Written by Saba Slatiel
How has the internet changed consumers over the past 10 years and how can marketers’ best adapt
Social media Evolution: New role of Consumers and Marketers
Social media comprises of a global community that is massive and populated, Facebook being the leader in social media has crossed 1 billion users as of January 2015, WhatsApp users are 600 million and twitter having 284 million users. (Leading social networks worldwide as of January 2015, 2015). This gigantic community comprises of population which is more than that of china. More interestingly this global space comprises of individuals from every nationality in the world. Surprisingly this massive spread has happened within a decade, thus changing the way and view of consumer involvement and interaction with products and firms. Users can exchange data send, receive and process any content (e.g. videos, photos, blogs). Keeping in view such an impact of internet the organizations not only have to make a presence, look good, sell and advertise; indeed they have to be good. (Aula, 2010)
Companies earlier used to manage their communications with strategically prepared press release and public relations. However now the companies act as an observer having sometimes no knowledge and right to alter the information that is provided on internet platforms (Kaplan and Haenlein, 2010).
When a consumer types in the name of a world famous brand, it pops up top most results along with the user generated content, blogs, press release videos and anything that is relevant and popular e.g. customer can read about whatever the company has been accused for. Users can read how 2007 model of Hasbro's easy - bake oven has burnt the hands of children because of its poor design or how Fire stone the tire company has been accused of child labor (Kaplan and Haenlein, 2010).
THE EVOLUTION OF SOCIAL MEDIA:
It is important to take a step back and talk about how the internet social media evolved. In, 1979 Tom Truscott and Jim Ellis created Usenet as a discussion platform which allowed the users to post and make discussions. The term weblog was used about 20 years ago when Susan and Bruce Abelson founded "open diary" for a community of people writing online dairies. The growing speed of internet added further to social networking sites such as MySpace (2003) and Facebook (2004) which has turned the table and view of social networking. 2004 gave birth to a new social networking technology what we call Web 2.0 that enables user generated content (UGC) . It includes of all the ways through which users can make use of social media. Web 2.0 and UGC combined have fundamentally changed the social networking and internet usage to what it was a decade ago (Kaplan and Haenlein, 2010).
THE NEW ROLE OF CONSUMERS:
During the last decade changes in internet and its related technologies have pragmatically changed the role of consumers .After the evolution of social media in 2004 consumers are more empowered and more participative in their roles. Consumers are no longer a passive receiver of information rather they are participating and creating a co- value for firms, products, services and brands. Consumer are not just connected to the companies, they are interconnected they can send and receive information from any part of the world on any topic.
Consumers share their consumption related behaviors on every platform of social media. It is common for consumers to share their experiences through Facebook, YouTube, blogs, comments, twitter etc. All networking and social media sites allow them to vote for or against any brand. (Christodoulides, 2009)
A good example of empowered customer and how it plays a role in brand image can be exemplified from an incident that happened with a consumer of united airlines, when his guitar was damaged and the airline refused to pay $3500 as compensation to his damage, in 2009 the passenger sang a song "United Breaks Guitars" which got viral and was seen by millions of people resulting in a settlement and apology from the airline. (Aula, 2010)
Consumers on internet influence other consumers by sharing their experiences. Consumers have power and influence on other consumers through content generation which eventually impacts in decision making for buying, brand image and word of mouth. Consumers can add value to a product or brand through social interactions on internet (Hajli, 2014).
These consumers have a greater command on media usage. The consumer’s ability and reach to social media has given more empowerment to the new consumer role. Companies have less control on communication and information dissemination (Mangold and Faulds, 2009).
HOW MARKETERS SHOULD ADAPT:
The above discussion clearly signifies the importance of social media and how well consumers are more aware, engaged and creating value for the companies. Thus, the social media platform cannot be ignored by the marketers and it is an opportunity to get maximum advantage of interacting with the company’s stake holders.
In the past marketers have communicated through emails, direct marketing, websites with information on products, radio and television using one way communication (Tiago and Veríssimo, 2014). Now consumers are no more the passive recipients of information thus marketers should move from action strategy to interaction strategy. All marketing communication on internet requires marketers to be more interactive and experimental. (Ashley and Tuten, 2014).
It is important for marketers to develop a message strategy that is effective in processing, engaging and resulting in brand equity and loyalty (Ashley and Tuten, 2014).
Marketers have more opportunities to engage and benefit from the massive and interactive audience on internet. According to recent numbers marketers are expected to increase advertising spend to $5 billion in 2014 from 4.1 billion in 2013 (Ashley and Tuten, 2014).
Along with the rise of consumer awareness and engagement marketers have also embraced social media in more innovative ways which includes more consumer engagement in terms of creating value for the firms. Marketers can place communication on internet that allows consumers to participate and publish brand content which can actually add value in the original marketing communication strategies that a company wants to employ or publish (Ashley and Tuten, 2014).
A good example of marketing effort is Proctor and Gamble’s social media campaign "Thank you mom” using such methods marketers can adapt and engage consumers using social media. In the campaign the consumers could contribute by uploading their experiences (User generated content) on role of mothers and nurturing. The user generated content from campaign was then shared on different social channels and was also included in different commercials for broadcasting later. (Ashley and Tuten, 2014).
Tools and communication channels with the customers have changed and thus social media should be a hybrid component of promotional mix for marketers and therefore should be incorporated in all marketing strategies. In order to be effective in social media marketers need to provide customers with platforms to engage by using various social media platforms.(Mangold and Faulds, 2009)
Below are some examples how marketers can be more efficient in engaging the internet consumers (Mangold and Faulds, 2009)
Provide networking platform:
Marketers should leverage with the consumers desire to communicate with other consumers. Unilever's Dove campaign "Campaign for real beauty" brought together like minded people and enhanced the self-esteem for women by defining the real meaning of beauty. Another example is roadrunner (www.roadrunnerrecords.com) that provides a platform for people who like rock and metal music. Such opportunities can make marketers leverage from knowing the consumers who are using their products. (Mangold and Faulds, 2009)
Using blogs and other social media tools for customer feedback: Using blogs is a great opportunity for marketers to engage customers in giving feedback. For example Toyota enables its customers to provide feedback about their issues through "Open road blog". (Mangold and Faulds, 2009)
Provide Information: Consumers feel more likely to talk about a company or its product if they know the information provided by them. For example Proctor and Gamble "Ask Julia" portion of their website provide a vast variety of information about products that consumers are interested in. (Mangold and Faulds, 2009)
All the marketing tools and strategies that are to be used should help consumers give feedback; the platforms used by the marketers on social media should be user friendly. Information provided on the websites should be easy to understand and should support consumers to make a buying decision. (Tiago and Veríssimo, 2014)
The technological changes in accessing internet have changed the consumer behavior and also brought together consumers from across the globe. A decade of advancement in social media has led to consumers which are more empowered and informed. The social media changes have produced consumers which are no more the passive receivers of information rather they are active participants in co creating values for firms. This leads to marketers in making strategies which points the customer to be more interactive while they interact with the companies on social media platforms. Thus marketers should engage the customers on platforms which are according to the social needs of the customers and drive them not just to advertise but also to create value for the firm by feedback and interaction.
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