November 27, 2014
Written by Kristina Persson
Analysis: The Why and How: Generating value from online consumers
Armelini & Villaneva (2011:29) suggest that brands don't have any presence in consumer's thoughts unless the brands are blogging, tweeting and conversing with the customers on social platforms. Fourneir and Avery point out that the internet, the web, is a social space, for people first, and brands have 'crashed the party' (2011:193). Invited or not, brands are part of the web. As in Virtual Worlds, or "lifeworlds" (Zwick, Bonsu and Darmody 2010:168) real people and real brands are present, and brands can use these webs to communicate, and also sell, including real and virtual products (Eisenbeiss et al 2012:17).
In these complex webs of information, people and messages, it is important not only to realise why, but for marketers to figure out how, to engage in marketing online. While people are present on various platforms and in different communities, messages are not necessarily directed at any specific audience. In this new media age, brands do not have control over messages, or who they are influencing, '..everyone and no one [is] the audience' (Fourneir and Avery 2011:194). At the same time, online media messages compete for customer's attention (Armelini & Villaneva 2011:30). Consumers themselves generate content (Muñiz Jr & Schau 2011:210-212), and the web allows for many forms of alternative media, in non-geographically bound and fragmented markets (Winer 2009:109). Careful targeting to the desired audience, through profiles of participants may help marketers focus their resources.
Aljukhadar & Senecal 2010 classify people online into three broad segments (2010:428) of 'basic communicators' such as people who use the internet for email, 'lurking shoppers' who would remain fairly passive, but engaging in online shopping, and 'social thrivers' who are interactive - blogging, chatting, video streaming, downloading. The 'Social Thrivers' are the largest group, would be most engaging and engaged with brands, but at the same time, for some businesses, would be seen as less important than lurker shoppers in e-commerce (Aljukhada & Senecal 2010:429).
In social media, where 'social thrivers' are active (Aljukhada & Senecal 2010:429), Web 2.0 platforms provide 'lifeworlds' for consumers and brands to interact together (Zwick, Bonsu and Darmody 2010:168). Keitzmann et al describe social media based on various 'engagement needs' that are fulfilled for users (2011:242). These are presented as seven 'building blocks' that stacked together, and labelled as 'Presence' 'Sharing' 'Relationships' 'Identity' 'Conversations' 'Reputation' and 'Groups' (Keitzmann et al 2011:242). Different social media platforms with combinations of these building block provide a social space for users to fulfil needs relating to these themes.
The way people act in these spaces have been classified into 5 roles, 'Creators' 'Critics' 'Collectors' 'Joiners' and 'Spectators' (Li and Berhoff (2005, cited in Hanna, Rohm and Crittenden 2011:269-269). These indicate various levels of engagement, and upon various platforms would attract different segments of people. Social media provides the possibilities for developing deeper relationships, and space to interact 'communally' both with individual and personal responses, and forum to share with group as a whole (Christodoulides 2009:142-143).
A range of strategies are given for brands and marketers to adapt their approaches from 'traditional marketing' to social media marketing, how to engage online. Suggestions range from surrendering control, developing co-created brands, giving control to customers (Zwick. Bonsu & Darmody 2008:167) to developing cooperation, leveraging relationships (Hanna, Rohm & Crittenden 2011:266).
There are a 'multiplicity of factors' embedded in a corporation, or brand's business strategy, such as the company itself, the industry, products and buyers, that can influence marketing strategies, including in online environments (Varadarajan and Yadav 2009:12). Each of these suggestions require brands to understand their business strategies, resources and aims.
Brands have objectives such as brand promotion, reaching audiences, and achieving sales (Winer 2009:109). Brands and corporations can experiment on different social media platforms, with various functions such as social networking, content sharing of photos, podcast and video, or multiple sites, to engage and influence audiences (Hanna, Rohm & Crittenden 2011:266). The brand story can be fed into this ecosystem, where conversations are 'products' (Hanna, Rohm & Crittenden 2011:267). Compared to being recipients of traditional media and brand messaging, consumers want to become participants, gaining intimate experiences (Hanna, Rohm & Crittenden 2011:267-268). Marketers can use technology to monitor behaviour, to understand the process of thought consumers take to reach ideas, and monitor their physical location, to send personalised advertising and messages (Winer 2009:109).
Credibility is given as an important factor by Armelini & Villaneva which relate to brand promises, trust and emphasise the power of personal recommendations, easily shared online, over advertising (2011:32). Barwise and Meehan provide similar suggestions including to continually strive to improve, and demonstrate an understanding of what consumers want, and play by their rules (2010:83-84). Playfulness is said to make value-creation interactions enjoyable, and activities are attractive for people engaging in them (Seraj 2012:212). Playful, self-governed and quality content driven activities were found to create value, and encourage loyalty for members in online communities (Seraj 2012:209,212). Zwick Bonsu & Darmody, warn brands against aiming to 'co-create' value as it can be seen as exploitative of consumer freedom and labour (2008:163).
From the occasional internet browser to activist blogger; people contributing to conversations, every web page visit, action, comment, click, check in at a certain location, when and with whom, stands as an endorsement, reminder, signal of interaction with brands and consumers. In the online world, these are recorded, visible and public. Consumers participate online enjoyable, playful, creative experiences and engagement to fulfil individual needs. Brands have the same freedom to enter these 'lifeworlds' and can engage with consumers, in order to fulfil their business objectives. While called 'mutually beneficial' relationships for consumers, brands are still in a position to direct how consumers interact, and shape messages to them accordingly.
Marketers can generate value by communicating in this social space alongside consumers, in order to engage and 'co-create' and develop social meaning, which can be translated into financial value. Readers may understand that their interactions in activities in social media are sources of consumption and production, and consider what these acts mean for themselves in their worlds, and to the brands they are interacting with.
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