Social media marketing is the use of social media platforms and websites to promote a product or service. Although the terms e-marketing and digital marketing are still dominant in academia, social media marketing is becoming more popular for both practitioners and researchers. Most social media platforms have built-in data analytics tools, enabling companies to track the progress, success, and engagement of ad campaigns.
Companies address a range of stakeholders through social media marketing, including current and potential customers, current and potential employees, journalists, bloggers, and the general public. On a strategic level, social media marketing includes the management of a marketing campaign, governance, setting the scope (e.g. more active or passive use) and the establishment of a firm's desired social media "culture" and "tone."
When using social media marketing, firms can allow customers and Internet users to post user-generated content (e.g., online comments, product reviews, etc.), also known as "earned media," rather than use marketer-prepared advertising copy.
Social networking websites
Social networking websites allow individuals, businesses and other organizations to interact with one another and build relationships and communities online. When companies join these social channels, consumers can interact with them directly. That interaction can be more personal to users than traditional methods of outbound marketing and advertising.
Social networking sites act as word of mouth or more precisely, e-word of mouth. The Internet's ability to reach billions across the globe has given online word of mouth a powerful voice and far reach. The ability to rapidly change buying patterns and product or service acquisition and activity to a growing number of consumers is defined as an influence network.
Social networking sites and blogs allow followers to "retweet" or "repost" comments made by others about a product being promoted, which occurs quite frequently on some social media sites. By repeating the message, the user's connections are able to see the message, therefore reaching more people. Because the information about the product is being put out there and is getting repeated, more traffic is brought to the product/company.
Social networking websites are based on building virtual communities that allow consumers to express their needs, wants and values, online. Social media marketing then connects these consumers and audiences to businesses that share the same needs, wants, and values. Through social networking sites, companies can keep in touch with individual followers. This personal interaction can instill a feeling of loyalty into followers and potential customers. Also, by choosing whom to follow on these sites, products can reach a very narrow target audience.
Social networking sites also include much information about what products and services prospective clients might be interested in. Through the use of new semantic analysis technologies, marketers can detect buying signals, such as content shared by people and questions posted online. An understanding of buying signals can help sales people target relevant prospects and marketers run micro-targeted campaigns.
In 2014, over 80% of business executives identified social media as an integral part of their business. Business retailers have seen 133% increases in their revenues from social media marketing.
Some examples of popular social networking websites over the years are Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, MySpace, LinkedIn, and SnapChat.
There are two basic strategies for using social media as a marketing tool:
Social media can be a useful source of market information and a way to hear customer perspectives. Blogs, content communities, and forums are platforms where individuals share their reviews and recommendations of brands, products, and services. Businesses are able to tap and analyze the customer voices and feedback generated in social media for marketing purposes; in this sense the social media is a relatively inexpensive source of market intelligence which can be used by marketers and managers to track and respond to consumer-identified problems and detect market opportunities. For example, the Internet erupted with videos and pictures of iPhone 6 "bend test" which showed that the coveted phone could be bent by hand pressure.
The so-called "bend gate" controversy created confusion amongst customers who had waited months for the launch of the latest rendition of the iPhone. However, Apple promptly issued a statement saying that the problem was extremely rare and that the company had taken several steps to make the mobile device's case stronger and robust. Unlike traditional market research methods such as surveys, focus groups, and data mining which are time-consuming and costly, and which take weeks or even months to analyze, marketers can use social media to obtain 'live' or "real time" information about consumer behavior and viewpoints on a company's brand or products. This can be useful in the highly dynamic, competitive, fast-paced and global marketplace of the 2010s.
Social media can be used not only as public relations and direct marketing tools, but also as communication channels targeting very specific audiences with social media influencers and social media personalities as effective customer engagement tools. This tactic is widely known as influencer marketing. Influencer marketing allows brands the opportunity to reach their target audience in a more genuine, authentic way via a special group of selected influencers advertising their product or service. In fact, brands are set to spend up to $15 billion on influencer marketing by 2022, per Business Insider Intelligence estimates, based on Mediakix data.
Technologies predating social media, such as broadcast TV and newspapers can also provide advertisers with a fairly targeted audience, given that an ad placed during a sports game broadcast or in the sports section of a newspaper is likely to be read by sports fans. However, social media websites can target niche markets even more precisely. Using digital tools such as Google AdSense, advertisers can target their ads to very specific demographics, such as people who are interested in social entrepreneurship, political activism associated with a particular political party, or video gaming. Google AdSense does this by looking for keywords in social media user's online posts and comments. It would be hard for a TV station or paper-based newspaper to provide ads that are this targeted (though not impossible, as can be seen with "special issue" sections on niche issues, which newspapers can use to sell targeted ads).
Social networks are, in many cases, viewed as a great tool for avoiding costly market research. They are known for providing a short, fast, and direct way to reach an audience through a person who is widely known. For example, an athlete who gets endorsed by a sporting goods company also brings their support base of millions of people who are interested in what they do or how they play and now they want to be a part of this athlete through their endorsements with that particular company. At one point consumers would visit stores to view their products with famous athletes, but now you can view a famous athlete's, such as Cristiano Ronaldo, latest apparel online with the click of a button. He advertises them to you directly through his Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook accounts.
Facebook and LinkedIn are leading social media platforms where users can hyper-target their ads. Hypertargeting not only uses public profile information but also information users submit but hide from others. There are several examples of firms initiating some form of online dialog with the public to foster relations with customers. According to Constantinides,
Lorenzo and Gómez Borja (2008) "Business executives like Jonathan Swartz, President and CEO of Sun Microsystems, Steve Jobs CEO of Apple Computers, and McDonald's Vice President Bob Langert post regularly in their CEO blogs, encouraging customers to interact and freely express their feelings, ideas, suggestions, or remarks about their postings, the company or its products". Using customer influencers (for example popular bloggers) can be a very efficient and cost-effective method to launch new products or services
Social media content that has been driven by algorithms has become an increasingly popular feature in recent years.
One social media platform that has used this ground-changing strategy is TikTok. TikTok has become one of the fastest growing applications to date and currently has around 1.5 billion users, mainly consisting of children and teenagers. The algorithm used within this platform encourages creativity among TikTok users because of the platform's wide range of effects and challenges that change from day to day. Because of this feature, content creators big or small have increased chances of going viral by appearing on TikTok's "for you" page. The "for you" page algorithm allows users to have videos recommended to them based on their previous watches, likes and shares.
This can be extremely beneficial for small businesses who are using this platform as a means of social media marketing. Although they may be starting off small, by following trends, using hashtags, and much more, anyone can promote themselves on this emerging application to attract new audiences from all around the world. Moreover, using algorithmically-driven content within TikTok allows for a more positive response rate from users as the target audience tends to be young users, who are more susceptible to these increasingly popular marketing communications. With this in mind, TikTok is filled with rich content that include images and videos which can beneficially aid influencer marketing over platforms that are heavily text-based as they are less engaging for their audiences.
When considering algorithms in respect to social media platforms, it is evident they can heavily impact the outcomes of this marketing strategy. Since it is a new content feature, younger audiences may respond more positively to it than others, but it is not something that should be disregarded for other audiences. Anyone is able to use this marketing strategy to get themselves out there and engage with new customers or users because of the effective algorithm technique.
Engagement with the social web means that customers and stakeholders are active participants rather than passive viewers. An example of these are consumer advocacy groups and groups that criticize companies (e.g., lobby groups or advocacy organizations). Social media use in a business or political context allows all consumers/citizens to express and share an opinion about a company's products, services, business practices, or a government's actions.
Each participating customer, non-customer, or citizen who is participating online via social media becomes a part of the marketing department (or a challenge to the marketing effort) as other customers read their positive or negative comments or reviews. Getting consumers, potential consumers or citizens to be engaged online is fundamental to successful social media marketing.
With the advent of social media marketing, it has become increasingly important to gain customer interest in products and services. This can eventually be translated into buying behavior, or voting and donating behavior in a political context. New online marketing concepts of engagement and loyalty have emerged which aim to build customer participation and brand reputation.
Engagement in social media for the purpose of a social media strategy is divided into two parts.
The first is proactive, regular posting of new online content. This can be seen through digital photos, digital videos, text, and conversations. It is also represented through sharing of content and information from others via weblinks.
The second part is reactive conversations with social media users responding to those who reach out to your social media profiles through commenting or messaging. Traditional media such as TV news shows are limited to one-way interaction with customers or 'push and tell' where only specific information is given to the customer with few or limited mechanisms to obtain customer feedback. Traditional media such as physical newspapers, do give readers the option of sending a letter to the editor.
Though, this is a relatively slow process, as the editorial board has to review the letter and decide if it is appropriate for publication. On the other hand, social media is participative and open; Participants are able to instantly share their views on brands, products, and services.
Traditional media gave control of message to the marketer, whereas social media shifts the balance to the consumer or citizen.