Written by Rakhat Asankozhoeva
With the emergence of the Web 2.0, possibilities for companies to communicate with their consumers became endless. However, with new opportunities always come new challenges. Consumers are engaged in building brands equally with the companies in terms of creating brand identity. For brands, now is all about being in time, in the right place, in the right social networks, being aware of everything that is happening in online space by demonstrating resourcefulness and thorough knowledge of customers’ wants and needs and predict their future wants. For customers, social media marketing era is new and exciting journey where they can finally control the impact corporations have in their lives by either interacting and sharing ideas or giving negative feedback and thus damaging brand’s identity and reputation.
In traditional marketing era, consumers were just recipients of information that companies were sending to them through traditional media. It was a one-way communication through which brand message could be fully controlled by a company (Armelini & Villanueva, 2011). To find the optimal advertising method, companies had to carefully plan their marketing mix strategy to effectively reach consumers. Depending on the product they wished to promote, companies had to thoroughly weigh particular advertising decisions, like through which channels they could reach their target, how many times they should appear on TV, or should they consider point-of-sale promotions or not – those decisions all were costly for companies.
Now, with the appearance of Web 2.0, both companies and consumers gain some benefits for themselves. As explained in Papasolomou & Melanthiou (2012), social media is popular now due to its interactivity and possibility for consumers to share their experience with other consumers. Social media marketing era increases brand awareness and sales as fast as never before (Barwise & Meehan, 2010).One of the most important aspects of today’s internet marketing is creation of user generated content, as a tool to strengthen relationships between brands and consumers (Van den Bulte and Wuyts, 2007 as cited in Christodoulides, 2009).
In social media marketing era, companies now spend less money on advertising in social networks than they used to spend on traditional advertising. For consumers today is the perfect time when they can freely share their consumption experiences with other consumers in social networks, express their positive or negative comments on using the products. However, the flow of social media marketing influence on brand value is uncontrollable now for companies in terms of the message that is being shared among users (Armelini & Villanueva, 2011). No matter how strong the brand is the companies are not immune from the negative feedback of consumers. Furthermore, strong brands are the ones who suffer the most from the anti-branding movement on the internet (Krishnamurthy & Kucuk, 2008). Consumers who do not like particular brand and want to share their opinion with other users on the internet are creating unfavorable image for specific brand. This is undoubtedly one of the main undesirable consequences for companies. Through creating a negative image for a brand, consumers who actively participate in anti-branding sites may negatively effect brand value (Krishnamurthy & Kucuk, 2008). Now we can say that consumers’ behavior 10 years ago was undoubtedly different from the current situation. The freedom to share consumption experience with millions of other people through shared network on the Internet gives them not only an opportunity for self-expression but to have a large power to easily change brand’s positive identity to negative and therefore affecting the overall brand’s future positioning.
With the emergence of new social media marketing era modern marketers are expected to adjust to the changes that Internet has brought. There is one thing that marketers should know before they decide to promote their brand actively on the internet – that brands are actually “uninvited crashers of the Web 2.0 party” (Fournier & Avery, 2011, p.193). This not necessarily means that every brand will have the same story and will be destined to have only negative experience in social media marketing era. However, there are of course positive aspects that consumers can create for the companies. One of them is the opportunity to develop user-generated content, which implies two-way communication between brands and consumers. Nowadays, consumers actively participate in many brand related activities, like product design or help promote the product through personal network on the Internet (Hanna, Rohm & Crittenden, 2011). One of the great examples of close cooperation of brands and consumers is involvement of consumers into future products creation in customer-oriented Lego Group company. (Antorini, Muñiz & Askildsen, 2012). Even though the main target for Lego Group was young kids, company managed to create new customer segment in the face of adult fans. They leveraged ideas of adult fans in their innovation process by creating a win-win situation for both sides (Antorini, Muñiz & Askildsen, 2012). In other words, the company benefited from this collaboration getting new insights, ideas and expanding to new markets, while fans were happy to influence company’s decisions (Antorini, Muñiz Jr & Askildsen, 2012).
Nowadays, consumers expect more than just to share the experience with other customers, they want to engage in the process of brand building, or, in other words, they want to create a story and participate on stage performance together with the brand, turning “classical theater into an improvisational version” (Singh & Sonnenburg, 2012). Online communities are not new anymore. Information in online communities is freely accessible and can be shared anytime to all Internet users. Thus, for consumers this information became more reliable that direct messages from companies (Akar & Birol, 2011).
To conclude, Web 2.0 or social media marketing is deeply embedded in consumers’ lives. Consumers today are no longer consumers they used to be in traditional marketing era, they are now part of a huge online network of consumers who can indirectly and directly influence business decisions. Knowledge, connections, and mass character of online communities allows consumers build a new reality of transparency and openness. Lastly, it is the responsibility of both consumers and brands to make this social media marketing era work for themselves, no matter how hard would it be.
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