This paper explores the meaning of “social media” and how it may be utilized for businesses in their marketing and advertising strategies. The articles cited in this document report on: social media campaigns that have been executed, how people feel about social media, what the masses think social media is, and how businesses have been successful and unsuccessful with social media. This paper answers questions that help define what social media is from a business perspective. The questions cover topics like how social media is used and how it benefits the marketer. The questions asked resemble the following: 1) does every company or business need to utilize social media, 2) can businesses suffer from bad social media, 3) how does a company know which media to use, and 4) what good is great social media unless it gets to the right people. When conducting my research I looked for blogs, news articles, magazine articles, case studies, journal articles, and asked for personal testimonies. To best understand social media I, a student at Grand Valley State University have complied a specific list of questions I think best apply with this Case for Social Media and help uncover what social media is and how it can be used. Below are my reported are my findings.
Keywords: social media, marketing, advertising
The Case for Social Media
It’s not an easy thing to define – social media that is. For various groups and varying people it can mean very different things. Social media is best understood as, “a group of new kinds of online media,” according to Antony Mayfield. It connects people to each other, opens up conversation, and encourages a sense of community and audience participation.
These days, social media seems synonymous with Facebook and Twitter. Those two names are understood by the masses now, young and old are members of those sites. However, just because the masses define social media with such a limited platform it does not mean that’s all there is to it. In my research I purposefully tried to find articles that did not mention Facebook and Twitter. This proved to be futile. Even if the article discussed an entire campaign that had little to do with those two sites, they would almost always be mentioned somewhere in the piece. As frustrating as this was for me I realized that this means a lot. The general public seems to think of social media as simply a series of social networks – which is, in fact partial truth – but parts of the puzzle are missing.
I found that many advertising and promotional efforts fall into the social media category as well as other online sources outside of Facebook and Twitter like blogs, forums, and podcasts. Social media is a widespread spectrum. To understand it simply it is: media (any form) that encourages social interaction and conversation between consumer and company. Media can be online, like a chat room, or the media can be offline, like an in-store demonstration.
Taking into consideration the vast ways of defining social media and remembering that the masses define it differently than businesses will want to, I will ask and address a series of questions.
Does every company or business need to utilize social media?
For the most part, yes, every company or business needs to utilize some form of social media. What type of social media depends on the business, it’s strategic goals, the technology they have to utilize, and their level of expertise. According to Phil Mershon, there are six points to look at when talking about social media for your company: innovation, brand health, marketing optimization, revenue generation, operational efficiency, and customer experience. See Figure 1 for details.
It may sound a little sneaky, but social media platforms can provide a good way of being a preverbal fly on the wall in your consumer’s house. “Social media monitoring can help you hear what people are telling their friends, but might not be willing to tell you directly.” (Mershon, 2011) Using social media encourages openness and honest feedback from consumers. Often, there are no access barriers to the public when they are given the opportunity to talk, blog, tweet, etc. about a company or product. This helps a company get results that may have been otherwise lost. There are downsides to allowing any and all feedback from the public.
Can my marketing strategies suffer from bad social media?
The saying goes, “All press is good press,” but does that stand true? If the general public has a guilt-free way to vent about products, experiences, and companies they will inevitably do so. (Mayfield, 2008) Sometimes the things people have to say or the experiences they have to relate can be negative. These things will influence other potential consumers, perhaps is a way that is not in line with a business’s current marketing strategies.
To figure out if choosing a social media based marketing plan is right or wrong for a company they should first ask themselves, “Do I want my audience to reinterpret my information or not?” When we went over the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty in CAP 310 we saw social media being put to use in a remarkable way. Dove’s campaign really encouraged its audience to reinterpret their message. The campaign fed off of this and was hugely successful. For Dove, a social media based marketing plan was the right strategy. This does not mean that every business should choose this strategy.
In a blog, Jeff Wilson states the following, “Poor planning combined with outright naivety about their own brand perception quickly attracted a growing, “angry” mob of real customers and trolls who completely derailed the whole McDStories campaign,” when speaking about a social media based marketing plan that met with disaster. Every time you – as a business – consider using social media for your campaign take the time to examine all the possible negative and positive outcomes. (Wilson)
If I want to use social media in my campaign how do I know which media to choose?
After defining strategic goals, weighing negative and positive outcomes against each other, and deciding to use social media in the campaign, the next step is to look at the available mediums. Different forms of social media range from offline to online. Online media platforms are virtually endless. I will discuss a few of those first.
Online platforms for social media advertising and conversation include some of the following: social networks (Facebook, MySpace), blogs, wikis (communal databases), podcasts (videos available by prescription), forums, content communities (FlickR, del.icio.us), and micro-blogging (Twitter). (Mayfield) All of these, or none of these, can be used in a single campaign. Choosing media depends on the type of message that is being communicated and how to best hit the target audience.
Forums are the longest established form of online social media according to Antony Mayfield’s book. Forums are made up of threads (discussions) that center around a specific topic or common interest. They are often full of good detail, advice, and seem more like a face to face conversation. Forums are a safer option because they are monitored by a site administrator who can remove unsuitable posts or spam. Forums can also be exclusive. They made be a good choice for specialized interest groups like bikers, golfers, or cross-country-skiers. A company can engage in open discussion and offer instant and direct feedback to consumers.
Wikis, or communal databases, are another great way of communicating with your audience. Anyone who is allowed to may edit the “pages” of the database. When it comes to social media advertising businesses should consider using wikis if they need a site with a collective reporting function. Any users could update information on how product works if they, for example, brought home a new product on a trial basis with the obligation to inform the company of their experiences.
Blogs (which are more of a personal conversation tool) podcasts, and social networks, are all closely related. Almost like cousins. Blogs allow for lots of detail and description. They tend to assume the audience is a first-time reader or maybe new to the topic being presented. There is a place for comments at the bottom of a blog. Audiences can also comment on podcasts, which are a lot like a video blog. Social networks like Facebook and Twitter are probably the least formal and (often) the least reputable resources.
Since nearly everyone is familiar with Facebook and Twitter by this point it time, I will not discuss them in depth. This leads me to offline social media. Offline social media is where you convert followers into customers – which is the entire goal of social media from a business standpoint. A good campaign will tie in the offline activities with the online ones. They should complement each other. Online social media should drive offline social media. Meaning: the social media message created online should inspire the audience to visit, buy, or have some type of offline reaction.
When visiting the DeVos Center for a bridal show I entered to win a starter honeymoon. Little did I know that by giving Royal Prestige my contact information I was falling into their social marketing scheme. This was Royal Prestige’s creative way to get consumer’s to come to their product demonstrations – the only thing I needed to do to get my free honeymoon starter kit. I went to the demonstration, got to talk with a knowledgeable representative from the company, and was so impressed I purchased what he was selling, top of the line cookware.
The representative explained to me that their company doesn’t implement any traditional marketing tactics. Royal Prestige sticks mainly to inviting consumers they know have an interest in their products to a demonstration/event. In order to drive more traffic to their events they visit bridal shows and offer brides prizes for coming to the demonstrations. The money they save by not using print, broadcast, or any other traditional forms of media goes towards the prizes brides can win. Royal Prestige combines other types of social media into their campaign. For example, they recently ran a promotion on Facebook where an engaged couple could video tape themselves using their new cookware and upload it for judging. The couple with the best video would receive a $500 rebate off their prior purchase. I think Royal Prestige does a good job with combining their offline and online marketing strategies.
What good is great content unless it gets to the right people?
The difficulty faced after deciding which mediums are best to use is deciding how to effectively get your message out using those mediums. Cait Lamberton, Assistant Professor of Marketing at the University of Pittsburg thinks that consumers will basically follow their demographic crowd online if you know how to reach them. “We find that if a consumer sees people who are demographically like them supporting a brand, they’ll likely do the same.” So how does a business, company, or firm show that their brand has online supporters? “Interestingly, if consumers don’t see any pictures of specific supporters, they make the inference that people who use the brand are just like themselves. As a result, liking and purchase intentions are as positive in this case as for customers who saw demographically matching support.” (Bartone, 2012)
What some authors from the American Marketing Association have discovered, is that social media can have negative effects in the hands of the wrong audience. “…consumers’ exposure to existing fans in social media contexts can hurt, not help, brands,” so when deciding how to target your audience with social media keep in mind WHO you want to see the information. (Bartone, 2012) If a business is unsure about who their target is or who will be displayed on their social media platforms, they should closely monitor what consumer profiles are linked to their platforms through “likes”.
To make this easier to digest I will discuss an example of great content being used in an effective manner to gain the right audience. The Art Institute of Chicago opened a new wing in their institute in May 2009. The problem was locals had stopped visiting the institute; it had become an invisible icon. The Art Institute had two objectives clearly outlined before they began their campaign: 1) generate an incremental $15,000 (5% of media budget) of unpaid press coverage and 2) reverse the declining growth rate and increase attendance by 30%. (Unknown, 2011)
The Art Institute of Chicago (AIC) came up with a social media based marketing campaign called The Red Cube Project. This was designed to support a yearlong series of programs and exhibits, 500 Ways of Looking at Modern. It needed to reignite urgency in visitors. In their qualitative research AIC found that 2 in 10 Chicagoans hear about the institute from non-advertising sources, i.e. word of mouth. Is social media like word of mouth? Can it be as powerful as word of mouth? AIC was about to find out.
They launched their campaign with 500 physical 3-D red cubes, designed to look like their logo that featured a URL and a password. These cubes were hidden throughout Chicago. Some were small, some were distorted, and they were all unique. Three oversized cubes were placed outside in high traffic areas: Navy Pier, NBC tower, and Wit Hotel. Each cube, when activated online, gave the finder of the cube one of 500 art projects to complete. The person would share, blog, and post about the progress of their project on the website AIC provided. In addition to this, Twitter posts were sent out every time a cube was activated.
The campaign got locals involved in art and talking about art again. WXRT “found” a cube and was assigned the art project of making a “500 Songs of Modern” playlist. They encouraged their listeners to participate in the project and received 389 user submissions. About 820 photos were uploaded to art project website by participants. AIC received 1000 new subscribers to their e-News updates. The two main goals AIC set out to meet were also met. They wanted to generate $15,000 of unpaid press coverage and their actual results were $29,000 so they exceeded their goal by 14,000 – almost DOUBLE what they set out to do! The other goal of the institute was to reverse the declining growth rate and increase attendance by 30%. Actual results showed that attendance was increased by 35%. Again, AIC managed to exceed their original goal. Through this we see that social media can be powerful and hold a power similar to that of word of mouth.
Now that I have gone over what social media is, what it means to businesses, and how to use it effectively we can see that social media is a powerful tool. Some businesses should opt out of using social media if they do not yet have the expertise. Just like any other media, social media needs to be attacked carefully. Before a creative professional would design a print ad for a campaign he would consider the target audience’s demographics, the message, and the strategic goals. The same should remain true for social media platforms. Before a professional posts on Twitter, blogs on the company website, or creates a hash tag, he should consider all the possible outcomes. If used incorrectly, or not monitored closely, social media can prove to be damaging to a campaign or to brand image. After choosing which social media platform to use, said advertising professional should conduct research on how others have used that platform successfully, which demographic most often visits that platform and for what reasons.
Limitations of This Study
The time period elapsed during the research period of this case study was very limited. I conducted research for one week, 3 days which may prove to be insufficient. Further research may need to be done in order to understand social media in more depth. Blogs, as sources, are sometimes only people’s opinions. Everyone looks at, blogs about, talks, and reports differently on social media so finding consistency in resources was difficult. Young people are assumed by the general public to be the experts on social media and often prove to be the least responsible when using it. Their opinions and experiences with social media can skew results.
Bartone, C. (2012, November 21). [Web log message]. Retrieved from http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/research-exposes-the-danger-of-displaying-fans-in-social-media-settings-180353781.html
Mayfield, A. (2008). What is social media. (pp. 4-25). UK: iCrossing. Retrieved from http://www.icrossing.co.uk/fileadmin/uploads/eBooks/What_is_Social_Media_iCrossing_ebook.pdf
Mershon, P. (2011, october 19). 6 ways to measure your social media results. Retrieved from http://www.socialmediaexaminer.com/6-ways-to-measure-your-social-media-results/
Unknown Author. (2011). Art institute of chicago: the red cube project. Manuscript submitted for publication, Museuems, attractions, Available from Warc. Retrieved from warc.com.ezproxy.gvsu.edu/Content/ContentViewer.aspx?ID=db9650ff-e614-46d7-b0ca-26f77711be46&q=Social&media&nontraditional
Wilson, J. [Web log message]. Retrieved from http://www.senseiwisdom.com/Home/PostID/292/bID/5/Social-Media-is-Creating-Bad-Customers/