The article, Using Social Media to Reach Consumers: A Content Analysis of Official Facebook Pages, published in the Academy of Marketing Studies Journal in 2013 examines why and how social media should be incorporated in to marketing and advertising strategies by content analyzing official facebook pages of 70 global consumer brands.
Social media has become an integral part of digital marketing; with the rapid growth in web users and everyone migrating online, companies are realizing the importance of having a social media presence to reach those millions of consumers.
Amy Parsons, the author of the article, begins by introducing the nature and significance of social media to explain why companies should establish social media presence. Social media refers to “online tools where content, opinions, perspectives, insights, and media can be shared…(and) at its core social media is about relationships and connections between people and organizations (Nair, 2011, p.45).” It has changed the way of communication, as well as where and how consumers spend their time. It is highly interactive, “unstructured,” according to Parsons, and is focused on generating conversation and fostering community which play an important part in purchase decisions (reflecting the logic of capital) (21).
Social media liberates information in providing the environment for it to grow rapidly and flow freely, whereas traditional media advertising was more controlled in placement and results. Social media as advertising allows interaction between corporations and consumers, allowing consumers to talk back rather than simply be talked to.
This picture of feedback on Nestle’s Facebook page shows there is high risk involved in social media advertising.
Consumers can also form communities on social media, creating profiles to “connect” with others. These profiles can then serve as information databases for product development, advertising campaign development, and market research. Companies should use social media to engage with consumers as intimately as consumers do with friends and family. Parsons notes that it is important to be responsive and current while developing a style of communication that avoids alienating audiences with out of context tone/content.
As Naomi Klein writes of her experiences with the new cultural outlets for teenagers in “Alt. Everything: The Marketing of Cool” from her book No Logo, “Privatization slithers into every crevice of public life, even [presumed] intervals of freedom” (64) This sort of advertising, in Klein’s opinion, acts as “marketing that thinks that it is culture.” (66) The characterization of Facebook as a new cultural outlet for young internet users that fits within what Klein is saying certainly seems logical.
Parsons then applies the Seven Functional Building Blocks of Social Media (Kietzmann et.al., 2011) to her evaluation of content on official Facebook pages to understand how marketers target and communicate with consumers using social media. Facebook is chosen as the subject because it has “the largest membership:” as of July 2011, there were 750 million members Facebook users (30). “The average user is connected to 80 community pages, groups, and events,” creating 90 pieces of content monthly and sharing 30 billion pieces of content (web inks, news stories, blog posts, notes, photo albums, etc.) (27).
The seven functional building blocks of social media consist of identity – the extent to which users reveal their identity and information within the social media network; presence- whether users are online/”available” or not; relationships- with the likes of mutual friends, family members, et cetera; conversations-including frequency of postings in communicating with other users; groups-forming communities and sub-communities through “liking” same brand; reputation-“the ability of users to identify the standing of others within a social media network” (for example, “like”/”favorite”/endorsing a post); and sharing-sending and receiving of content between users which could include photos, comments, videos, et cetera.
The study evaluates the content of tabs, number of likes on official pages, and wall content of 65 brands (out of a pool of 70 consumer brands, 65 had official Facebook pages). Findings include a range from 3 to 14 number of tabs on main Facebook pages. These tabs and posts for photos, events, causes, and such establish the brand’s identity and reputation while the tabs for “connect/support/questions/FAQ” contribute to the brand’s presence. Discussion/review tabs encourage relationship-building between brands and consumers, as they provide a platform for sharing and conversations. Postings are key to driving conversations which can be promoted by: Calls for involvement, Customer comments, Polls/Poll questions, Product Reviews/Tips/Uses/Recipes, and Contests/Sweepstakes. Postings can be product-related or ask users for positive experiences (like testimonials, but as we have learned, information flows and proliferates, so these can go very wrong and cause counter-effect). Findings from the study show that Facebook postings are controlled in content and in frequency; “companies post on average 24 times within a month”(35).
Parsons’ findings show that companies strive to integrate into the building blocks of social media on Facebook, by exploiting existing networks and encouraging sharing. Their advertising models further reflect the logic of capital (a condition of ads-as-ideology discussed by Goldman & Papson) and the main tenants of the creative revolution seeking to shift the function of advertising from informative to entertaining and transformative. “Companies are trying to encourage consumers to interact with them the same way they do with their friends and family.” (Parsons, 27) Companies do not want their posts to appear like they are ads – they want to appear as if they are like the friends or family that Facebook users see posts from.
The posts above are examples of posts from Facebook page “Dog-E-Glow”, which posts funny pictures that users often share and are commonly enjoyed by the group of dog owners. The ads don’t show the product that Dog-E-Glow sells – glow-in-the-dark dog collars. These posts are meant to appeal to the central tenants of social media as previously discussed by Parsons – meant for sharing and group formation/exploitation.
The functions of corporate social media seem to be on generating relationships with consumers. Seemingly corporate Facebook pages hope to generate relationships similar to those with friends and family members. Their postings often put more focus on facilitating the strengths of social media than actually advertising their products (as posts by Dog-E-Glow show). Despite this, corporate pages tend to discourage comments or feedback by often disabling them whenever possible, unless the feedback is likely to be positive. Parsons also observes that there is a “communication strategy” unique to Facebook that is distinct from other social networks. Different networks enable a different sort of outreach, but there may be similarities in the various social networks.
The main takeaways from the article as it relates to the history of advertising as well as the current environment is that social media advertising is a continuation of certain trends in marketing & advertising. This definitely includes aspects of Naomi Klein’s observations from “Alt.Everything” and aspects of the creative revolution’s new method of advertising. Despite this, there are some challenges companies experience translating to the new networks. We can see this from Nestle’s issues, from the failure of the #MyNYPD trending topic, and across many other flubbed social media advertising schemes. Some companies find themselves often unable to control the spread of their content or authenticate themselves in the new medium. Lastly, we can see that advertising may not just be adapting to social media, but actively changing due to it. We’ve all seen ads with hashtags in them or making reference to Facebook, but advertisers now are forced to keep their campaigns flexible to ensure they work within the context of social media. Parsons discovered that pages were used to adjust marketing strategies by gathering feedback from customers, one perhaps unexpected example of social media affecting companies’ overall marketing strategies. There are plenty of ways which we see these changes reflected in the overall strategy of marketing plans of companies. Parsons noted that only 5 of the 70 corporations she attempted to study did not have Facebook pages – the ubiquity of Facebook is becoming difficult for companies to ignore. Their presence in this space indicates to us the emergence of a different media economy that companies are forced to adapt to. We can see some of the changes here, but there may be more to come.
Parsons, Amy. “Using Social Media To Reach Consumers: A Content Analysis Of Official Facebook Pages.” Academy Of Marketing Studies Journal 17.2 (2013): 27-36. Business Source Complete. Web. 5 May 2014.
-TJ Peterson & Jennifer W.