Written by Masters Student
Why strong social presence magnifies brand weaknesses and how brand managers can address this?
Nowadays, social media websites have become a major part of millions of peoples’ everyday lives. At the same time, more marketers are using social media as an important element within their marketing strategies. Due to its tremendous opportunities, such as the ability to reach millions of potential consumers and thus to increase brand awareness quickly, or to exploit consumer-generated content to improve products (Akar& Topcu, 2011), many brands rushed into social media. Today, 79% of the top 100 Fortune 500 companies use a social media platforms, wherein two-third have at least a Twitter account and 54% a Facebook page (Armelini& Villanueva, 2011). However, only few marketers understand how to use social media platforms strategically. They must be aware that social media presence also imposes challenges (Hanna, Rohm& Crittenden, 2011). Due to the social media environment, including open platforms that allow consumers to have access to more information and to talk to each other, the Internet is a catalyst for communication. Just a few consumer-generated comments can magnify brand weaknesses and thus threaten a brand (Interbrand, 2010). Therefore, these technologies did not give only opportunities to the marketer, but rather empowered consumers to change the rules of marketing (Deighton& Kornfeld, 2009).
The purpose of this paper is to answer why a strong social presence can magnify brand weaknesses and how brand managers can address this. In doing so, the author identified three major issues that magnify brand weaknesses within the social media environment, including constant transparency, empowered consumers, and the power of social networks and word-of-mouth.
2. Definitions Used
Social Media refers to the interaction among people within virtual communities and networks, in which they create, discuss and share information (Ahlqvist et al., 2008).
A social network is the environment where mainly pre-established interpersonal relationships are maintained, like Facebook or LinkedIn (Shpileuskaya, 2012)
Users who join online communities usually share similar interests around a certain product, brand, or hobby. A social network can be seen as a higher development stage of a community (Shpileuskaya, 2012).
Word-of-mouth Communication covers all forms of informal information exchange regarding brands by consumers (Soares, Pinho& Nobre, 2012).
3. The Social Media Environment
Within the social media environment the author considered three issues to affect a brand’s social presence and thus to have the ability to magnify brand weaknesses. These include constant transparency, empowered consumers, social networks and word-of-mouth. In the following, the three issues will be described and analyzed according to how marketers can address.
3.1 Constant Transparency – Brands cannot be Invisible anymore
Within today’s social media environment, brands are surrounded by 24h media and social platforms have changed the nature of information and connectivity. Consumers live in a 24/7 collaborative world, have access to all kinds of information and can use social media platforms to create, discuss, and share content about brands (Hanna, Rohm, Crittenden, 2011). Due to this constant and instant information transparency, brands can no longer be invisible (Roper & Fill, 2012, p. 24). For instance, only a virally shared video about the longevity of the ipod battery is needed to get out one of Apple’s shortcomings (Christodoulides, 2009). Therefore, brands being socially present have also created platforms and tools that enabled consumers to question, comment, critique, or attack their brand and thus to magnify their brand’s weaknesses (Ruzvidzo, 2013). Furthermore, due to constant information access, consumers have become more critical about the motives of businesses and brands (Interbrand, 2010). Due to social media rating tools, such as ‘I Like’ links, Twitter’s ‘re-tweets’, or ‘thumbs up/thumbs down’ ratings criticizing was never easier. Moreover, social networks help the content of criticism to travel fast and far (Fournier& Avery, 2011). Overall, the social media environment reversed the information asymmetry between consumers and brands that usually worked in favour of brands and empowered consumers (Akar& Topcu, 2011).
In a transparent social media environment, where consumers are more critically than before and have access to all kinds of information, brand managers need to listen to the social chatter and learn to respond in the way that aligns with both brand and consumer expectations. Especially when the company is present within social networks, not listening to the social chatter can reflect badly on the brand (Walter, 2013). Moreover, transparency demands authentic brands with a credible and trustworthy identity, brand promise, and communication (Fournier& Avery, 2011). However, although brand managers cannot prevent transparency or the critical and empowered consumers to magnify a brand’s shortcomings, brands that stay transparent, authentic, and stick to their brand promise, not depending on the issues the brand may face, will be well equipped to engage even with the most critical consumers (Barwise & Meehan, 2010, Interbrand, 2010).
3.2 Empowered Consumers – Loss of Control of Brand Message
The digital innovations that were supposed to empower marketers have empowered consumers instead (Fournier& Avery, 2011). As branding now occurs at social media platforms, such as blogs, Facebook, or Twitter, control was taken from those in marketing to individuals creating and sharing on those platforms (Christodoulides, 2009). As soon as marketers dive in the world of social media, they can no longer directly control their brand’s message, image and what consumers say (Ruzvidzo, 2013). While brands struggled to leverage social media opportunities for their benefit, consumers used social media to leverage brands for their advantages. Marketers for instance created online communities and Facebook pages aiming to foster customer relationships, while consumers used these to look for price deals or places to complain. Moreover, when marketers created branded content and spread it virally, they were shocked to see the same sharing capabilities used against them (Fournier& Avery, 2011). Dove for example, launched a viral video campaign with the aim to combat stereotypes of female beauty. Regardless of its politically correct message, the company could not do anything against the conversations questioning its legitimacy, as Unilever is also known for their sexiest advertisements, such as Axe deodorant (Armelini& Villanueva, 2011). The empowered onsumers hijack brand messages and play with brands to entertain themselves. Therefore, social media tools enable consumers to interfere with the brand’s values and moreover to uncover and magnify brand weaknesses (Fournier& Avery, 2011). The social media environment has democratized brand communication and communication about brands happens, with or without their permission (Kietzmann et al., 2011). Overall, as social media tools enable consumers to voice and represent their opinion and consumers rather trust their peers, the empowered consumers can exert control over some elements of the marketing mix and thus affect the way in which other consumers perceive brands (Cova& Dalli, 2009).
With brand control in the hands of consumers, brands in the social media environment win through engaging and interactive content (Fournier& Avery, 2011). Social media platforms are not about messages, but about conversations (Hanna, Rohm& Crittenden, 2011). However, again, brands are not protected from empowered consumers to magnify a brand’s shortcomings. Nevertheless, brand managers can interact with consumers and sometimes prevent critical content to spread. For instance, as social media enables to draw attention to awful customer service, brand managers must learn to respond quickly and authentically to that feedback, or otherwise put the brand at risk (Ruzvidzo, 2013). Twitter for example seems like a customer service dream as it allows having two-way interaction with customers in real time. However, when not used correctly it can become a nightmare. According to a Conversocial study, only 13% of users’ complaints get a response. Too many marketers shoot their followers with messages, but ignore consumers, who aim to speak with them (Myers, 2012). The example shows that customer service happens 24/7 in peer-to-peer conversations. Brand managers need to find ways to tap into these conversations to listen and learn, and most importantly gather and act on the information that allows consumers to shape brands in ways that are most meaningful to the brand (Interbrand, 2010).
3.3 The Power of Social Networks and Word-of-Mouth
The social media environment links people together in collective conversational networks and encourages a sense of community through virtual connections among like-minded people and thus satisfies one of the most basic human needs, the desire to feel accepted and to belong (Varadarajan& Yadav, 2009). Collective bonds are mainly fostered within online communities, through the ability of in depth discussions of shared interests (Fournier& Avery, 2011). Furthermore, online communities, as well as social networks enable participants to share personal information, as well as multimedia content with existing connections and to engage in like-minded discussions. Moreover, users can share and link to other users and build their own personal network, allowing many possibilities of social interactions and communication with users, or brands (Soares, Pinho& Nobre, 2012). Due to the ability to share, discuss and create content 24/7, especially social networks work as a catalyst for information. As every individual can create and share content, every individual can gain worldwide publicity for personal posts. Therefore, the social media environment enables just a small number of people to have an enormous effect upon the reputation of a brand (Roper & Fill, 2012, pp.21). Just a few consumer-generated comments are sufficient to create a powerful viral campaign and thus to magnify a brand’s weaknesses (Lexisnexis, 2011). Thereby, marketers must pay special attention to the power of word-of-mouth communications. For instance, in 2008, Dave Carroll’s $3,500 guitar was broken when he was travelling with United Airlines. After United refused to reimburse Carroll, he created a protest song in order to voice his frustration. The video was watched over 12 million times and proved to be an image disaster for United (Assetbasedmarketing, 2013). The message shows the uncontrollability of word-of-mouth, concerning its message and its reach. Furthermore, as consumers more trust their own opinion and those of their fellow, within the social media environment, word-of-mouth is considerably strong in its power to influence consumers’ opinions about a brand (Armelini& Villanueva, 2011).
One of the main objectives in marketing is to develop relationships with customers and one of the best ways to do so is by being present in social networks (Papasolomou& Melanthio, 2012). The goal within social networks is to make consumers part of a virtual club, where their interests are at the core. The more customers feel involved and understand, the more genuine the relationship towards the brand will be (Kapferer, 2012, p.134). Thus, content should not underline the brand or commercial activities, but mainly generate connections among members. Moreover, the more quality within the content, the more interactivity and self-governed a community is, the more successful it will be to get naturally positive word-of-mouth (Seraj, 2012). Furthermore, marketers should see social networks in general as a tool to enhance relationships to customers and to gather and track feedback about beliefs and attitudes towards a brand (Weinberg& Pehlivan, 2011). However, before brands rush into social networks, marketers should analyze the brand to see if it is able to attract the target audience and withstand external pressure (Armelini& Villanueva, 2011).
The purpose of this paper was to answer why strong social presence magnifies brand weaknesses and how marketers can address this. Generally, brands being present within the social media environment have created tools for consumers to critique them, and thus the ability to uncover and magnify brand weaknesses. According to the author, the social media environment describes three factors why being socially present can magnify brand shortcomings, including constant transparency and the inability to hide information from consumers, the empowered consumers, including the loss of control over the branded message, as well as the power of social networks and word-of-mouth as a catalyst for information. Taking these factors into consideration, it becomes important for marketers to understand social media and to use its fundamentals strategically. In doing so, transparent brands must be authentic and stick to their brand promise at all times. Moreover, marketers must create interactive and engaging conversations with consumers and most importantly listen to them and get out and act on the most meaningful information for their brand. Further, marketers should use social networks to enhance customer relationships and build networks around the customer and not the brand. Then word-of-mouth will rather occur naturally positive. However, in the end, the marketers must be aware that within the social media environment, it is the consumer who decides the content discussed and shared.
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