1126.

Muniz Jr. A., Jensen Schau H. (2011). How to inspire value-laden collaborative consumer-generated content. Business Horizons, Kelley School of Business, Indiana University. 54, 209—217.

Papasolomou I., Melanthiou, Y. (2012). Social Media: Marketing Public Relations’ New Best Friend. Journal of Promotion Management. 18, 319-328.

Shimabukuro Sandes F., Torres Urdan A. (2013). Electronic Word-of-Mouth Impacts on Consumer Behavior: Exploratory and Experimental Studies. Journal of International Consumer Marketing. 25, 181-197.

Wikipedia. (2014). Internet Movie Database. Available: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_Movie_Database. Last accessed 15th Feb 2014.

Wikipedia. (2013). The Virtual Revolution. Available: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Virtual_Revolution. Last accessed 15th Feb 2014.