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Social media and its implications for viral marketing

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Abstract

Social media presents potentially seductive opportunities for new forms of communication and commerce between marketers and consumers. As advertisers typically want to find some way to follow their target audiences, many new media opportunities are presented to advertisers. However, we are still social media pioneers. While the boom in social marketing appears persuasive with an estimated 70% of consumers visiting a social website for information, other research points out that 90% of WOM conversations still occur face to face or by phone, and only 7 percent occurs online. In contrast to traditional advertising media such as television, there are measurement and consumer behaviour modelling issues that will need to be addressed before marketers that measure and manage their media investments will be able to fully embrace the opportunities and navigate the risks presented by social media. Ultimately, advertisers will be forced beyond the "old-school" approaches to adopt many of the principles and techniques of relationship marketing in order to effectively use social media and likely the multiple niche co-creation of products and services.
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Social media and its implications for
viral marketing
Rohan Miller
The University of Sydney
Natalie Lammas
The University of Sydney
Abstract
Social media presents potentially seductive opportunities for new forms
of communication and commerce between marketers and consumers.
As advertisers typically want to nd some way to follow their target
audiences, many new media opportunities are presented to advertisers.
However, we are still social media pioneers. While the boom in social
marketing appears persuasive with an estimated 70% of consumers
visiting a social website for information, other research points out
that 90% of WOM conversations still occur face to face or by phone,
and only 7 percent occurs online. In contrast to traditional advertising
media such as television, there are measurement and consumer
behaviour modelling issues that will need to be addressed before
marketers that measure and manage their media investments will be
able to fully embrace the opportunities and navigate the risks presented
by social media. Ultimately, advertisers will be forced beyond the “old-
school” approaches to adopt many of the principles and techniques
of relationship marketing in order to effectively use social media and
likely the multiple niche co-creation of products and services.
Keywords: social media, new media, marketing communication, viral, word of
mouth
Introduction
In the last decade there has been a major shift from traditional media. The second
generation of Internet-based applications (i.e. “Web 2.0”) or what Shih (2009)
calls the fourth revolution, in which users generate and control communication,
holds great promise to signicantly enhance marketing efforts with viral
marketing campaigns (Thackeray et.al. 2008:2). This technology presents
opportunities for relationship building, not only peer to peer but also between
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Asia Pacic Public Relations Journal, Vol. 11
marketers and their customers (Harridge-March and Quinton 2009:171). Recent
studies show that the corporate adoption of social media by the fastest growing
US corporations is now at record pace (Barnes 2008:74). Yet, because of the
novelty and potential effectiveness of Web 2.0, some marketers may be enticed
to prematurely rely on social media in promotional plans. This paper discusses
whether social media is able to consistently generate effective viral word-of-
mouth for brands and products?
Marketers and the social bandwagon
Marketing communications practitioners are inundated with new ideas and
technologies that often provide great promise but do not live up to their hype. In
an era when the media is fragmenting and advertisers are critically questioning
the cost and effectiveness of older media, particularly among younger and male
demographics, the data indicates a strong surge in social media use advertisers.
For example, Nielsen estimate there are 142.1 million US, 46.6 million Japanese,
and 31 million Brazilian consumers who accessed social networks and blogs
in December 2009 alone (WARC 2010a). In Australia, the Internet reaches
a potential audience of over 11 million users of which more than 70% use a
social network; Facebook has over 6 million registered users and Twitter has
800,000 registered followers (Comscore 2009) Moreover, the McCann tracker
study (2008) found that active users reading blogs grew from 54%-77% within
two years. The number having written a blog increased from 28% to 45% and
also notably people watching video clips online jumped from 32% n 2006 to
83% in 2008 (Smith, 2009). Kaplan (2001) further suggests the transition of
social media to a signicant marketing communications medium is due to a
combination of; technological drivers such as bandwidth; economic drivers
such as user access to more tools to develop User Generated Content (UGC);
and social drivers such as the generation of IT savvy youth recently become
consumers with purchasing power. (Kaplan, 2010). However, the social media
are no longer the domain of Generation Y; older generations are heavy social
networkers with Facebook’s largest demographic now women aged 55 and older
(Angel & Sexsmith 2009, p.2). If the maxim that advertisers will ultimately
follow audiences holds, then social media’s appeal to expansive and difcult
to reach audiences should somehow translate into commercial success for
marketers and social media operators.
Indeed, social media’s inuence promises some sort of marketing
communications revolution: for instance, global brand Pepsi will not be
advertising during the Super Bowl, instead opting for a digital social media
campaign they say will “help their customers better understand what Pepsi stands
for” (WARC, 2010b). By contrast, Pepsi’s main competitor, Coca-Cola, will run
two spots during the Super Bowl, yet these advertisements will direct viewers to
social media sites linked to its charitable activities (WARC, 2010b). Consumers
searching online for information about a product, or brands, not only gain access
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Social media and its implications for viral marketing
to corporate marketing materials, they now also have access to product reviews,
opinions and commentary from other consumers (Smith, 2010).
Social media is also building a business case for driving purchasing
behaviour with research by EDI (2008) showing that a majority of consumers
surveyed relied on various types of social media websites as much as company
websites for product and brand information and that nearly half of those made a
purchase decision based on what they gathered. However, although social media
applications are controlled by users, trend data is not yet conclusive with respect
to who is generating, and accessing information (Thackeray et.al. 2008, p.341).
How consumers interact with social media has become crucial to
marketers. One stream of research suggests the existence of a “loyalty ladder”
in social networking communities that splits users into categories such as:
“lurkers” (those who are reticent to contribute to sites); “tourists” (those who
post comments but demonstrate no commitment to a network); “minglers” (those
who post with no regularity or frequency); and “evangelists/insiders” (those
who are enthusiastic, expert and regular in their contributions) (Harridge-March
& Quinton 2009, p.176). Other researchers split users into slightly different sets,
for example: “social clickers” (users who communicate with friends and create
content on message boards and review sites); “online insiders” (avid online
shoppers who vocalise product preferences); and “content kings” (young men
addicted to online entertainment) (Riegner 2007, pp.439-440). These groupings
demonstrate the complexity and lack of uniform measurements for marketers
targeting users of social media. By contrast, the established media like television
offer well established and accepted means to measure and manage marketing
campaigns that facilitate investment in marketing communications campaigns.
Social media’s viral marketing potential
Viral marketing, also known as word-of-mouth (WOM) or “buzz marketing”, is
the tactic of creating a process where interested people can market to each other
(Subramahi & Rajagopalan, 2003, p.1). In this age of user-generated media,
social media is not merely a marketing channel, it facilitates WOM. While Web
2.0 media presents communications and sales opportunities for marketers, it
brings with it a potential and worrying lack of control of marketing messages.
Before constructing social media strategies, marketers must ask
themselves: how can we engage consumers to promote products to specic
communities it in a credible, controlled and cost effective way? Social media has
provided consumers with their own voice, not as passive respondents as in their
previous relationship with brands, but as active members of brand communities
who have the condence to come into the brand’s “space”. Marketers working
with leading brands in social media suggest one solution may be “co-creation”
where marketers encourage users to become actively involved with a brand
or product (Needham 2008, p.61). Thus, in order to develop loyalty with tech-
savvy consumers, some marketers have decided to stop talking or selling “at”
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Asia Pacic Public Relations Journal, Vol. 11
them, and instead market with them. Some marketers incorporate this approach
within “relationship marketing”; rather than focusing on transactional marketing,
the aim is to build longer term relationships with customers, generating trust
between buyer and seller so that loyalty develops (Harridge-March & Quinton
2009, p.174).
Online relationship marketing requires the facilitation of the processes
of interaction, communication, dialogue and value (Harridge-March & Quinton
2009, p.174). Emerging social media tools for marketing include real-time
video training and webinars that can provide marketers with applications more
consistent with the social nature of the selling relationship (Oracle, 2009) by
opening the relationship to a dialogue. Social marketing technologies also permit
marketers to customise their messages and have a dialogue with customers.
Moreover, the technological bases of online communication often enables better
targeting of potential customers as the databases driving sites such as Facebook
are able to segment audiences by variables such as demographics and interests,
and even to map the emergence of online communities as targets (Gillan, 2009).
However, the success of these media is contingent on considerable resources
being allocated to their proper use and evaluation.
There are considerable and popular expectations that social marketing
applications can result in extremely effective marketing. For example, Fisher
(2009) concluded that of the 70 percent of consumers who had visited a social
media site to get information; 49 percent of these customers made a purchase
decision with this information they found and 60 percent of the respondents
in the study said they are likely to pass on information they nd online.
Other research prompts caution that the potential outcomes of online
social marketing should not be overstated. For instance, the Keller Fay Group
(2006) identied that while 90% of WOM conversations occur face to face or by
phone, only 7 percent occurs online. Thus, WOM’s real power remains outside
Web2.0, where most conversations still take place. While people are apparently
ocking to social networking sites and applications, they are not necessarily
using social networking sites to get and exchange information on buying
decisions, and are not very likely to buy products from companies advertising at
such sites (Knowledge Networks, 2009).
Success in viral marketing hinges upon understanding the nature of
knowledge-sharing and persuasion by inuencers and responses by recipients
in online networks (Subramani & Rajagopalan 2003, p.4). Online inuencers
should be viewed as knowledgeable helpers in the social network rather
than as mere “agents” of the marketer. Schemes that make overt attempts to
co-opt users to promote products and services may upset the status quo and
reduce the effectiveness of the marketing approach to the detriment of both the
marketer and users who may have beneted from the knowledge-sharing acts
of inuencers (Subramani & Rajagopalan 2003, p.5). Specically, a key issue
facing marketers is the source-credibility of online actors. Readers of user-made
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Social media and its implications for viral marketing
commentary typically evaluate the opinions of complete strangers, and often
readers are aware of this. A proxy for individual credibility should be identied
in marketing campaigns (Brown, Broderick & Lee 2007, p.7).
Cautions of social media in marketing campaigns
As noted earlier, many marketers are risk adverse and experience has taught
them to be reticent about consumer-generated media due to their inability to
control the message. In one instance, pharmaceutical manufacturer Johnson &
Johnson released an online marketing campaign via an online video about pain
relief for women who carry their babies in a sling. Within hours, Twitter and the
“blogosphere” exploded with negative commentary about the video’s perceived
denigration of motherhood. On top of this, the online discussions would also be
communicated off-line and sometimes reach tradition media. Thus, over a single
weekend, the volume and sentiment of the consumer-generated media brought
down a well-planned advertising campaign (Baker 2009, p.2).
Related to the source credibility issue identied earlier, another hurdle
for marketers is that customers will consider information if it is both useful
and believable, but will react badly to sales-push messages that violate social
networking’s intrinsic qualities of socialization and trust (Angel & Sexsmith
2009, p.4). Making social networking sites overly commercial is risky, as users
might turn away from the site if they feel their interests are being subjugated
to those of advertisers; a warning issued by analysts to News Corp when it
acquired MySpace, shifting it to a mass-market advertising platform giving
brands the opportunity to both advertise and also interact with the website’s
users (Carter 2006, p.2). Similarly, creating fake blog entries is another example
of how the misuse of social media can irritate consumers and harm brands. The
now infamous “Walmarting across America” fake blog (or “og” as it became
known), came under severe criticism online after the ethical breach was exposed
(Burns 2008, p.16). Poor execution brings poor results.
The size of online communities is also a factor in the limitations of
social media on generating online WOM. Many marketers are born in an era
of mass marketing and are driven by the prospect of large and often hard to
reach audiences viewing their campaigns. Paradoxically for these marketers, for
online groups to be effective, there needs to be a nite size to each community
(Phillips 2008, p.82). The concepts of “reach” and “mass media” needs to be
reconsidered and new emphasis needs to be placed on “focused” “customised”
marketing campaigns. For social media campaigns to be effective, the new
commercial imperative dictates marketers need to belong to a large number
of groups or communities, rather than merely rely on broadcasts to an online
group with a large number of members. This recognises that both the cultural
and emotional relationships are paramount (Phillips 2008, p.84), suggesting the
need to continually monitor and truly belong to these forums rather than be users
of mere convenience.
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Opportunities for using social media to generate
viral marketing
A real understanding of how WOM networks specically work online, as opposed
to ofine, is particularly pertinent to contemporary marketing communications.
To generate a sense of group mind-set and shared interests, online “brand
communities” should include a wide range of interests that have a direct, but
nonintrusive, connection with the brand (Brown, Broderick & Lee 2007, p.15).
Ensuring that brand activity is relevant to a social network’s core audience is
crucial for advertisers wanting to tap into niche communities (Carter, 2006).
For example, Procter & Gamble’s successful promotion of its Tampax brands
to teenage girls, was not by talking about tampons, but by creating an online
community for teens that integrated peer networking with games, quizzes, music
videos, service articles and a Q & A area. Just as they do in an ofine mode,
marketers need to think about their customer’s problems and offer solutions
(www.beinggirl.com).
Conceptual models have been developed to guide the process of “co-
creation” with online consumers. One example is the DART model which
comprises: “dialogue” (fostering meaningful dialogue with the consumer),
“access” (providing a company’s customers access to each other), “risk
return relationship” (offering something tangible to the online consumer),
and “transparency” (creating an environment to share valuable information)
(Ramaswamy, 2008, p.3). Real dialogue with the consumer led to Unilevers
ground-breaking online viral campaign ‘Dove Campaign for Real Beauty’.
Unilever were able to send the most relevant messages to consumers based on
precisely what they were seeking and/or conversing about. However, critical
evaluation of these models for their suitability for the time, place and products
proposed should occur before they are used, and any model which promotes co-
creation with consumers must nd that segment of real ardent fans and create
special programs and tools that will empower them to share that enthusiasm.
While there are many prominent (even brilliant) examples of the successes of
social media communications, there are many more failed campaigns buried
deep in the online abyss.
Another area of opportunity for social marketing is “brand building”
- connecting enthusiastic online brand advocates with the company’s product
development cycle (Ferguson 2008, p.181). Here, research becomes marketing;
product developers are now using social forums to spot reactions after they
modify an offer, a price, or a feature in a product or service. Such brand-
managed communities can have real success. One well-documented example
is IdeaStorm, Dell’s community discussion and “brainstorming” website, which
saw a measurable increase in sales following its launch, by providing a forum
for meaningful dialogue and “to gauge which ideas are most important and most
relevant to” the public (www.ideastorm.com).
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Social media and its implications for viral marketing
Measuring social marketing
The often unanswerable prediction is whether online viral marketing campaigns
will be effective in the short and long terms. Viral marketing is notoriously
difcult to execute successfully and measure adequately. The quest for reliable
metrics means that some marketers will shy away from implementing online
viral tactics that draw only short-term attention (such as viral videos) to tactics
that actually allow for prospect identication and capture of behavioural data
(Ferguson 2008, p.181). Much of what happens in social marketing is little
more than experimental, or simply about “insights” rather than metrics. Many
marketers feel the need to “tick” the social media box and demonstrate how
cutting edge they are, while the primary drivers of their campaign remain
embedded in traditional media.
There is a need to effect a paradigm shift from a traditional “more is
better” approach. While many social marketers xate on volume metrics (website
trafc, hit rates, click-throughs, time spent on-line, postings etc), successful
social marketing often depends more on qualitative metrics for desirable signs
of the tone, quality and customer benet of the interaction (Angel, Sexsmith
& Sexsmith 2009, p.6). These may include: unique visitors, interaction
rates, relevant actions taken, conversation size , conversation density, author
credibility, content freshness and relevance, audience proles, unique user
reach, and so on (Fisher 2009, p.191). Such metrics not only measure whether
people are engaged, but how they are engaging. However, such metrics often
need to be customised for individual campaigns and need be considered in the
pre-launch phase, ideally incorporated in message testing.
Conclusion
Web 2.0 social media is a potentially powerful medium for nding key consumer
inuencers, engaging them, and generating brand advocates. However, in order
to build viral campaigns and foster online WOM, trust must be established and
subsequently reinforced in order to overcome any reluctance on the part of
the would-be consumer. This means moving beyond “old-school” approaches
to website advertising to embrace the principles of relationship marketing -
building virtual environments in which customers can connect with each other
to share insights and relevant information. One tactic for success is for brands
to move away from the hard-sell to instead embrace the notion of “co-creation”.
By tapping into or creating their own online social networks, social media
marketers can inuence a brand community and potentially inuence consumer
behaviour. To capitalise on currently available opportunities, marketers need
to nd or establish real brand communities, listen to them, and then create
special programs and tools that will empower potential and existing community
members, rewarding existing consumers and eliciting behavioural change from
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Asia Pacic Public Relations Journal, Vol. 11
potential consumers. Perhaps advertising effectiveness in the rapidly digitalising
world of television (and other audio and visual media) will be improved through
the adoption of synergistic paradigms of multiple-niche co-creation.
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... I found out that I was there. The actual transaction of the purchase process occurred in only 7% of consumers (Miller and Lammas, 2010). This suggests that entrepreneurs need to be aware of the choices made by such consumers and anticipate their future needs and desires (Palalic et al., 2020). ...
... Once it expands to enough people, the advert maker no longer possesses rule over its distribution and use. This means that any mistakes or error in the ad that people may find and take offence to will be exceedingly difficult to correct (Miller & Lammas, 2010). ...
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