Written by Frederic Drüing
Nowadays, social media channels are frequently being exploited by companies to market their products and services. The strong focus on media that can serve as a direct, interactive link between business and consumers raises the question whether the utilization of these by various media managers is of efficient and appropriate nature. Within this exposé the state and relevance of corporate Facebook usage shall be critically examined. This refers to opportunities and recent challenges this social media platform represents for marketers as well as its return on investment (ROI) that is often being shabbily treated. Once being acknowledged as a new marketing phenomenon with high consumer coverage, the actual branding benefit of Facebook is on trial before the ‘authenticity seeking consumer’ (Holt, 2002). Therefore, the overall centre of attention will be drawn towards the discussion whether marketers can measure their brand management success on Facebook and, after all, whether this platform is still of attractive marketing nature.
Close Interaction on Facebook
To begin with, in order to assess the branding problematic on Facebook a few initial thoughts need to be outlined that caricature the relationship between brands and this social media tool. Companies in the business-to-consumer (B2C) markets pursue long-term oriented branding strategies to build and maintain a targeted brand identity and, in the best case, to ensure a constant sales growth. For this purpose Facebook depicts a great opportunity, but simultaneously a potential threat to the marketers. A crucial feature of Facebook is the fact that its media value for marketers is highly being determined by the amount of its users and their degree of participation. Bertilsson (2012) regards this kind of co-creation of brands by consumers as a ‘potential solution to the authenticity problem’ many marketers face nowadays. Consequently, while giving control of their own brand image away, companies actively invite clients and potential consumers to become part of the brand creation process. Holt (2004) correctly states that ‘a brand emerges as various authors tell stories that involve the brand’. Taking this statement into account it becomes obvious how Facebook illustrates a cost-efficient, direct link between company and customer: it works like a pen in the hands of all online users modifying the DNA of their concerned brand.
For marketers there are several motives to use Facebook within their media portfolio. Within the first hype period nearly every company went online and were tapping into this trend for comprehensible reasons. As Armelini et al. (2009) outline that in the face of ‘shrinking marketing budgets’ companies increasingly recognise social media tools as alternatives. However, the authors do not assess social media activities as a meaningful complementation to the traditional marketing mix since these two approaches totally differ in strategy, goal and outcome. Understanding this decisive difference between the existing approaches, one can certainly estimate a marketer’s opportunities and threats on Facebook better. In the following reasons for and against the use of Facebook with regard to corporate branding efforts is being analysed. As today people all over the world are surrounded by ever developing technology and changing communication channels, the subsequent question will be whether Facebook has already lost relevance and authenticity for the marketing industry. Especially instant mobile messenger systems like Whatsapp, which ‘enjoys leadership in both penetration and usage in many countries’ (PR Newswire, 2013), execute constant pressure on Facebook to regularly update and add new features like the recently implemented video calling software to their messaging system.
A ‘classic’ opportunity for marketers using Facebook for branding purpose is to cost-efficiently share and communicate the corporate identity through an own fan page. The supervision and correspondence with fans, thus (potential) customers, can be in busy times more time consuming as traditional advertising campaigns; but it is definitely less price sensitive. More importantly, Barwise at al. (2010) claim that crucial characteristics of social media active brands shall be implemented online by a sufficient brand management: having a relevant customer promise, building trust by delivering on that promise, steadily improvement of the promise and innovations beyond the familiar. Sticking to the authors’ proposed features that one’s fan page should deliver, branding on Facebook can become a competitive advantage in the long run by positioning one’s brand proficiently within this social media area.
Giving Brand Control Away
An obvious challenge that rises from the nature of Facebook’s communication culture itself is the missing predictability of an intended branding outcome. As a marketer it is neither possible to control a communication nor to permanently censor negative feedback: the user crowd develops its own dynamic. Although the well-known expression ‘social media’ is often interchangeably used for Facebook and other platforms, the outcome of branding activities on such a platform can be clarified as anything – but not social. As every private or public figure has once experienced a ‘shitstorm’, so are corporate fan pages frequently in danger to become victim of mass critique. This often leaves the conventional objectivity and fairness under cover of anonymity and non-existing physical closeness. Consequently, marketers need to face the challenge of an often non-social online environment.
Measurement of Branding Efficiency
After having put the marketers’ opportunities and threats into the context of the branding circumstances on Facebook, the decisive question is whether marketers can measure the success of their activities. Since they are in charge of a strictly defined media budget, the direct principal, or the CEO of the own company, will be more than keen on receiving information on their ROI. Moreover, Facebook represents a certain media value that should enable media planners to make educated evaluations in comparison to other used media. The target of every media manager is to reach the biggest relevant group of people for the least financial input, when placing corporate advertising on different media channels. On Facebook, however, companies do not only advertise, but put even more the emphasis on long term oriented branding strategies that should attract and maintain loyal customers.
In fact, Facebook does provide statistical instruments to measure visitor traffic on a company’s fan page. The easiest and most comprehensible way of determining one’s branding success would be to count the actual number of users that ‘like’ the corresponding fan page. This simply indicates the consumers’ brand awareness. However, as Hoffman et al. (2010) suggest, the online user’s investment and engagement with the concerned fan page is another, sound perspective in this discussion. The authors concretely name parameters like the amount of user comments or shares, which they describe as an online ‘word of mouth’ strategy, as points for measuring the social media effectiveness. Moreover, the proposed measurement strategy of Hoffman et al. is a long term oriented, sophisticated way to analyse how deeply users are engaged with one’s online presence. Another qualitative measurement of a branding’s success on Facebook can be the achievement of turning customers into brand advocates (Social Times, 2011). As this is probably the most difficult stage of customer engagement to reach, it certainly pays off for marketers to have committed users that defend ‘their’ brand against others’ complains and insults.
In order to exemplify the stated, most attractive goal of brand managers of having loyal and advocating customers, current user conversations on the official Facebook page of Starbucks (2013) can be used. As many users post and share their thoughts, issues and complains on the Starbuck page, Starbucks itself actively tries to answer as many as possible posts – if needed and being acknowledged as an important topic. In the best case, furthermore, users are discussing and helping each other without the supervision of corporate brand manager, which saves time and money for the company. Additionally, 24/7 customer service on Facebook can hardly be ensured. Thus, brand advocators like ‘Susie Carmichael’ take over the actual job of Starbucks and defend their brand image (see image 1)
Although this netnographic research fails to secure the authenticity of the user ‘Susie Carmichael’, which also could be an employee of Starbucks itself, the three shown examples impressively illustrate how customer engagement with the brand of interest can potentially generate a profound return on investment for marketers. Murdock (2010) refers in his article to a research of Zuberance, a company specialised in brand advocacy, who found out that one brand advocator is five times worth a normal customer. Through their strong brand bond they defend, share and recommend content of their favoured company and work as free brand ambassadors. Thus, finding one’s brand advocator and maintaining them is a key instrument for marketers for ensuring long term ROI on social media activities.
Does Facebook Pay Off?
As developed throughout this report, marketers do actually struggle do clearly define if and how Facebook pays off for them. Since the branding success cannot easily be measured through short term sales revenue, the long term evidence of Facebook as an efficient marketing tool is yet vague. Moreover, depending on the corporate branding strategy Facebook can fulfil the respective branding needs of brand managers. Additionally, brands are present on Facebook for simple reasons: to boost customer engagement and sales in the long run. Facebook itself, however, is rather designed for its users as the main target audience. Here a clash of interests comes into play: Facebook only considers branding activities on their social media platform as interesting that generates sales revenue for them. In return, if companies increasingly spam, Facebook is concerned that their actual users will start to get annoyed by a commercial overload. The right balance between customer protection and brand interests determines the current situation for marketers. Kelly (2012) is afraid that Facebook more and more acts against the interest of brands since it removed attractive brand features like the landing tab (extra information for first time visitors) or possible ‘calls to action’ that include special offers. Also, it offers a poor mobile service that hinders customers to access brand tabs. All in all, one can conclude that Facebook is still a very appealing media platform for marketers and does certainly pay off for many of them. However, Facebook needs to rethink their policy of treating this great pool of marketers that are utilising it. Both parties are dependent from each other and are in need of a better, more constructive partnership. Otherwise, marketers are quickly about to spend their money and time on other marketing channels.
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