How have blogs changed consumer behavior and how can marketers utilize blogs in digital marketing

How has the consumer behavior changed after the Internet became more of a social platform?Once the social aspects of the Internet came along a term called Web 2.0. was created. Web 2.0 indicates a platform that enables people to create and distribute all kind of content online (Berthon et al, 2012). Social media changed the whole nature of searching and sharing information.

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How has the internet changed consumers over the past 10 years and how can brands make the most of it for their image? Part 2

November 17, 2014

Written by Yasmine Najjar

 

     The internet implementation in marketing process is a great opportunity for brands as it’s inexpensive, delivers instant international real time feedback and allows them to reach broader audiences (Papasolomou and Melanthiou, 2013). It’s the chance for brands to communicate with the consumers in a more honest and genuine way than advertising, to know them better and build a strong relationship. But to “harness the power of the web to reach consumers directly you must ignore the old rules” (Scott, 2011). The “rules” of communications are different in the virtual world: brands don’t talk at someone anymore but with someone. If they try to take the same approach than in traditional media, especially in social medias, and just speak their message out, it’s not going to work, they need to create conversation (Armelli and Villanueva, 2011).

 

    Research has highlighted the impact that can have online communities on perceptions of brands. Firms are vulnerable in this context especially brands who have a poor pre-existing brand image and face unfavorable consumer-generated content in online communities (Varadarajan and Yadav, 2009). Yet, it’s a powerful tool to interact in a more personal way and reinforce your brand image. The messages brands send to consumers via traditional advertising can sometimes be interpreted in different ways, blur their positioning and brand identity. Facebook and Twitter can be great for brand image as it allows sending direct messages and more importantly, humanizing the brand which is more effective than anything for brand image. Like when having a talk in daily life with someone, consumers will get a better understanding of whom the company is as a brand. Online, you are what you publish but control branding is yet impossible because of the e-WOM (Christodoulides et al. 2006, in Christoloudides 2009). People are selective about where to spend their time on social media platforms; they look for entertainment, knowledge, socialization… as a brand you need to fulfill these criteria otherwise you end up creating a ghost community abandoned once participants discover you don’t (Seraj, 2012). As Vries, Gensler and Leeflang reminded us in 2012 “Entertainment leads people to consume, create or contribute to brand-related content online. For Einsenbess, Bechscmidt, Backhaus and Freund (2012), consumers have three motivations to engage in this virtual world: socializing, creativity and escape. They agree that without responding to these motivations a brand can’t make the most of social media platforms.

 

     It is essential that brands take the cultural aspect in matter: we don’t address people from California and Paris the same way, their motivations for being on internet, their sensitivity are different. It also involves a consequent time commitment to manage online brand image properly. Brands need to make daily efforts to produce interesting content and foster a community around their identity and values. The main risk in going online is exposing the brand to bad and very straightforward feedbacks, visible to everyone. Negative comments on the Internet negatively affecting the brand image as perceived by other consumers (Sandes and Urdan, 2013). Brands need to address these complaints very fast and try to find a response that satisfy the consumer or at least clarify the situation. Managing these situations improve your brand image.

 

     Blogs are also a great tool to manage your brand image. Why are they so interesting? Famous and established blogs have often more credibility than brand websites, as the content is supposed not to be controlled by a firm. The reality is that more and more brands use these blogs as a PR tool or what we could call disguised advertising as the consumer is not even aware sometimes the blog received money to produce fallout.

 

     Blogs are also participative which allows brands to get closer to consumers, have lots of feedbacks and a good view on how consumers perceive your brand as they speak very freely when the blogger produces an article about one of your product. There are many ways to participate in this blog phenomenon. Most of the brands send products to bloggers so that they can test them. However, the brand doesn’t control anything after: they lose control of the message because bloggers have their own voice. So, every time a blogger has a good product experience and decides to talk about it,  brand image improves as the audience trust their judgment. On the other hand, every time his feedback isn’t good and he decides to expose it, it can damage brand image. Organizing a contest with a blogger is a good way to arouse interest and trigger liking. The most interesting opportunity is certainly to make partnerships with these bloggers by proposing to them to participate in a product creation for example. Their audience, very loyal, sees these partnerships as a caution from the blogger, like a go to love the brand themselves as consumers.

    

     However, relationships with bloggers can be complicated. There are lots of codes in the blogosphere that brands need to be familiar with in order for it to be a great tool for their image. When a brand sends products to a blogger, they need to avoid chasing him up so that he writes an article. Not only is he going to find it irritating but he also wants his feedback to be as authentic as possible, it’s his dedicated space, he’s the one who has the “power”. Also, as bloggers are a lot solicited, the brand has to show them its interest in their blog (why do they want to work with them) and to personalize their messages when they get in touch with them. Bloggers need to see the humans working behind the brand; they need to create relationships between people so that it can work.

 

     Partnerships with online versions of traditional media can also be very interesting to develop or change brand image. By teaming up with one of them, these media share their audience with the brand but not only: they have their own identity which is going to reflect on the brand. It can be really effective when a brand wants to change its image for example give a fashion touch to its identity by teaming up with the online version of fashion and renowned magazine. By having a presence on their website, the media gives you a “guarantee”. This partnership can be a dedicated space on their website, a contest to win prizes from the brand, and other very innovative presences on the media. The aim of this kind of partnerships is to advertise without doing it obviously, it needs to be very well integrated to the content of the website. For example, Tex by Carrefour, a clothing brand from the famous French supermarket, suffered a cheap old fashioned image. The brand wanted to have a more glamorous and “hype” image and teamed up with French ELLE to do so. This partnership impacted the perception the audience had on the brand as ELLE is known for appreciating fashion and cool clothes.

 

      What about buzz marketing? How can it impact brand image? According to Deighton and Kornfeld (2009), buzz marketing is an umbrella term for the mobilized power of the culture to pass on a marketer's message. People don’t have the impression to share advertising message but something novel, entertaining and of the moment. The video ‘Evolution’ by Dove, in which a simple woman is transformed in a model thanks to make-up and Photoshop, was a huge success for Dove brand image. Dove wasn’t anymore any cosmetics brand; it was the one close to women, fighting against beauty stereotypes so that women can accept their beauty. It was effective because it created engagement. The downside of buzz marketing is that you can be easily parody on sharing platforms like Youtube which can affect the message brands were trying to pass on.

 

      Internet has been a revolution as it tremendously changed consumers, empowering them. Most brands need to go there if they want to survive but as we have seen in this paper it’s a tricky place for brand image. It offers lots of opportunities to build a strong bond with consumers and manage your brand image when you know how to use the different tools it offers. We can wonder as soon as brand will have figure out how to make the most of internet, will we go back to brands having the power over consumers? Do they want that to happen? Maybe internet, even with its risks, can actually be seen as a benediction for brand image as brands have now a great insight of consumers’ perception and can adjust their brand image in function.

 

References

Armelli, G. and Villanueva, J. (2011), “Adding social media to the marketing mix”, IESE insight, No. 9.

Christodoulides, G. (2009), “Branding in the post-internet era”, Marketing Theory, 9, 141.

Deighton, J. and Kornfeld, L. (2009), “Interactivity's Unanticipated Consequences for Marketers and Marketing”, Journal of Interactive Marketing, 23, p. 4-10.

Eisenbeiss, M., B. Blechschmidt, K. Backhaus & P.A. Freund (2012), “The (Real) World Is Not Enough:” Motivational Drivers and User Behavior in Virtual Worlds”, Journal of Interactive Marketing, 26, 4–20.

Papasolomou, I.  & Melanthiou, Y. (2013), “Social Media: Marketing Public Relations ‘New Best Friend”, Journal of Promotion Management, 18(3), 319-328.

Sandes, F.S. & A. T. Urdan (2013), “Electronic Word-of-Mouth Impacts on Consumer Behavior: Exploratory and Experimental Studies”, Journal of International Consumer Marketing, 25(3), 181-197.

Scott, D.M. (2011), The New Rules of Marketing and PR: How to Use Social Media, Blogs, News Releases, Online Video, and Viral Marketing to Reach Buyers Directly, 3d or latest edition.

Seraj, M. (2012), We Create, We Connect, We Respect, Therefore We Are: Intellectual, Social, and Cultural Value in Online Communities, Journal of Interactive Marketing 26, 209–222. *

Varadarajan, R. & M. S. Yadav (2009),” Marketing Strategy in an Internet-Enabled Environment: A Retrospective on the First Ten Years of JIM and a Prospective on the Next Ten Years”, Journal of Interactive Marketing 23, 11–22.

Vries, L. & S. Gensler & P. S.H. Leeflang, (2012),” Popularity of Brand Posts on Brand Fan Pages: An Investigation of the Effects of Social Media Marketing”, Journal of Interactive Marketing 26, 83–91.*

 

How has the internet changed consumers over the past 10 years and how can brands make the most of it for their image? Part 1

November 13, 2014

Written by Yasmine Najjar

    The last decade has definitely changed the world we live in. Internet tremendously impacted our daily life and changed our behavior as consumers, the brand-sphere, its marketing strategies and operations consequently had to adapt dramatically. We were able to notice every year the shifting in power from companies towards consumers especially thanks to the emergence of web 2.0. Now, people don’t just read information but interact and share experiences about products and brands notably. In the virtual world, perception of brands personality is influenced by many factors, brands are not anymore in control. Companies have understood this reality for a while now and, like consumers and customers, use the broad range of tools that internet offers in order to face it. But there is quite a difference between doing something and be good at what you do. As consumers, we have all experienced the difficulties brands sometimes face to manage their image. Everyone said to himself one day “Ouch, this is an unacceptable response” while reading the brand’s response to a complaint on their Facebook page. Being on the internet is very demanding for brands, it does not take much (a negative story one day) for a company or brand to see its image damaged. On the other hand, internet offers lots of opportunities for a company to grow its brand, to build a unique personality, to create a “real” bond with its customers. But first of all, they need to understand the major change in consumer behaviors and to leverage new technologies. What is internet about today? What portrait can we produce for 2014 consumers? What are the opportunities and risks brands have to deal with to manage their image? How to make the most of the internet to protect and build brand image? Many questions we’ll try to answer in this paper.

      We are now 2.4 billion internet users around the world, and this figure doesn’t stop growing. The first version of internet, Web 1.0, was mostly about websites where people were limited to passive viewing content. The current version of internet has nothing to do with this anymore: it’s about learning in a very active way, interact and collaborate with each other.

     Every moment of our lives ends up on the internet: we picture, video, click, share thanks to social medias. In 2010, the Chartered Institute of Public Relations defined social media as the term commonly given to websites, online tools, and other interactive communication technologies which allow users to interact with each other in some way, either by sharing information, opinions, knowledge, or interests (Papasolomou & Melanthiou, 2013). In daily life, we usually use the term “social media” to speak about social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. These are also called consumer-generated media (CSM) e.g new sources of online information that are created, initiated, circulated and used by consumers (Blackshaw & Nazzaro, 2004 in Papasolomou & Melanthiou, 2013 ).

     Blogs are also considered as CSM: more and more consumers write about their opinion about brands and theirs products on their own dedicated space. They share experiences; give feedbacks to other consumers, usually in a “specialized” field that they have a strong interest in. These blogs have become a phenomenon especially in the fashion or cosmetic field which even got a name: the beauty-sphere. It is quite hard to know the audience of each blog, but it can be thousands and more people following the same blog every month. Blogs audience keeps growing but more importantly their influence has become substantial. According to Technorati’s 2013 Digital Influence Report, blogs would even outrank social networks for consumer influence (31,1% for blogs vs 30,8% for networks are most likely to influence a purchase).

    What is the place of brands in this virtual world? In the old days, brands would build their image through advertising campaigns and consumers experience of their products and shops. Internet has been an “important communications revolution” for brands (Scott 2011), that offers a wide range of tools to communicate on their image and identity. Moreover, with the emergence of social media, companies are now going beyond simply maintaining a website for basic transactional purposes and traditional promotion. They are rather finding new ways to interact with customers, in search of a more long term relationship rather than a one-way communication which most websites are confined to (Papasolomou & Melanthiou, 2013). One specific way to foster relationships with customers is to create brand fan pages on social networking sites. Companies place brand posts (containing videos, messages, and other material) on these pages. Customers become fans of these brand fan pages, and subsequently indicate that they like the brand post or comment on it. This liking and commenting on brand posts reflects brand post popularity (Vries, Gensler and Leeflang, 2012). and are a good way to see if people adhere to a brand identity and what it reflects. Building relationships with bloggers, who are customers but with influence, also starts to be important for brands image. Combined with good products, these relationships usually built on trust, human and partnerships are always a great booster for brand image.

        As Christoloudides pointed out in 2009, the internet and its related e-technologies have to a large extent upset the asymmetry of information that for so many years worked in favor of brand managers. In effect, with the diminishing information cost and the large number of information you can find on internet nowadays, consumers are better informed. Internet allows them to get the information from multiple sources, particularly in the web 2.0, whereas in pre-internet era brands were the principle source. Today, people actually exhibit a preference for consumer-generated content in online communities relative to other online sources that are viewed as being directly controlled by a firm (e.g., a firm's website providing product-related information) (Varadarajan & Yadav,2009). Brands must realize that consumers are turning away from traditional elements of the promotion mix, by reducing the reliance on advertising as a source of information (Papasolomou & Melanthiou, 2013). It not only enables them to express their identity and reinforce their individuality, it also allows them to satisfy their social needs through sharing of consumption related experiences (Christoloudides, 2009). Suspicious of brands honesty, consumers seek for one another opinion when they want to make up their mind on a brand’s identity or product. This behavior is further shifting the balance of power from firm to consumer (Bernoff & Li 2008, in Christoloudides 2009). An illustration of this customer empowerment is that more and more brands involve the consumer in fundamental stages of the brand building process which shows that companies are aware of the change.

      The monologue that many firms were used to practice towards consumers has been replaced by a many-to-many communication where consumers not only interact with the firm but also with other consumers (Hoffman and Novak 1996 in Christolidoudes 2009). The consumer empowerment doesn’t come that much from the multiple sources of information but much more from the e-WOM, word-of-mouth on internet. Word of mouth, or WOM, is the influence of someone’s informal opinion about products and brands derived from consumption experiences (Sen and Lerman 2007 in Sandes and Urdan (2013)). Internet is great to share your insight as it offers many tools to do it: social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter…), forums and blogs. As Levine et al (2001) said ‘There are no secrets. The networked market knows more than companies do about their own products. And whether the news is good or bad, they tell everyone”. The web gives the floor to consumers, the liberty to give their opinion without any fear of judgment as they are behind a computer, so in a very honest and easy way. This e-WOM can be a great opportunity for brand image but also a high risk that they need to address.

    In the context of Internet, consumers are very busy and solicited therefore more demanding towards brands. They expect brands and their companies to engage with customers and their fans (Papasolomou and Melanthiou, 2013). They expect “more and different”. As a brand,  it is necessary to stand out to attract them and then make a great amount of efforts to build this strong bond that will create engagement and loyalty on their part. They need a good reason to go on your Facebook page and a much better reason to stay on it. They need innovation, unusual, entertainment to be attracted. They also embrace a visual culture, where pictures and videos have sometimes much more influence than words. But the most important thing to know about those customers: they want human. Internet is definitely the place where brand needs to be personified. People need to know the people working behind these brands; brand identity, positioning, brand messages need to be strong and honest so that people can bond with the brand. Furthermore, they expect true exchange and not a one-way communication (brand towards customer).

    Internet is full of great tools to communicate on brand identity and build relationship with customer. Brands don’t always realize the opportunities it offers but also the damage it can be for their image. When they do realize it, lots of them don’t know how to make the most of it. We will address this matter in the second part of this paper: between risk and opportunity, how to make the most of internet for your brand image?

Social media’s function as a catalyst

18th August

 

Written by Izabelle Bäckström

 

How frequently do you log on to your Facebook account in order to get a glimpse of the latest news, or go to LinkedIn.com to see whom will be your next business contact to add to your valuable network?

My honest answer to the question above would undoubtedly be “too often”, and by reflecting upon my friends’ behavioral patterns on social media platforms I am not alone with this addiction.  Interestingly, social media has turned into a communication vehicle that enables constant interaction between people, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Thus, as it has become more widely practiced among the public, companies have concurrently recognized golden growth opportunities with expansion on different web-based social platforms. With significant benefits such as inexpensiveness, international audience, and instant feedback from consumers, companies and their respective brands have found new Web 2.0 platforms to capitalize on (Papasolomou & Melanthiou, 2012). However, social media does not only provide potential profit gains. It also represents an uncontrollable environment where companies and brands are put in an increasingly vulnerable position since the information velocity patterns are difficult to predict. You simply cannot control what consumers will reveal about your brand, and what the impact will be on the reputation (Armelini & Villanueva, 2011). Subsequently, the purpose of this paper is twofold. Firstly, it examines how social media acts as a catalyst through a consumer perspective as shared information becomes crucial in the purchasing process. Secondly, it investigates the implications for companies with regards to reputation management as social media alters the communication landscape. 

Social media: A change catalyst

Evidently, social media has revolutionized the internet by its ability to connect people and hence it has transformed the way human beings communicate on a daily basis. As a result, it has altered the traditional buyer-seller exchange dynamics where the power structures of conversation nowadays lie on the consumers’ side of the negotiation table (Kietzman et al., 2011). Social media is accordingly defined as social web-based forums such as Facebook, LinkedIn and MySpace (Akar & Topcu, 2011). A wider distinction of this contemporary phenomenon can further be made by including blogs, video sharing, wikis and podcasts (Papasolomou & Melanthiou, 2012). Today consumers are the main drivers of dialogue which enhances social media’s role as a catalyst for change of communication patterns from an offline to an online environment (Hanna, Rohm & Crittenden, 2011). No longer does a one way communication exist where the company directs information on products, services and brands and where consumers are passive recipients. Consumers are today actively using the platforms for various interactive purposes, for instance it is used to educate each other about their consumption experiences. This user generated content has intensified companies’ dependence on customers because in this online environment rumors spread fast (Hardey, 2011). Whether it is a comment left on Amazon or a YouTube review of a product, the user generated content provides valuable insights to consumer behavior. The online setting enables former and actual customers to conveniently share, edit, generate, critique and rank information and thoughts on specific companies, brands and services. Consumers are able to create and engage in communities where a piece of information, either positive or negative statements, can reach a vast number of networks in a short period of time. This is also referred to as electronic-word-of-mouth, and it has tremendous importance for companies to monitor as it influences other peoples’ purchasing intentions and decisions (Hardey, 2011; Bhagat, Klein & Sharma, 2009).

Social media: Catalyst for change in consumer behavior

Not only do social media act as a catalyst for the communication landscape as a whole.  More specifically, it entails that consumers can access available information whenever and wherever they want, given access to Internet. This accordingly affects consumer behavior in terms of awareness, attitudes and information acquisition (Mangold & Faulds, 2009). Subsequently, consumers’ decision making process is influenced when intending to buy a product or service.  What it all boils down to is how the consumer perceives the information gained in the initial step of information search before buying, and secondly how the consumer prefers to share the experience in the post-purchase communication and evaluation (Gensler, Verhoef & Böhm, 2012). As consumers go through their purchasing process, they move initially from mere discovery to validation, and within this process the tool of social media acts as a catalyst that confirms or disapproves the purchasing intentions.  That is, social media provide frames of mind for the consumers.

The framing of human mind is a part of the cognitive structures that shape consumer attitudes and behavior (Christensen & Olson, 2002). These mental structures are psychological phenomena that one is more or less aware of and hence it is directly affecting consumer behavior. The effects of mental frameworks partly depend on how well the individual has improved self-awareness and self-reflection along the journey of life. We are all framed by previous experiences and knowledge, and all of us bring an invisible luggage wherever we go that reflects the way one behaves, talks and interacts with people around us.  If we are lucky we are surrounded by people that encourage us to reveal our behavioral blind spots that we fail to identify ourselves. As a result, one is able to bring unconscious behavior to a conscious level to improve the ways of thinking and acting into critical terms. Yet, how to bridge this over to social media’s function as a catalyst? Simply put, as human beings today tend to spend a vast number of hours online, what appears in social media affects the way that we perceive the world around us. Thus, peer opinions revealed in online communities have shown to not only impact purchasing decisions, but also our perception of our surroundings (Akar & Topcu, 2011). Social media can even be a catalyst for social and political change. A striking example is an issue that was addressed in class, namely Kony 2012. With more than 43 million views on YouTube within two days after publication, the response from the public was massive and immediate. The emotional video about innocent children that are forced to become soldiers and sex-slaves in Uganda rapidly caught peoples’ attention and touched many hearts. Nevertheless, this video has also been criticized which has somewhat shadowed the viral success (Bal et al., 2013). However, it still demonstrates the substantial power of social media to mobilize resources in times of need and highlights its role as a catalyst to connect unrelated people for a common cause.

Social media: Catalyst for change in reputation management

A significant lesson to be learned from this is that social media’s function as a catalyst also is reflected in reputation management. As opposed to the previous section that dealt with consumer perspective, reputation management highlights the role of the company.  Thus, the power of social media concerns companies as much as it concerns consumers (Hoffman & Fodor, 2010). On the one hand social media represents profit opportunities for businesses to connect with consumers and generate loyal brand ambassadors (Papasolomou & Melanthiou, 2012). However, on the other hand it puts companies in a vulnerable position with regards to potential reputational damage if the brand or product quality is rumoured to be inconsistent by the public online (Xia, 2013). The online information flow is completely out of a firm’s direct control as companies cannot filter the information from one consumer before it reaches another. This is why reputation management has become an up-to date issue that continuously needs to be dealt with by the companies. With increasingly active consumers in the online sphere comes pressure of companies to monitor and respond to the opinions and attitudes expressed. Everything a company does reflect on its reputation, and thus the purpose of reputation management is to bridge the gap between identity of the company and the external image of it (Roper & Fill, 2012, p.5). In the end it is indeed the perception of the stakeholders that counts, not how the company itself states the image to the public.

Furthermore, as reputation management signifies being up-to date with consumers’ perception of a brand, it means that negative online reviews needs to be addressed quickly to prevent reputational damage. Bad news travel fast online and therefore companies must put instant emphasis on the feedback gained from consumers and other stakeholders. To further illustrate reputation management and its implications, let me use the concept of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). At first sight CSR may seem to be a one-dimensional concept addressing the social, economical and environmental consciousness of firms as a prerequisite for success in the long run. However, research has shown that CSR can actually function as a reputation insurance by affecting the beliefs of stakeholder that adverse events are caused primarily by bad luck rather than bad management (Minor & Morgan, n.d.). Thus, CSR can (if not mismanaged) create a favourable halo that embraces the trust for the corporate brand. The halo effect accordingly entails that positive associations are equivalent to the company’s brand, products and services (Roper & Fill, 2012, p.141).Thereby, in times of crisis it enables the company to rely on its reputational reservoir by the trust that has been generated over time through CSR programmes (Minor & Morgan, n.d.; Greyser, 2009). Similarly, regardless of performing CSR work or not, a company benefits from creating trust and long-term relationships with its customers to protect itself in the challenging and uncontrollable online environment. By the same token, by accentuating positive user generated content the firm can contribute to engagement and loyalty, and hence resonate favourable associations (Papasolomou & Melanthiou, 2012). Indeed, since reputation is a judgement from the market, it needs to be managed wisely in order to be preferably preserved. 

All in all, companies benefit from recognizing the catalyst role of social media. Evidently, consumers today tend to live actively online where interaction provides frames of mind for them. Information acquired online then affects consumer buying processes which become critical for companies to understand. The implications signify that companies need to be up-to date with consumer perceptions that are expressed and reinforced online. By adapting an early warning system firms may be able to scan the online environment for current attitudes and behaviours. However, this is easier said than done.  It is time consuming as well as it requires the company’s representatives to be open-minded and unbiased when scanning the online periphery for perception trends. If open-mindedness and creativity are not closely attached to the prevailing norms in the organization, then this way of approaching the online sphere may be even more complex. Nevertheless, to manage reputation requires the firm to discover unfavourable associations at an early stage to prevent potential damage. Since this can actually make or break a company, it is even a question of survival in the long run. The key to successful reputation management appear to be long term relationships with customers since this will generate trust over time, given that brand (or product) promise is fulfilled, i.e. aligned with consumers’ expectations. With a solid trust foundation consumers tend to be more forgiving in times of crisis which is an important feature of today’s dynamic online environment.

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