Written by: Joanna Stawicka
he constantly growing number of social media platforms enable the growth and progression of online celebrities. With the assistance and accessibility of social media websites people have the freedom to verbalize, illustrate and communicate their views on various matters. From anonymous information-seekers, through virtual community experts to online influencers, people become heard and more powerful. Thanks to regular participation in a co-creation process, many social media users manage to build their own fandom and decide to share with others their personal experience and knowledge, in the end becoming digital influencers or even online celebrities.
TIME OF CHANGES
Genesis of Social Media
With an introduction of Web 1.0, companies gained a new media mean to add to their marketing mix. The first multimedia platform, World Wide Web, enabled organizations to transfer their printed advertisements and catalogues to online content on first simple websites(Berthon, Pitt, Plangger & Shapiro, 2012). This traditional one-way communication media, primarily used by companies to provide the public with information on their products and services, was eventually advanced to Web 2.0, a two-way communication platform, where users were no longer passive information recipients but rather active contributors and content producers (Fournier & Avery, 2011). As Berthon et al. (2012, p. 263) stated,
Web 2.0 technologies transform broadcast media monologues (one to many) into social media dialogues (many to many).
Thanks to social media, the public began to create content online, share their knowledge, interact and collaborate with each others, as well as build relationships and online communities that have no local or social boundaries.
The New World Order
After the Internet has become a more interactive environment, people started to communicate not only with each other but with brands as they finally gained a voice that companies could not ignore. Consequently, the development of Web 2.0 turned out to be a game changer and since then, marketing has never been the same. Following the popularity growth of social media, organizations had to change their mentality from ‘all about me’ to ‘all about you’, from a role of an information source to a participation facilitator (class notes 14.1). Firms had to face a new reality and adapt their practices accordingly since reaching the market and dictating new trends was not enough anymore. Even though Web 2.0 was introduced over 10 years ago, companies still struggle to effectively integrate themselves into this new dynamic.
To Be Present Online is To Matter
Social media have become not only a bridge between brands and customers but also a collaborative medium enabling a co-creation process (Armelini & Villanueva, 2011; Fournier & Avery, 2011). Once the public gained a voice, they started to use it by producing value-added content in the form of text, pictures, videos and networks. Blogs, microblogs (i.e. Twitter), picture- and video-sharing websites (i.e. Instagram, YouTube ) as well as networks (i.e. Facebook) enabled people to freely communicate with each. Social media platforms are easily accessible, highly resourceful and scalable, currently with approximately 2 billion social network users worldwide (Statista, 2016). As Armellini and Villanueva (2011) argue, the more people talk about a brand or a product, the higher its’ sales are. Therefore, organizations facilitate online word-of-mouth (e-WOM) to boost their brand recognition and financial performance. According to a research conducted by the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, 98% of the largest American companies listed on the 2015 Fortune 500 list utilized at least one social media account to communicate with customers and enable co-creation.
Every Coin Has Two Sides…, and so Does Co-creation
Even though organizations can now easily generate online conversations with the masses, they cannot manage what people say. As a result, brand managers began to experience a loss of control over the message they intend to convey. Their position of a ‘brand guardian’ diminished to a ‘brand host’ who just ensures that user-generated content is in line with brand communication (Christodoulides, 2009; Shao et al. 2014). According to Armelini and Villanueva (2011, p. 32),
now, hundreds of thousands of people can conspire to put a company’s reputation, brand or product on a pedestal or drag it through the dirt.
Due to the shift in power and value production away from brands toward online communities, companies had to realize the importance of building the audience and active listening to their needs and opinions (Berthon et al. 2012; Christodoulides, 2009). Consequently, brands ended up taking a back seat in managing their communities and accepted the fact that consumers have become not only content creators and disseminators but publishers and advertisers as well (Shao et al. 2014). Through sharing favorable and unfavorable comments and reviews on social networks, blogs, or photo- and video-sharing websites, consumers strengthened their role in brand identity creation (Fournier & Avery, 2011).
Since stakeholders willingly provide feedback, organizations started to apply social media as a co-creation tool utilized for various brand decisions, such advertising promotions or a new product development (Fournier & Avery, 2011). The latter can be seen in the case of annual Frito-Lay’s campaign. For the past three years, Frito-Lay has been running a couple of month-long contest ‘Do Us a Flavor’ asking consumers to submit online their ideas on a new chip flavor for a chance of winning a $1 million grand prize. After the company chooses three/four finalists and turns them into real products, Americans can vote online for their favorite making the winning flavor stay on store shelves for one year. In 2014, there were nearly four million submissions with some of the suggested flavors being beyond creative.
P2P - (From) Point-of-view to Profit
From Contributors to Influencers
Past decade’s outburst of social media platforms, such as LinkedIn, MySpace, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, Google Plus and even SnapChat, encouraged an expansion and evolution of branded communities on social media (Sloan, Bodey & Gyrd-Jones, 2015). Not only do online communities provide an online space for interaction but also a sense of belonging to a group of like-minded individuals. As members can conveniently exchange knowledge, opinions, and reviews, they regard the social network as an information-seeking tool (Wang, Yu & Wei, 2012). However, since social media were developed for people, not firms, information provided by other consumers is perceived more credible, relevant and trustworthy while brands’ social network presence often does not seem authentic but even intrusive (Fournier & Avery, 2011; Sloan et al. 2015). Since Internet users often motivate joining an online community to reduce a purchase decision-making uncertainty, people engage in peer to peer interactions to learn what products to buy or what products received a negative feedback (Sloan et al. 2015). According to Wang et al. (2012), even minimal negative feedback posted by few users, most often complete strangers, can have a significant influence on people’s attitudes and behaviors towards a discussed product or service, and consequently, becomes a decision stimuli.
From Influencers to Self-creators
In online communities, users act almost identical as they do in offline society in regards to being subject to the influence of friends with whom they interact (Wang et al. 2012). Especially, community newcomers are under the authority of the other users as they observe them and learn from the more knowledgeable members. Community members do not only learn about the group dynamics and consumption behavior but are often exposed to some degree of peer pressure to conform to community norms by liking or even purchasing a particular product (Wang et al., 2012). Also, not all of the community members provide comments and reviews as an act of altruism, but rather to self-promote themselves to a group leader position (Sloan et al. 2015). According to Sloan et al. (2015), digital influencers are formed to play a superior role as ‘product gurus’ that share knowledge with users who are less confident or knowledgeable. As a result, people with stronger opinions and regular engagement increase their status in the online community. Consequently, attaining their own followers and establishing their Facebook pages, YouTube channels, and blogs where they share personal experience and know-hows on a specific topic, as well as, inform their audience about important matters in a one-on-one style of communication.
Birth of Online Celebrities
If a celebrity can be defined as a person who is famous, especially in the entertainment business, has a large fan base and influential power, then hundreds of bloggers and vloggers (video bloggers) may be considered as global celebrities. Beyond becoming online celebrities, who originate from using social media, digital influencers often reach an offline celebrity status getting invited not only to product promotions but also corporate, and social events such as fashion shows, trade shows, and talk shows. While bloggers who cover politics, finance and technology are considered as expert bloggers, a lot of fashion and beauty bloggers turn into celebrity bloggers. Uzunoglu and Misci Kip (2014) describe celebrity bloggers as the “phenomenons of the Internet” (p. 595) engaging with followers for further “fame and publicity” (p. 595). Some examples of the most popular celebrity bloggers are:
Felix Arvid Ulf Kjellberg is a Swedish 26-year old YouTube video game commentator whose fanbase is known as “Bro Army” while fans are referred to as “bros”. Six years after uploading his first video, PewDiePie has become YouTube’s most subscribed channel with over 42 million subscribers and 11 billion views. Not surprisingly Felix is called the ‘King of YouTube’. Following his success, he also started his online store PewDiePie Shop.
Online account followers:
● Facebook: 6.9 million
● Google+: 1.1 million (1.5 billion views)
● Instagram: 7.5 million
● Twitter: 7.1 million
● YouTube: 42.3 million
The English vlogger, Zoe Isabelle Smug, started her journey with YouTube in 2009 when she was only 19. Since that time, she expanded her expertise from beauty related topics to covering fashion, lifestyle, health and food. In 2014, Zoe published her first book, Girl Online, breaking the highest first-week sales record of a novelist debutant. The same year, she also started her beauty line.
Online account followers:
● Facebook: 2.6 million
● Google+: 342 thousand (62.3 million views)
● Instagram: 7.3 million
● Twitter: 4.2 million
● YouTube: 10.1 million
Chiara Ferragni, a 28-year old Italian, is social media’s most popular fashion blogger with over five million Instagram followers. She has released an e-book The Blonde Salad, She has published an e-book, worked for Guess as a model and spokesperson, designed a footwear collection for Steve Madden and Superga, and collaborated. Also, Chiara is the first fashion blogger to land a Vogue cover, a place reserved for top models and celebrities.
Online account followers:
● Facebook: 1.2 million
● Google+: 143 thousand (17.9 million views)
● Instagram: 5.5 million
● Twitter: 268 thousand
● YouTube: 53.8 thousand
Not only do brands realized how much potential social media offer, but ordinarypeople as well. They transitioned from information-seekers to online influencers, from brand’s content commentators to even celebrity bloggers. As Uzunoglu and Misci Kip (2014) argue, bloggers are considered now as “one of the most influential reference groups for customers who are seeking the recommendation of trustworthy sources” (p. 596). However, how credible and sincere are the bloggers who get paid to promote products on their personal social media accounts? According to Harper Bazaar’s article on fashion blogger’s Instagram fees, a blogger can make from $500 to $100,000 a picture, depending on the number of followers. Since collaboration with brands has become so lucrative, can bloggers remain trustworthy maintain a high level of integrity, without having a conflict of interest from the brands that sponsor them? Or maybe, bloggers have become a new corporate communication tool that enables brands to gain good visibility and outreach to the untapped audience. Web 2.0 released the public from being constantly bombarded with branded one-way communication and gave people a voice and a choice. However, it seems that the history made a loop, but this time it is public’s decision to run into the old trap.
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