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Marketing and Social Media

The rise of social media provides significant challenges to marketing practitioners. Some understanding of what is going on is essential for effective decision-making. The significant growth in marketing in the late 1940’s and 1950’s came about with the rise of mass production, that could provide for a huge market represented by middle America and the concomitant rise of mass media, that made it possible for manufacturers to reach a willing market. It was especially the time when advertising became an important marketing tool. A similar parallel can be drawn with the rise of web 2.0, social media and how customers interact. It is this aspect that will be first discussed followed by an example of a success and a failure story, the need for a social media planning process and certain pitfalls, conveniently termed as the seven deadly sins, that managers should seek to avoid.

Let us start by looking at web 2.0. First, can anyone remember what Web 1.0 was and what it was about? With Web 1.0 users were able to access and interact with sites on the multimedia platform that came to be known as the “World Wide Web”. A great majority of early websites were what came to be termed “brochure ware”. Websites were mostly used to find information and conduct online purchases of many kinds. Of course these are activities that consumers still do. But the medium has continued to develop. Contrasting Web 2.0 against Web 1.0, we can note evolution in terms of: Personal websites vs. Blogging; Publishing vs. Participation; Britannica Online vs. Wikipedia; DoubleClick vs. Google AdSense; Page views vs. Cost per click; Content management systems vs. Wikis. These contrasts indicate what has changed and give some indication of what is becoming increasingly possible.
Web 2.0 is the Internet “now” to Web 1.0 as the Internet “then”. Web 2.0 has more to do with what people are doing with technology than technology itself. Soon after the dotcom bust of 2001, Tim O’Reilly suggested the term Web 2.0 to describe the new reality. Web 2.0 is seen as “the way that business embraces the strengths of the web and uses it as a platform.” Indeed web 2.0 is best thought of as a platform that allows for a series of application progressions which enable the social phenomena of collective media and that facilitates consumer-generated content.

Kaplar and Haenlein in 2010 defined social media as “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.” Besides User Generated Content, or UGC in short, this aspect is also known as Consumer Generated Media (CGM) and Consumer Generated Advertising (CGA).

Social media are essentially vehicles for carrying content. This embraces a number of applications that include: Social networking sites like Facebook and LinkedIn, Blogs, Micro blogs such as twitter, Picture sharing sites like Flickr, Video sharing sites like YouTube and Social news websites such as Reddit.

Social media have characteristics that distinguish them from other media in that content can be created using highly accessible (easy to get to) and scalable (reach large numbers) publishing techniques. Social media represent technologies that allow the transformation of monologues (one to many) into social media dialogues (many to many). Because they are within the reach of many, social media transforms individuals from content consumers into content producers. Indeed, power comes from the fact that we as users or consumers are all connected via the web.

Social Media is a function of the technology, culture and government of a particular country that necessarily condition the extent of creative expression by consumers. It allows for the production of content to shift from the exclusive domain of firms to consumers. Moreover, the web allows interaction among consumers that effectively empowers them to make their point. This represents a marked departure from the ‘one to many’ model of communication traditionally practiced by firms in advertising.

Organisation culture must be built on trust and fairness.

Structures must be in place to ensure individual growth, empowerment, involvement, reward and motivation.

In Performance Evaluation, the focus should be on the future development needs and not on the past and what has gone wrong.

Stories Of Success And Failure

These developments represent both an opportunity and a challenge to firms. Two examples will be provided; the first deals with Dove, a Unilever brand, and the second with United Airlines.

Briefly, the case of Dove represents an interesting success story. Dove was a soap brand that over the years had highlighted its unique differentiating character via its claim of keeping skin soft because it had a significant cream content. As part of its brand rationalisation, Unilever sought to create a number of metabrands that would encompass a whole range of products. Dove was chosen as one such brand that would encompass a range of personal care products.

Clearly this required repositioning. It was achieved via their very successful ‘campaign for real beauty’. They leveraged both traditional and social media (e.g., Dove evolution on YouTube highlighting why our perception of beauty is distorted) around the theme that everyone could be beautiful.

Social media is empowering to consumers so a quick search will show up various examples of satire and humour and the discussions that the brand was able to nurture in its successful attempt at repositioning.

In the case of United Airlines this was a fairly straightforward case of a singer, Dave Caroll, who checked in his guitar as part of his luggage on a flight with United. The guitar was damaged due to poor baggage handling by the loaders. Complaints to the airline got him nowhere so he decided to write a song that he played and posted on YouTube. The national TV networks in the US picked it up and it went viral. Of course, as an aspiring singer the person concerned had his agenda too.

Both cases leverage the empowerment the various social media platforms that the web provides and its diffusion among increasingly networked customers.

Seven Deadly Sins

Paralleling the seven deadly sins that have been used in a Christian tradition to highlight humanity’s tendency to sin, Jay Baer, a social media strategist, lists seven deadly sins of social media implementation that management needs to be aware of and avoid.

Sin 1 - Deafness: management needs to actively listen to what is being said about the brand. This is at the core of social media.

Sin 2 - Slowness: If it takes management too long to react the opportunity vanishes. Web 2.0 is very much a ‘now’ environment.

Sin 3 - Caution: If management encourages everyone to be really careful, they will end up doing nothing. There is a need to delegate and empower if the firm is to facilitate social media conversations.

Sin 4 – Phoniness: social media users are often savvy and can tell when things are not as they seem. Participating in your own praise is generally not a good idea. It is critical to seek engagement at par.

Sin 5 - Greed: Managers need to be willing to share information. A failure to provide useful content will not earn the firm customers’ appreciation.

Sin 6 - Inflexibility: Managers need to recognise that it is not they that make the rules and web 2.0 is a separate world with its own rules. It is they that have to adapt.

Sin 7 – Seriousness: Much of the web 2.0 environment is based on humour and satire. If you cannot take the heat do not stay near the fire.

Social Media Planning Process

Social Media looks easy. Establish a Facebook page, go on Twitter, post on YouTube and you are done. Unfortunately, it is not so easy and it is particularly hard when you target 18 to 30 year olds. As in all aspects of marketing, understanding people is critical. You cannot assume your content is relevant. You need to say something interesting and to target the 10% of influential users that ultimately can reach the rest. This requires a solid understanding of how social networks work. It is worth bearing in mind that users may not pay attention to what marketers say but they do pay a lot of attention to each other. In addition, besides an external audience, marketers also need to think of the people within the organisation. Who is going to champion this? Buy-in and support from senior managers is critical.

Any good strategy starts with clear objectives. What do you want to do? Do you want to listen, talk, energise, support, embrace? What do you want to talk about? What do you want to change? Can you quantify this? How will you get buy-in? Good strategy also requires adequate structure for implementation and social media cannot generally be handled effectively by the traditional centralised structures. It is a ‘now’ medium that requires ‘now’ decisions and reactions. Only when objectives are clear can one start to think about which social media platforms lend themselves best to support the current strategy. A major attraction of social media against other types of media is measurability.

If clear and measurable objectives have been set, the web provides an array of sites (e.g., Google analytics, Twitanalyzer, social mention) that can provide an array of metrics that can be very useful.

There is much in social media that is new and which we do not readily understand. A few decades ago mass media represented an important tool that marketing could use to foster exchange. Today we are faced with a new medium that provides both challenges and opportunities that require astute thinking for successful implementation of marketing activities and exchange.

This article summarises a presentation at a seminar organised by The Executive Events.

Last modified onTuesday, 16 December 2014 11:35
Albert Caruana

Albert Caruana is Professor of Marketing at the University of Malta and at the University of Bologna, Italy.

 

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