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  • Subject area(s): Marketing
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  • Published on: 14th September 2019
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Marketers are continually finding new ways of engaging the social media generation to communicate ideas and entice consumers to buy their products. This essay will explore the ideas, theories and examples drawn from a number of articles and brands developing ways to market through social media and amongst consumers to reach the ultimate goal of creating value in the exchange and selling their products.

Social media enables users to interact, post and share information online over a social networking site. It was first seen in 1979, when Tom Truscott and Jim Ellis form Duke University had created the Usenet, a worldwide discussion system that allowed Internet users to post public messages (Kaplan and Haenlein, 2010). The fast trend of high-speed internet access allowed the popularity to grow which lead to the creation of social networking sites such as Myspace (2003) and Facebook (2004). This led to the term “Social Media” as it is known today (Kaplan and Haenlein, 2010). Social media is important to new generations (Y and Z) as they have grown with technology and strive to maintain their online social status by constantly updating their profiles and chatting to their friends. Social media is constantly changing. Facebook is constantly updated with new ways of sharing information having been developed. These include live video feeds, emoticons, and recently a buy and sell service.   

The social media generation includes in particular Generation Y and Z. Generation Z is the major target for marketers as being born in the 1980s and 1990s they are now between 20 and 30 years old, a time where income is growing and wants are being fulfilled. They are the first to have spent their entire lives in the digital environment (Bolton et al, 2013). Researchers are very intrigued by this generation and follow their social media usage because it may be a key to knowing how people will behave in the future.  

The characteristics for Gen Y are the early and frequent exposure to technology, which has positive and negative impacts on cognitive, emotional and social outcomes (Bolton et al, 2013). For example, they rely profoundly on technology for entertainment and to interact with their peers. Gen Y consumers have benefited from the increased availability of customized products and personalized services (Bolton et al, 2013). They “want it all” and “want it now”, predominantly in relation to pay and benefits, career advancement, work/life balance and making a contribution to society via their work as said by (Bolton et al, 2013).

Gen Y's social media use started with them using sites to express themselves and chat, such as Myspace. These people have grown up with technology and the need to interact with others is key reason for this generations use of social media (Bolton, et al, 2013). They are more prone to value others opinions in social media and to be honest when they provide feedback about the brands or products they use (Bolton et al, 2013). The generation is constantly refreshing their feeds and updating their profiles in order to keep up with trends and gather information about others just for enjoyment.

Customer engagement is defined as “a customer-centric approach with its main focus being on identifying customer needs in order to engage with them, and identifying the value additions required to meet those needs” (Sashi, 2012). Customer engagement is an integral part of a brands marketing strategy. It allows customers to co-create with brands through providing feedback and assist in the development of new products as well as improving current products. Customer's interactive experiences on social media create a relationship between the brand and the customer. As consumers begin to explore the relationship more through experiences and participation, a sense of belonging is developed along with feelings towards the brand. This leads to customer engagement with the brand over social media (Dr. Vohra and Bhardwaj, 2016). Customers engage with brands in different ways and to different extents. For example, customers may like or comment on a brands post, but this is not true engagement. True engagement is where a customer shares the post, this goes onto their profile, hence showing it means something to them (Dr. Vohra and Bhardwaj, 2016).

The challenge for marketers today is to change their marketing from traditional to new modern ways of marketing. By the mid 2000's, most brands had some sort of web presence allowing consumers to interact and engage with the brand. This is where the marketing game changed. The bowling and pinball theory are analogies explained by (Hennig-Thurau, Hofacker and Bloching, 2013). The bowling idea resembles traditional marketing. A business uses its marketing instruments (the ball) to reach and influence the consumers (the pins). Mass media (the bowling alley) function as moderators for marketing content, the media have to be controlled because they affect the efficiency of the approach (Hennig-Thurau, Hofacker and Bloching, 2013). Social media has now changed this idea to resemble one of a Pinball machine. The Pinball theory comprises the environment in which the marketing instruments (the balls) are used to reach consumers whom are the various targets of the machine being the bumpers, kickers, and slingshots (Hennig-Thurau, Hofacker and Bloching, 2013). This new Pinball theory affects branding, customer relationships and requires new methods of marketing.

Negative consumer feedback over social media is another challenge faced by brands today. In some circumstances brands may overreact to comments made on their page. This can cause further issues. One of the most famous instances recognized on social media is the “United Guitar Guy”. This is about a United Airlines passenger who had his guitar damaged by the airline's baggage handlers during the service. Carrol tried to get reimbursed for his property but the airline denied any compensation for his broken guitar. The passenger then took his problem to social media and created a music video called “United Break Guitars”. The video received 4 million views on YouTube and damaged United airlines reputation (Sandell, 2012). This example shows how negative consumer feedback can impact a business on social media as it is available for all to see and make a judgement on. Consumers are able to engage with the feedback and promote it, making it even more popular. Dealing with negative feedback is a major challenge for marketers today.

Additionally, a challenge for marketer's today is reaching their targets over social media. Consumers are using technology to filter out, or quit, messages they do not feel appropriate or interesting to them (Dudgeon, 2011). This limits the access marketers have to their segments and can mean that advertising funds are going to waste. There is a major challenge for marketers to gain back the trust of consumers where it is thought that targeting people via social media is deemed invasive and bothersome (Dudgeon, 2011). Marketers are forced with the challenge of providing engaging material to their target segments on social media. It is the main concern with engaging with the social media generation. The challenge is being able to create value in exchange with specific targeted segments through constant engagement of a brands products.

The challenge of communicating with consumers is all about engagement. Collaborative marketing is a “managerial discourse proposing a new approach to marketing that operates with blurred boundaries between the producer and the consumer by considering the consumer as a partner and co-creator of value” (Cova, Pace and Skålén, 2015). It is established under the theory that consumers are now at the very heart of the consumption and production processes (Cova, Pace and Skålén, 2015). This type of marketing develops relationships with customers and produces on their needs. It has been particularly used in the car industry where it invites customers to become active players in the marketing endeavours and to express creativity with the power to co-create value (Cova, Pace and Skålén, 2015). An example of collaborative marketing today is at Alfa Romeo. The car manufacturer developed a community of enthusiastic customers of the brand with the aim to create a virtual space in which “Alfisti” could express their passion to other potential customers (Cova, Pace and Skålén, 2015). Alfisti discussed and developed ideas for Alfa Romeo engineers to work on and produce in order to co-create value. The challenges of traditional marketing can be solved with this contemporary strategy which creates value in exchange, allowing for word-of-mouth advertising, customer loyalty and using valued customers as marketing capital (Cova, Pace and Skålén, 2015).

Overcoming negative consumer feedback is vital for companies' prosperity in the long run. It is crucial that all social media services the business uses are active and constantly monitored. This ensures the brand remains professional and can deal with issues before they get out of hand (Sandell, 2012). “Prank” posts by consumers could easily damage the reputation without the business knowing, therefore monitoring these public posts is important to ensure all matters are dealt seriously. Furthermore, marketers need to learn how to use social media as a marketing tool. It is important to take time to research and develop tasks the business wants to conduct over social media to engage its audience (Sandell, 2012). Additionally, it is imperative that when writing to followers, it is to be done unprofessionally allowing the audience to be targeted on a more relaxed, personal level than an intense marketing promotion. Lastly, when discussing with an unhappy customer, it is important to be honest and resolve the problem as quick as possible within the public eye (Sandell, 2012). If a customer's problem is attended to straight away and solved as quickly as possible there are two positive outcomes. Firstly, the customer is satisfied about the response time and can possibly re-gain trust in the brand. Secondly and most importantly, other customers will see that the issue was solved promptly and gain an increased positive outlook on your brand. However, any consumer looking over this situation will be satisfied with the response time and hopefully the outcome, prompting positive word of mouth advertising with the brands capacity to deal with customer complaints.  

The key theories in marketing management today are to engage the social media generation through co-creation and collaborative marketing. It is about communicating with and amongst consumers to market products around the targeted segments. Since the introduction of social media, companies have partially lost control of marketing activities, this has particularly affected branding. It is suggested that the key for firms is to undertake the contemporary “Pinball theory” and therefore co-create brand stories with active consumers. In order for a business to keep up in the game, four different facets are needed in the marketing environment (Hennig-Thurau, Hofacker and Bloching, 2013). These include consumer engagement motives, the content generated by consumers, the structure of consumer's network and consumer's social roles and interactions (Hennig-Thurau, Hofacker and Bloching, 2013). The main method of engaging consumers today is through working with influential and famous people who can improve brand image, awareness and status. This works because these famous people can reach millions of “followers” and because they have such a big influence on consumer wants, products are sold (Hennig-Thurau, Hofacker and Bloching, 2013).

In conclusion, the demanding social media generation is able to be engaged through co-creation, collaborative marketing, undertaking the pinball theory and using advanced social media communication techniques to create value in exchange by selling products. They key to maintaining engagement over social media for brands is using famous celebrities and sports players who have big consumer influences. These people can allow brands to constantly engage with and stimulate potential customers through their various roles for the brand. Collaborative marketing as performed by Alfa Romeo has had the advantages of providing word-of-mouth advertising, customer loyalty, product ideas and enhancement to the car manufacturer creating value in exchange for all the customers, enthusiasts and the brand. This is a contemporary example of a brand that has taken on the “Pinball theory” and developed its marketing strategy to suit the new age of consumers, known as the social media generation.

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