Social Network Marketing: Entering the Lion’s Den

Written by: Thea Slind




When embarking on social network marketing, marketers are entering the lion’s den. With the rise of consumer empowerment through social media, social network marketing can be a risky business. As marketers, we ought to understand that social networks are the territory of the consumers. However, if social network marketing is done right, marketers may come out of the den as heroes who defeated the lion. This paper suggests two overarching “rules” of social network marketing that marketers must be aware of: (i) Social networks are for Socializing; and (ii) Content must provide a value that goes beyond products and services.



Today, marketers are faced with a whole new challenge than just a decade ago, as most marketers are realizing that a social network presence is needed in order to stay competitive (Bennet, S. 2014). As Armelini and Villanueva (2011) point out, if you are not talking with them on Twitter or Facebook, you don’t even exist in the consumers’ minds. Furthermore, according to PEW Research Center, 65% of all Americans are active on social networking sites (Perrin, A. 2015). If we look at the age group 18-29, the number of active social network users is at an astounding 90%. In other words, social networks are where you find the consumers and, more importantly, it is where the consumers go to find information about your brand (Mangold,G. & Faulds,D. 2009). Hence, if marketers want to reach the consumers where the consumers are, a social network presence is crucial. However, as this paper will demonstrate, merely being present is far from sufficient in order to succeed with social network marketing. By drawing on previous research and literature, this paper aims to give marketers an understanding of the overarching “rules” that must be followed when entering the lion’s den. 

A New Era

Social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have irrevocably changed the way consumers interact with brands and have given rise to a whole new degree of empowered consumers (Fournier, S. & Avery, J. 2011). The era of marketing as a one-way stream of corporate messages and advertisements being pushed out to passive consumers is over. With the rise of Web 2.0 and social networks, consumers now have a gateway to talk back to marketers and, more importantly, to talk to each other (Deighton, J. & Kornfield, L. 2009). In their article The Uninvited Brand, Fournier and Avery (2011) describe different Ages related to the rise of social media and branding, all of which serve as a word of caution to marketers.  The point is, when marketers enter the social network sphere, every action made is subject to scrutiny and criticism by the audience. Social networks are the territory of the consumers, and marketers need to be aware that when entering their turf (or the lion’s den, if you like), there are certain “rules” that applies. 

Albeit the beginning of this paper paints a rather dark and gloomy picture, marketers should not be discouraged. Social network marketing holds great potential for marketers and their brands, if done right. The key for marketers is to know what social networks are all about, what rules to play by, and leverage this to their own advantage. 

Rule 1: Social Networks are for Socializing

If you think about it, it is rather self-explanatory. Social networks were created for socializing. The clue is given in the name: Social. Yet, in many cases this seems to be a consideration that is neglected by marketers. Armelini and Villanueva offer a good illustration of my point:

Facebook and Twitter function more like a cafè than a billboard: people interact to chat or comment about product or services, not just receive corporate messages. A Facebook banner functions as advertising space, but a corporate Facebook page, or a Facebook page for fans of the company, do not.” (2011, p. 32)

For marketers, who are engaging in social network marketing, it is important to keep in mind that social networks were never intended for marketers in the first place. A social network is the lion’s den for marketers because their presence alone may be viewed as an intrusion (Fournier, S. & Avery, J. 2011). Thus, if the tactic is to copy and paste the traditional marketing strategy of advertising and promoting products with no regard for the consumer, marketers are almost certain to fail (Satell, G. 2015). However, the tactic that marketers should apply will be discussed later in this paper. For now, let us focus on what social networks are and what they are not in a marketing context.

For starters, let it be clear: a social network is not a new sales channel for marketers. Thus, social network marketing demands a new mindset in which marketers must learn to view a social network for what it is: a doorway to socialize with the consumers and tap into their lives and opinions. For marketers, the biggest social media opportunity lies in gathering insights to drive continual incremental improvements (Barwise, P. & Meehan, S. 2010). In other words, by having a social network presence marketers have a golden opportunity to “pick the brains” of the consumers, given that they use social networks as a means for socializing, not advertising and selling.

People on social networks love to share their thoughts and opinions, and smart marketers will harvest the knowledge they gain from socializing with the consumers and use it for their advantage. Just consider the following: as a response to suggestions offered by its customers, Virgin Atlantic Airways created its taxi sharing service (Barwise,P. & Meehan, S. 2010). Similarly, Mastercard analyzed about 85,000 conversations online before it announced the MasterPass digital wallet at Mobile World Congress in 2012 (Abramovich, G. 2014). By listening to what the consumers talk about on the brand’s social network pages, marketers can use the information to adapt the brand’s products and services accordingly, thus strengthening the value offered to the consumers and, concurrently, the brand’s position in the market.

The point is: marketers need to learn to utilize social networks as a means to talk with the consumers rather than talking to them (Mangold, W. & Faulds, D. 2009). After all, that is what being social is all about: interactions and conversations. 

As the overarching purpose of social networks is to socialize, marketers also need to make sure that the content that is published on these platforms is adapted to this purpose. The buzzword “content is king” has since long become an overused and exhausted expression within the field of marketing. Most marketers today are aware that when having a social network presence, they also need to follow up with content. Yet, it is easy to say that content is important; the hard part is to know what the right content is.

Rule 2: Provide content that goes beyond products and services

According to content marketing guru Joe Pulizzi (2011), there are no silver bullets in marketing, including content marketing. Rather, each company must adapt its content strategy to what it wants to achieve and to the selected channel (i.e., Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.). Although this may be true in many aspects, there seems to be one element that brands that succeed with social network marketing have in common: they create a value for the consumers that goes beyond products and services. For example, Dove managed to create massive brand engagement with its “Campaign for Real Beauty” (Singh, S. & Sonnenburg, S. 2012). NIKE has more than 23 million followers on Facebook who share the company’s passion for running and being active. And while its competitors are still focusing on promoting the actual products, Redbull actively promotes extreme sports as a lifestyle (O’Brien, J. 2012).

Brands that sell an identity rather than products.  (Redbull 2016: Nike 2016)

Make no mistake, as with all companies, the ultimate goal of NIKE and Redbull’s social network marketing is increased sales. Yet, what is interesting about these brands is that they are not actively “selling” their actual products. Instead, they sell a cause or, better yet, they sell an identity. And the consumers love them for it! The tactics of these brands follows the logic of Soren Gordhamer (2009)

The most popular brands in social media tend to post less about their products or services and more about things that help their customers get to know the people and personality of a company. Their goal is less about “selling” and more “engaging” — and, as a result, through such engagement people feel more comfortable doing business with those companies.

This is further underlined by the research of İrem Erdoğmuş and Mesut Çiçek that shows that consumers refrain from sharing sad events, horror or advertisement among each other (2012, p. 1359). Rather than sharing pure marketing content, consumers are more willing to share things to which they are emotionally connected (Mangold, W. & Faulds, D. 2009) or feel an affinity to (Pereira, H.G. et al., 2014). Moreover, it has been suggested that brands that are perceived as having human-like qualities and that communicate with a human voice on social networks are more likely to gain and keep the attention of the consumers, thus obtaining positive brand evaluations as a result (Beukeboom, C.J. et al., 2015). 

In other words, in order to deliver value that goes beyond products and services, it will be advantageous for marketers to identify and focus on what their target customers are emotionally invested in. Furthermore, as the examples of Redbull and NIKE illustrate, marketers can benefit from promoting the brand identity and emphasizing human-like qualities rather than “selling” products. However, it is important to note that this part of the tactic stretches beyond the borders of social network marketing. Instead it should be implemented as a holistic marketing strategy in which all channels and consumer touch points are included. Because this tactic ultimately evolves around the identity of the brand and company itself, it is crucial that the promoted identity resonate in everything and anything the company does. If not, the company will run the risk of being perceived as inauthentic and misleading (Fournier, S. & Avery, J. 2011). And a brand that is perceived as inauthentic will never make it out of the lion’s den with its image and reputation intact. 


For marketers to be successful in social network marketing, it must first be accepted and understood that a social network is under no circumstances just another sales channel to which old marketing tactics of advertising and product promotions can be applied. Rather, it is a place to socialize and build relationships, thus this must also be the goal for marketers when implementing a strategy for social network marketing. As illustrated with the example of Redbull and Nike, the best way for marketers to achieve this goal is to identify what the target customers are emotionally invested in and use this as a means to place the brand in their hearts and minds. If done in the right way, for the right reasons (i.e., socializing and building relationships), there is a good chance that the lions of the social networks will accept your presence and you will be able to operate in their territory and keeping the reputation of the brand intact. 

Future research:

Although the question of how to create a holistic marketing strategy that includes social networks was outside the scope of this paper, it was deemed reasonable to mention the topic when discussing promotion of the brand identity on social networks. As a point for further research it is here suggested that a deeper study on how a brand can make better use of its brand identity in social media marketing would be beneficial for both marketers and academics alike.








List of references

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