This essay seeks to critically discuss the statement that “given the rise of social media marketing, companies should focus all of their marketing efforts on social media platforms”. The rapidly shifting topography of the social media landscape seems to create the impression that its associated platforms are a new concept, but they actually have a relatively long history in terms of the total lifespan of the internet. For example, Friendster was established in 2002 whilst Myspace and LinkedIn followed the year after.
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Two years later, 2005 saw the rise of some of the most famous social media platforms of the present day including a nascent Facebook, YouTube and Reddit, whilst Twitter became popular the following year (Luttrell, 2015). Over this period of time, marketers have become more comfortable with the realisation that these platforms offer new avenues for marketing efforts, with enhanced brand awareness and brand engagement being key metrics for the success of social media campaigns (Hoffman and Fodor, 2010). This work will evaluate the extent to which social media should be utilised as a marketing tool.
Concurrent with the aforementioned growth of social media platforms, consumers are now, more than ever before, turning to the internet as a source of information (Aiello, 2014). In a marketing context this trend seems to be driven by a number of factors, with consumers seemingly beginning to question the trustworthiness of traditional forms of advertising, meaning that many are leveraging the power of social media to seek out more reliable information relating to a product or service (Aiello, 2014). Evidence of the rise of social media marketing can be seen in the vast sums of money that are being spent on the platform as a means of disseminating messages. For example, previous estimations suggest that between 2010 and 2013, worldwide spending on social media marketing increased from $3.4 billion to $10 billion (Clark and Melancon, 2013). This trend is set to continue, with expenditure in the United States alone expected to double to $11 billion by 2017, with an imbedded sub-trend that will see mobile-orientated platforms rival and exceed traditional personal computer platforms for the first time (Glass and Calahan, 2014). The case for companies to continue this high level of investment in social media marketing is a sound one. Social media facilitates a strengthening of the relationship between a consumer and a particular brand by enabling people to express their loyalty, even in cases in which they may not necessarily be able to afford a given product or service (Clark and Melancon, 2013). Citing the work of Shaffer and Garnett (2011), Clark and Melancon (2013) state that 51% of Facebook users are likely to buy from companies which they follow whilst 84% of a company’s fans on that platform are returning customers. A potential mechanism for this activity is put forward by Laroche, Habibi and Richard (2013), who suggest that a sense of community around a particular brand, which is created through social media, can underpin consumer loyalty to that brand. The authors observe that people join brand communities in order to satisfy an inherent need to feel part of a particular group or establish a sense of belonging to symbols which they consider important. Brand communities, in turn, provide an individual with the opportunity to get in touch with devoted consumers of a similar mind-set, establishing a common frame of reference within which people can interact and exchange accounts of product experiences. In practice, this is analogous to the supporting of a sports team, with a common cause being central to defining a sense of personal identity and bringing together people who otherwise may have nothing in common (Simons, 2013). This clearly plays into the hands of marketers, with this sense of loyalty leading to a fervour that seemingly creates customer loyalty and results in benefits for all involved parties. With such a powerful force close to hand, marketers can establish Facebook groups and pages, using the medium to interact with their consumer base, asking direct questions in an attempt to inspire dialogue and create information flow between individuals. Other innovative tools such as Facebook events, both real and virtual, can be used to sporadically bring people together under a common corporate banner, further reinforcing the aforementioned sense of community that such a facility creates (Zarrella and Zarrella, 2011). Another characteristic that is representative of the rise of social media marketing, and which certainly justifies its use by companies, is word of mouth advertising. Outside of the context of social media, word of mouth has typically been accepted as being a highly powerful force in the marketplace. According to Bansal and Voyer (2000), this is because the sender of such information, being a buying customer, usually has little to gain in terms of telling others about their experience of a particular brand, meaning that receivers can render any recommendations as being trustworthy and truthful. This contrasts with the attempts of advertisers to promote the benefits of their product or service: what they say about their commercial offering may not be untrue but because they stand to gain monetarily from any purchases made, the fidelity of their claims could be rightly questioned. Social media, it seems, has amplified the effect of word of mouth in that consumption-related online communities materialise in cases in which enough people are speaking about a brand such that social relationships are formed. This has given rise to far-reaching networks to which people will specifically come in order to share information about a product or service (Brown, Broderick and Lee, 2007) and previous to the dawn of the internet, such a proliferation seems unthinkable. The messages that they emit through social media can be positive or negative, but it should usually conform to the aforementioned principle in that it will probably be truthful. Marketers appreciate this powerful force and though it is difficult to control, they can use their social media presence to encourage followers to disseminate positive messages and recruit new advocates by offering rewards and competitions to ‘tag’ photos or share a specific piece of content with others (Clark and Melancon, 2013). However, in a competitive marketplace, efforts need to be somewhat more concentrated and one communications agency, ‘M Booth’, increased clothes sales for a client by partnering with a number of well-established online bloggers, leveraging their reach to set up a ‘blog-up shop’ series which directly enhanced sales by $105,000 (Whitler, 2014). Accordingly, by strategically aligning itself with the “right” individuals, the company was able to funnel positive word of mouth messages through potent online social media channels in order to boost direct sales. There is further, perhaps more obvious, evidence relating to why a company should concentrate its efforts down social media channels: marketers can enjoy cost and time savings whilst providing a more stimulating experience to their users. What is more, the data that can be derived from this type of marketing can be very powerful with, for example, users’ tweets being easily trackable to offer an instant barometer of the popularity of a specific campaign or activity (Tella, 2015). Together, these factors offer a compelling case for social media marketing but what remains to be answered is the question as to whether a company should channel all of their marketing efforts into social media platforms. There is ample evidence to suggest otherwise. Mangold and Faulds (2009) state that the marketplace has been enhanced by social media because consumer to consumer communication has been substantially proliferated. This is a good development for companies from the perspective that word of mouth recommendations are more fluid and can reach more people, but the platform is unique in that it wrests some of the control of marketing messages from the advertiser and empowers the consumer (Mangold and Faulds, 2009), whose experience of a given product or service may not necessarily be positive. If this were to be the case and the marketer has focused solely on social media marketing, it seemingly leaves too much marketing control in the hands of consumers and impedes the potential power of traditional advertising, which can deliver a more focused and controlled, albeit less interactive, message. It also means that marketing executives must work very hard in order to shape the views of consumers in line with the mission and goals of the organisation (Mangold and Faulds, 2009). Indeed, Clark and Melancon (2013) report that 21% of consumers have used social media to speak negatively of a brand. If this happens to occur on, say, a company’s Twitter page, it could be very damaging to its image and, accordingly, social media marketing has rightly been associated with a relinquishment of control (Barker et al., 2013). Moreover, any efforts on the part of a company to forcefully influence this dynamic can be construed as domineering. At the same time, there exists an interesting advantage of traditional marketing efforts over those of social media. For example, a newspaper advertisement might make grandiose claims about a given product or service. To a great extent, this is expected by consumers who by now are conditioned to the techniques used by traditional marketers. Conversely, Barker et al. (2013) argue that social media marketing campaigns are unable adopt this approach. Because of the two-way communication element of this type of marketing, a consumer’s level of trust is of the utmost importance, meaning that marketing efforts which are not earnest and honest will be held to task by people who can become irked by exaggerated claims. This is representative of a lack of trust and exemplifies the altered dynamic and additional barriers that are apparent in social media marketing: it is undeniable that consumers are more accessible through these new online avenues; however, the standard to which they hold the seller of a good or service may be higher and more fraught with danger than it is when traditional marketing forms are utilised. It is also worth noting the reach of a more traditional marketing platform such as television advertising. Extolling the benefits of this type of marketing, Burrow and Fowler (2015) state that this method has the propensity to influence people in an emotional way, using high production values to elicit a strong bond with the viewer. Of course, it must be noted that this can still be achieved on a social media platform such as YouTube, but this still gives consumers the two-way communication mechanism to communicate their like or dislike of a particular advertisement and is somewhat dependent on what that the consumer is actively searching for, as web activity can be very task-driven (Harvest Digital, 2007). Moreover, a television advertisement can deliver a controlled message to a very large audience, as evidenced by a sustained increase in demand for adverting space during the Super Bowl, a fact evidenced by an annual increase in advertising rates of 10.3% since the first iteration of that event, resulting in a cost of $3.75 million for a 30 second advertising segment (Ozanian, 2013). The average audience of the Super Bowl in 2014 exceeded 110 million people (Oh, Sasser and Almahmoud, 2015). Clearly, these observations lend credence to the assertion that traditional platforms still deliver value to marketers and that all resources should not necessarily be channelled into social media marketing mechanisms.
Based on the cited evidence in this work, it can be concluded that social media marketing efforts can be very rewarding as they offer new and innovative ways in which to engage with consumers and build a harmonious and sustained relationship. However, one must be critical of the contention that a company should focus all of its marketing efforts on social media platforms. Traditional marketing, though less dynamic in nature, still offers many advantages and can be used to reach a large amount of consumers in a short space of time. With consumers being less suspicious of this type of marketing, trust may be less likely to be breached, but the growth of social media channels is difficult to deny. The world is seemingly ‘going online’ and social media provides a level of interactivity unrivalled by other platforms. Perhaps an optimal approach would be an integration of social media and traditional print media/television platforms, with consumers being encouraged to seek out online interactions through traditional channels. Such an approach would seem to combine the best of both worlds and appeal to the widest possible audience.
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