Social Media Marketing
Social Media Marketing (SMM) is the process of promoting products/services and endorsing corporate brands online through various social media channels. SMM enables businesses to respond quickly, minimising the time between the inception of an advertisement and its impact on targeted clients.
Companies can employ SMM in every phase of the consumer lifecycle. Unlike conventional promotional methods that depended on the chronological consistency of the customer lifecycle, SMM goes beyond connecting customers to businesses based on past predictable social and purchasing behaviour. It establishes a significant relationship between businesses and customers, irrespective of the place or time a client interacts with a brand.
To successfully capitalise on SMM opportunities, organisations must formulate clear objectives focussing on goals such as building customer relationships, creating brand awareness and increasing sales. In prioritising customer relationships through effective engagement via Social Media Platforms (SMPs) businesses can also develop a point of competitive differentiation, improving their overall market positioning. The success of SMM depends on understanding the consumer (as an individual), their role/job, actions and hobbies and the mechanisms and channels that can be used to reach them. To do so requires an accurate understanding of where such consumers spend their time (both online and offline) and an appreciation of the likely results of any interactions.
Most consumers use search engines, brand websites and mobile applications to determine product quality, value and availability. SMM enables firms to engage consumers directly through SMPs, providing immediate access to brand information. Using SMPs provide businesses with real-time consumer information, generating valuable insights around customer preferences and probable responses. This access supports corporate decision-making and strategy formulation.
SMM is an affordable way to promote brand awareness and enhance corporate reputation, improving the return on marketing investment. The platforms used provide cost-effective market research opportunities. Integrating SMM into the marketing mix ensures consistency and continuity of customer engagement as ‘omnichannel’ approaches (ensuring consumers can access digital campaigns through various media and devices) provide maximum exposure. Even a small, relatively local business can now enter the global market quickly and at relatively low cost.
SMM increases brand recognition among modern consumers. This requires businesses to remain current and relevant by posting newsfeeds and using multiple networks to protect and expand their consumer base. The use of social media tools is now a core component of any brand loyalty strategy. SMM can increase corporate website traffic, which further strengthens the brand as this becomes reflected in the returns from commercial search engines. Effective SMM makes it easier for new consumers to find the company concerned through a generic online product/service search. Every blog, comment, video or image shared on social media can create a brand opportunity.
Brand engagement with influential figures through social networks intensifies the impact of marketing efforts. Also, the more informal nature of SMP interactions appears to improve the level of trust consumers show in the brands concerned. The information generated is seen as reliable and as a consequence the brand becomes more valued. SMPs build communities which acts as a powerful brand force enhancing business reputation and building customer loyalty.
SMM also improves the speed of customer feedback enabling companies to optimise and tailor their services. Customer preferences can be quickly identified, allowing niche expertise to be developed and emerging value expectations to be anticipated.
One of the main difference between SMM and traditional marketing is analytics (analysing historical data to identify how marketing influences consumer behaviour). SMM provides businesses with much more current data that can track the impact of promotional campaigns. The mechanisms used allow an accurate appreciation of consumer demographics, lifestyle choices, competitor preferences, sales conversions and which marketing channels deliver the most optimum results. Consequently, the metrics obtained allow advertising and promotion campaigns to be quickly amended to improve their effectiveness.
Traditional marketing requires businesses to subsidise promotional content. However, most SMPs provide marketing opportunities at minimal or even no cost. Also, SMM is an interactive process that facilitates information exchange between the organisation and consumers. Many businesses have developed automated approaches that respond effectively to consumer requirements without human involvement, further improving transaction speeds and service levels.
SMM is also able to generate a more personal brand experience for consumers. Traditional marketing involves mass distribution and consumption of information, but the tools and techniques underpinning SMM support the generation of tailored messages for specific audiences. As a result, customers feel more valued and appreciated by the business concerned, particularly as many interactions are conducted in ‘real time’.
However, it should be recognised that SMM can also have adverse effects. It is easier for consumers to share negative opinions which will be disseminated quickly across SMPs. Even if the opinions are not based in fact, the brand damage can be significant.
The Social Graphics Framework considers developing social strategy marketing approaches. Businesses focus on more social aspects such as website usability, online consumer behaviour, the social influence exerted by opinion formers and associated factors. This allows businesses to divide and engage customers based on their online activities. Social graphics enable businesses to segment customers and provide relevant tools and avenues to enhance consumer’s social interactions.
The Social Feedback Loop seeks to link the purchase behaviour of consumers with the media (Evans, 2012). It considers the process by which customers report their product usage experiences and how this circulates and influences the decision of other consumers. Although it cannot be separated from product promotion, it is this feedback which is seen to be more important and influential.
Both theories suggest that businesses should avoid focussing on mass media to shape pre-purchase consumer decisions and instead focus on post-purchase promotion through the shared views of customers. Importantly, such approaches also build after-purchase relationships which can further increase brand awareness and customer loyalty.
According to social exchange theory, individuals participate in rewarding behaviours and avoid very expensive behaviours and information exchange is based on how individual assess the cost-benefit of such actions. The benefits accrued are not always monetary and can be non-material in nature (e.g. prestige) (Hoffman, Frederick & Schwartz 2014).
Most individuals prefer to receive information rather than generate or share information. Based on their online activities, businesses can segment customers into various groups and target them accordingly (i.e. those who watch, those more likely to share or comment on information and those willing to produce their own material).
Search-Engine-Optimisation (SEO) refers to the efforts of businesses to enhance the visibility of a company’s website listings and to elevate the ranking of their website to the highest position in search engine results. Business must carefully select and combine relevant phrases and keywords to enhance the success of an SEO campaign. On-site optimisation can be employed where elements such as content, domains and images are used to improve visibility. Off-site optimisation seeks to build links to other websites and SMPs. These approaches can be undertaken at minimal cost and if enough traffic is generated then search engines are more likely to highlight new marketing content to consumers automatically. However, the nature of such approaches does make it difficult to predict the likely return from any investments made and it takes time to build the visibility required. Also, SEO requires the brand to be established so that key words and phrases are more readily recognised by consumers and automated search engines.
Web 2.0 (or Internet 2.0) refers to a collection of internet applications and social media websites which enhance online marketing by focusing on collaboration and interactive approaches rather than content delivery. Elements include cloud computing, Wikis and User Generated Content (UGC) and social curation (consumer group collaborations). Blogs are used to promote business activities and enhance the corporate image and web pages become the primary means of communication. As a result, online consumers can easily access shared content and most online consumers now depend more on recommendations made by other online users than direct online business advertisements (Ludwig, De Ruyter, Friedman, Brüggen, Wetzels & Pfann, 2013).
Cloud computing provides SaaS (Software-as-a-Service), PaaS (Platform-as-a-Service) and IaaS (Infrastructure-as-a-Service), enables businesses to easily manage and secure data and replacing on-premises office applications and data storage. This supports business efforts to conduct more global marketing activities, but it should be recognised that such approaches introduce higher security risks in terms of data protection.
Pay-per-click (PPC) marketing refers to the use of search engines for promotional activities. Businesses pay fees to search engine, which provides adverts that direct users to the company website on being clicked. PPC enables businesses to expand their customer base by connecting firms with consumers who are looking for specific services and products online. PPC also supports real-time customer engagement through applications such as instant messaging. Marketing leads can be generated at low cost, but success does depend on the use of effective and relevant keywords and phrases.
Social network are media avenues that provide free, earned or paid-for platforms requiring creativity and constant contribution from users. Online social networking is a personalised venture based on the relationships formed, the content shared and the devices used by individuals to interact. Social networks provide various features that enhance interaction and information sharing and each platform has distinct rules and methods for finding and making connections. Businesses can use social networks to create enhanced consumer loyalty and increase customer retention levels.
This requires the design of more customer-centric products and services which requires businesses to understand the motivation, emotions and feelings of both existing and potential customers through an accurate appreciation of the information available on social networks (Crane & Matten, 2015).
Most consumers are abandoning laptops and desktops and embracing mobile devices such as tablets and smartphones to conduct online research. Businesses must therefore optimise their websites for mobile usage, designing user-friendly sites that provide quality experiences to users irrespective of the device they are using.
Enhanced applications provide users with quality experiences through augmented interaction, such as allowing multiple activities to be conducted without leaving an application or improved web-page loading times.
Voice search enables users to seek products and services quickly by speaking to a mobile device or computer. Businesses therefore need to ensure that their systems are able to support this activity, particularly as such voice search methods will significantly expand the keywords and phrases potential customers are likely to use.
Live video streaming (LVS) enables businesses to humanise brands through a range of SMPs. LVS connects consumers with brands in real-time, which is more influential than pre-recorded video content. LVS does not require high production quality which simplifies the production process, allowing businesses to use LVS to build product awareness, demonstrate organisational culture, conduct live coverage of business events, or conduct interactive sessions with customers.
Sematic Web or Web 3.0 will enable internet users to obtain information faster and more easily (Dominic, Francis & Pilomenraj, 2014). It will enable users to enter a single sentence that contains several distinct products or services on the browser and the search engine will identify and organise all available options. Over time, the Semantic Web will become acquainted with the user’s regular searches and more easily identify consumer requirements without the need to be overly specific.
Ubiquitous computing or pervasive computing refers to next generation technology where computing will be accessible from a wide range of devices such as refrigerators, cars, and glasses. The ‘internet of things’ will employ advanced frameworks to connect such devices. Industries will therefore develop more applications that will enhance SMM through more intensive and immediate interactions between customers and brands. Predicative marketing using social media data will also be possible.
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