The evolving media technology has changed the ways people interact with each other and engage in a marketing or social campaign. Schultz and Peltier (2013) state that in olden days, in-store messaging and posters, retail environment, personal selling, and word-of-mouth were used as the tools to trigger customers’ emotions and close the gap with them.
Spending on Social Media for Brand Exposure Is Not Worth it
However, most of the consumer-brand communications that take place on social media platforms are virtual and dubious in terms of the consumer engagement level attained by the company. As the engagement level of the target customers with TV, magazines, and other forms of media have decreased, the brands are now finding it necessary to spend on their social media presence, without any structured plan of how the brand would attain the desired customer engagement and interest level. This paper will discuss branding activities done on social media, shedding light on both sides of the coin, ineffectiveness and usefulness of these branding activities, and spending on social media platforms.
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Kietzmann, Hermkens, McCarthy, & Silvestre (2011) claim that social media is a platform for user-to-user connectivity, and brands are often uninvited on these platforms. Amid the cultural conversation taking place in Facebook, Twitter, and other social networking sites, most brands seem inauthentic, their presence intrusive, irritating, and potentially out of place (Kietzmann et al., 2011). The persuading intent of marketers is often deemed as a desperate approach to sell the product and gain popularity, which eventually gives bad impression and decreases the overall brand value. These claims establish the ground for the prime argument of the study that “spending on social media for brand exposure is not worth it” (Kietzmann et al., 2011).
The concept of ‘Organic and Inorganic Marketing/Reach’ is critical in this respect. Most marketing campaigns imitated on Facebook and Twitter aspire to generate more likes and tweets from the worldwide users. More likes and tweets can be a variable to evaluate the reach of the brand, but it does not justify the organic customer reach, where the engaged users are potential users (Tobin, 2013). Thus, such campaigns operate on inorganic branding, where the firm is not in a position to determine how many of the engaged users, the ones who liked the post, the ones who tweeted it, or the ones who shared the post will probably buy the product or service of the company. On the contrary, organic branding and marketing is the one, in which only potential customers and potential market segments are targeted, which provides a more deterministic position of brand. The report by Stelzner (2014) confirms that nearly 28% social media marketers indicated that they could not measure the rate of return (ROI) of their marketing interventions and spending on social media advertising and campaigns, and other 35% were uncertain of how to measure ROI of spending made on social media marketing. If the ROI over the investment cannot be measured, the company would have no clue as to whether their spending is making any impact or is just going in vain.
Tobin (2013) reports that Facebook has changed its algorithm for brand exposure to its users in order to improve users’ logging experience. Facebook and other social networking sites are now crowded with paid ads (displayed on the main screen), pay per click ads (displayed in the right column of the screen), and affiliated ads (displayed on app and gaming pages). This has resulted in a large number of complaints from end users, showing their discontent for advertisement crowding. The modified Facebook algorithm will just do this good that it will push back and give no exposure to the unpaid ads/posts, which are operated manually and generate organic user links. Facebook, being the dominant service provider, is likely to influence other social sites to adopt the same branding algorithm. Thus, social marketers would now have to pay (or pay more) to these sites in order to get exposure through inorganic links though knowing the insignificance and low customer turnover probability of inorganic links.
The argument is mainly based on deductive components, which are valid because they are based on market findings and trends. Schultz and Peltier (2013) argue that as social media marketing has now become a marketing norm, the marketing specialists find it more an urge than a real need to invest in virtual marketing. With each paid advertisement or marketing campaign, profits of the owners of social media sites are growing, but the one investing is still uncertain of what he or she is actually getting in return. 1000 likes and tweets do not necessarily result in a 10% customer turnover while one-to-one interacting with customers on these platforms has shown more promising customer engagement and sales result. Thus, it can be said that spending on social media branding does not yield any determined or quantifiable results, and therefore, it cannot be considered a wise option for the majority of brands.
According to the study of Algesheimer, Dholakia, and Herrmann (2005), brands with high exposure on different media channels are more likely to make greater sales than the brands less exposed on the media channels. Algesheimer et al. states that Facebook and other social media groups have evolved considerably creating a more connected and authentic communication network between brands and their target audience. The formation of ‘brand communities’ is essential in this respect, which aims to understand consumer behavior, shape brand activities, and social media spending, accordingly. Such communities are part of consumer network or can be referred as social activators, which generate news and feeds and devise strategies to inspire others through them. Thus, when a marketing person spends on social media campaigns, he or she makes the brand part of the brand community, easing the way to the target customers. In this way, customers’ engagement level is not limited to the likes and tweets alone, but it starts following the brand, shares its feeds and posts, and unintentionally becomes a supporter and marketer of the brand.
Need creation is another vital aspect of brand selling and customer attraction. If there is no prevailing need for a brand product, consumers would not turn up and marketing efforts would go in vain. In this regard, Weman and Pihlstrom (2012) state that social need is often stimulated by external simulators rather than internal. For example, if two people have purchased a product and they are sharing their contentment and pride of buying it, they are likely to stimulate the purchase intention or purchase need of others in their social circle, who are continuously reading or listening to their conversation. In this way, making one customer can be deemed equal to making 10 customers or even more, following the social chain reaction. This is an inductive argument, but holds strong ground when taken in the perspective of social status, peer influence/pressure, and rational choice (Weman & Pihlstrom, 2012). If consumers, who are part of a social circle, are given the choice to buy from two different products with the same price and quality, they are very likely to buy the one that has been esteemed and marketed in their social circle. This argument would not hold the same ground when consumers would use their past experiences and referring to other information sources to make their buying preference; but in the absence of past experience and other information sources the argument can be considered reasonable (Algesheimer et al., 2005).
The report by Stelzner (2014) finds that B2C (50%) marketers were more convinced with effectiveness of their social media marketing than their B2B (34%) peers. This illustrates that social media can work as an effective tool for brands that target customers and not firms. The example of Lolly Wolly Doodle is germane in this respect, which has conquered Facebook sales with simple marketing and selling strategies. While other fashion clothing companies have failed to generate anticipated sales from their social media marketing advertisements and paid links, Lolly Wolly Doodle is at the moment generating nearly 80% of its sales from Facebook alone, which is nearly $8.8m in worth (Kucera, 2013). Based on these figures and counterarguments, it can be said that the brands capable of understanding customers’ needs and behaviour and using improved customer reach strategy can make a fortune out of their spending made for social media brand exposure.
After analyzing both sides of the argument, it can be said that spending on social media cannot be completely overruled, as it is currently the single most dominant media source connecting the entire globe. Though, it is true that not many firms have been able to cash their time, efforts, and money spent over social media link-building and marketing campaigns. There are examples of firms that have made lucrative profits from marketing and selling on social networking sites alone. Thus, it can be said that it all depends on the nature of brand, marketing tactics, and customer attraction approach employed by the brand that makes the real difference between successful and unsuccessful marketing and promotional media campaigns. Brand marketers, who send on their social media brand exposure without any structured plan or long-term vision, are more likely to find their social media activities to be ineffective and difficult to measure any tangible benefit for the firm.