Written by Gabriele di Napoli
Purpose: The aim of this paper is to illustrate the changes occurred in consumer behavior in the last decade and to provide marketers with a successful overall approach to social media marketing.
Methodology: Theoretical approach supported by relevant academic papers and practical examples.
Keywords: Social media marketing, social media.
As everybody is aware of, the advent of the Internet caused such an enormous change that has revolutionized not only the way we communicate with each other but also the way we interact with companies. In this new context, a branch of marketing is rapidly growing in importance: social media marketing. Because of the development of the Internet and the consequent evolution from a physical to an electronic marketplace, companies had to reconsider their marketing strategies and their approach to consumers (Varadarajan & Yadav, 2009). These inevitable adjustments are due mainly to the fact that the digital era revolution led to an empowerment of the consumers, transforming them from passive mass media audiences to active users of digital media in the marketplace (Deighton & Kornfeld, 2009). Social media marketing is therefore a necessary tool for marketers in order to tackle and anticipate current and future changes. As stated by Wind (2008): “The era of the passive consumer is history. Empowered consumers are increasingly in control, which dramatically changes the role of marketing”.
The purpose of this paper is to offer the readers a broad picture on how the Internet changed consumers and, above all, to illustrate how marketers can adapt to this situation in order to jump on the social media marketing bandwagon. However, before digging deeper into these issues, it is important to have clear in mind what social media really is. Kaplan & Haenlein (2010) provide us with an accurate definition:
Social Media is a group of Internet-based applications that build on the ideological and technological foundations of Web 2.0, and that allow the creation and exchange of User Generated Content.
Up until 2006, many companies were present on the Internet and were already interacting with their customers via email (Hennig-Thurau, Hofacker & Bloching, 2013). However, neither companies nor consumers had an idea about the huge change that was about to come. Indeed, 2006 is the year when Facebook became public and since then the influence of social media on consumers and businesses has been tremendous (Hennig-Thurau, Hofacker & Bloching, 2013). Varadarajan & Yadav (2009) argue that companies must effectively integrate social media marketing in their strategies and operations in order to be competitive, because, as also claimed by Winer (2009), these technological changes have caused increased competition, empowerment of buyers and more fragmented markets, thus adaptation is necessary. Hennig-Thurau, Hofacker & Bloching (2013) state that the rise of social media originated two major changes in consumer behavior, such as increased active participation and enhanced interconnectedness, resulting in greater consumers’ power. As also confirmed by Armelini & Villanueva (2009), social media functions more like a café where customers actively participate at the conversation by giving their feedbacks and by sharing their opinions about a product or a company.
Consumers not only actively share brands and product experiences on social media but they may also significantly transform the intensity and the meaning of the message sent by companies (Hennig-Thurau, Hofacker & Bloching, 2013), becoming co-inventors, co-producers or even co-marketers (Wind, 2008). Indeed, in this new context, consumer-generated content is gaining increasing attention among social media marketing managers. Consumers that are passionate about a product or a company are deeply engaged and their contribution in brand communities has a strong influence among other consumers (Muniz & Schau, 2011). These highly-engaged consumers can produce valuable content that can be compared to that of professional marketers and can be easily and inexpensively shared on the Internet (Muniz & Schau, 2011). Therefore, social media marketing managers should stimulate and support consumer-generated content in the appropriate platforms. A very good example of collaboration between a company and its loyal followers can be found in the Lego Group. Antorini, Muniz & Askildsen (2012) conducted a study on Lego and found out that the worldwide known Danish company gained valuable insights by collaborating with loyal and highly-engaged consumers. In 2005, the company created an adult fan community, called Ambassador Program, which enabled the fans to have a closer relationship with the company (Antorini, Muniz & Askildsen, 2012). Lego benefited a great deal from this collaboration, succeeding in identifying new product lines, new distribution strategies and developing new customer oriented products (Antorini, Muniz & Askildsen, 2012).
Given how technology radically changed consumers, companies should act accordingly and adapt to the situation. Wind (2008) concludes that it is important that companies nurture the relationships with their customers by creating dedicated platforms, therefore shifting from a customer relationship management (CRM) to a customer managed relationships (CMR) approach. Social media marketing aims at fulfilling this need and enables a more sincere, open and close relationship with customers. As also argued by Kietzmann et al. (2011), times have changed and consumers do not only use the Internet to acquire information in order to buy a product but they also use platforms such as content sharing sites, blogs and social networks to create, share and talk about Internet content. Therefore, social media marketing became a necessity even though many companies still ignore it, mainly because they are unable to develop strategies and effectively allocate resources (Kietzmann et al., 2011).
Given the changes in technology and consumer behavior, social media marketing has become essential for companies in order to succeed in today’s marketplace. As claimed by Kaplan & Haenlein (2010), even though engaging in social media is challenging, the possible gains are absolutely remarkable. This is testified by the great success achieved by the biscuits brand “Oreo”, which social media marketing campaigns are to be envied by many marketers. One great example is the “Oreo’s Daily Twist Campaign” started in June 2012 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the brand (360i, 2014). Every day, for 100 days, Oreo released on his Facebook page an image of the cookie redesigned to commemorate the most important event happened that day and, on the last day, organized a live event at Times Square in New York (360i, 2014). The outcome of this social media marketing campaign was astonishing, resulting in a 280 percent increase in Facebook shares and in a 510 percent increase in re-tweets on Twitter, a huge rise in fan engagement (360i, 2014). The success of the Oreo’s social media campaign is the result of a consistent communication strategy in which the brand aimed to be perceived as provoking, humorous, creative and original (Bullock, 2013).
In order to be as successful as the Oreo brand, there are some key challenges that social media marketing managers should take care of. Hennig-Thurau, Hofacker & Bloching (2013) argue that issuing brand related social content is not enough since what it is really important is to follow its course closely. Therefore, managers should constantly monitor all the social media they are present on and keep track of the consumers reactions, sentiments and feedbacks in order to evaluate the outcome of a campaign and to immediately identify new trends or crises (Hennig-Thurau, Hofacker & Bloching, 2013). A second key challenge in social media marketing is to create a sharable and “talkable” content like Oreo did and, most important, try to steer consumers engagement in a direction that is favourable for the company (Hennig-Thurau, Hofacker & Bloching, 2013). Social media marketing also implies a different customer relationship management approach (Malthouse et al., 2013). Consumers are empowered and the new technologies and information available make it easier for them to filter CRM inputs and compare products, therefore CRM must provide an added value to both consumers and the company (Malthouse et al., 2013). Moreover, when a company implements social media marketing strategies, organizational adjustments, such as more flexibility and team work, are needed (Hennig-Thurau, Hofacker & Bloching, 2013). Finally, marketers need to understand how to use the different social media effectively. Kietzmann et al. (2011) propose a useful framework composed of seven functional social media blocks: presence, relationships, reputation, groups, conversations, sharing and identity. Based on these social network characteristics, managers, before rashly investing money on a social media marketing campaign, should understand the functionality of each network in order to have congruence between functionalities and goals of the firm (Kietzmann et al., 2011).
Wind (2008) states that in order to be successful in today’s marketplace, marketers need to rethink marketing and change their mental models. However, this does not mean that social media marketing has to completely replace traditional marketing, but the two have to exist together. Budweiser is a great example of this cohesion. Famous for its extremely expensive Super Bowl’s TV commercials, Budweiser is also active within social media marketing. In 2013, Budweiser launched a very unusual social media campaign in the U.K. A knitting machine was connected to Twitter and it was activated every time fans twitted using the hashtag “#jumpers4des” (Knibbs, 2013). Then, fans had the opportunity to win the sweaters produced by entering in the Facebook page of the company (Knibbs, 2013). For large businesses, Budweiser is a good model to look up to since, as also concluded by Armelini & Villanueva (2009), traditional and social media marketing should reinforce each other. Indeed, traditional media, such as TV commercials, are useful to reach a critical mass, while social media strengthen the company’s image, helping to engage and interact with customers and to build trust while promoting a range of initiatives (Armelini & Villanueva, 2009). In the case of smaller companies with a limited advertising budget, social media marketing still represents a unique opportunity since it enables the company to stand out from the crowd (Armelini & Villanueva, 2009)
The changes that the technological progress caused in consumer behaviour and in the relationship that consumers have with companies are significant. Some companies are keeping up with the times, as demonstrated by the social media marketing campaigns launched by Oreo and Budweiser, while others are still lagging behind.
I believe that being present on social media is crucial for companies in order to be successful in today’s marketplace. Consumers are empowered and increasingly active, therefore more interaction and engagement with them is necessary. Old-fashioned marketers are too focused on advertising, and their only purpose is to sell products by interrupting people with a creative and original one-way message (Meerman Scott, 2013). The rules of marketing have changed and marketers, through social media marketing, should provide useful content to the buyers, in the form of information, interaction, education, and choice (Meerman Scott, 2013). Furthermore, companies that are active on the Web do not only provide added value to their customers but they also benefit from a greater exposure and, thanks to an enhanced word of mouth, have a much higher credibility. However, social media marketing should not be considered as a panacea and it should be adequately integrated with traditional marketing practices in order to reach a large audience.
Link on “Daily Twist” social media marketing campaign: http://www.360i.com/work/oreo-daily-twist/
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Link on learnings from Oreo’s social media marketing campaign: http://socialmediatoday.com/lilachbullock/1675816/social-media-brands-what-you-can-learn-oreo
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