Although companies are still investing in traditional advertising both on and offline, social media referrals and influencers are increasingly important for brand success. Consequently, creating strong social media communities around brand reputation and loyalty is essential for corporate success.
This paper discusses how due an obvious increase in social media users in modern society, the use and effectiveness of traditional advertisements is seeing a decline, only to be replaced by online marketing and word of mouth advertising. With advertising methods such as direct mail costing around $57, compared with social media from $2.50 (Lyfe Marketing, 2020), or effectively free if communities and marketing techniques are used to their advantage, it makes sense to see a shift toward social media advertising.
Word of mouth advertising involves, in its most simplistic form, the spreading of information from one person to another via spoken word, or in terms of the modern society, via social networking sites such as Instagram or Facebook, or reviewing platforms. Word of mouth advertising via social media platforms is becoming more and more prominent, especially considering that there is estimated to be “3.02 billion monthly active users on social media by 2021…” (Gordon, 2017, The Statistics Portal), as well as people spending on average 2 hours per day viewing TV, compared with 2.20 hours on social media (Global Web Index).
People trust the opinions of friends, family and familiar faces on social media, such as influencers and celebrities and are less inclined to engage with the thousands of commercial advertisements they are presented with each day if they have the opportunity to deflect them. As a result of these changes in consumerism and advertising it is becoming increasingly more beneficial for brands and companies to create and build up a strong and reputable online presence and a loyal sense of community for themselves.
Social Media Communities
The creation of communities on social media is a beneficial aspect of increasing brand awareness and creating consumer trust, as well as brand reputation.
A “community” in the traditional sense of the word is a “spatially compact set of people with a high frequency of interaction, interconnections and a sense of solidarity” (Wellman and Leighton, 1979). Looking back to 1950, a community would have been seen as a group of people in one location, all spending most of their time together, with the same set of beliefs, views and activities. Community members would have a critical eye kept on them and their movements and non-conformity would often result in punishment or possibly exclusion from the “group”. Whilst this is all fair in having a sense of belonging and stability where everyone keeps up to date and supports one another, a drawback from these communities is the confinements of them. For instance, a term labeled “echo chambers” (Sunstein 2019) refers to a tight-knit group sharing the same beliefs and becoming a closed social system. There is a lack of individuality, acceptance and new ideas or knowledge of much outside of their community.
Nowadays, whilst much of the older generation seem to believe we have lost our sense of community, what they fail to see, is that due to the changes and movement of the internet and rise of social media, we have not lost these communities; we are reshaping the way they are seen and utilised. With regard to brands and their need for online communities, this form of online community is the new way for brands’ and companies’ success rates to increase and form a loyal customer and/or fan base due to the constant rise of social media.
An online or virtual community is defined as an “aggregation of individuals who interact around a shared interest” (Porter, 2004). The four elements required for an online community according to Mcmillan and Chavis 1986, are that of “membership, influence, integration and fulfillment of needs, and shared emotional connection.” These may appear differently depending on what the community is for e.g. a music artist on social media platforms or a clothing company etc. A musician, for instance, communicates with followers (community members) via social media platforms and in this sense a membership is gained by following the artist. In terms of a public figure or artist, their community may often be known as a “fandom”. In this case, fandoms build communities via a network of sites. This also applies to companies and brands that have a fan base. These community members may participate in ways such as leaving comments, reposts, links to their own sites or posts and other communication methods. This community may in turn grow via certain fans of the artist (or a brand), forming fan accounts where discussions amongst the community are created, hence spreading more information and gaining exposure for the brand or artist.
The largely widespread access to social media around the world clearly provides companies or artists etc. with an enormous potential for advertising themselves, products or services to a huge audience with the help of the communities they form.
Deflection of Traditional Advertising
As social media popularity continues to rise, traditional forms of advertising are becoming less effective. With such an over saturation of advertising in the form of TV adverts, product placement, mobile adverts and so forth, it is unsurprising that “90% of consumers that can skip television ads do so” (Anderson, 2010), especially considering that “consumers in the US are exposed to over 3000 ad messages per day” (Anderson, 2010). As a result, marketers are desperately seeking alternatives for successful advertising, and what better place than social media, where, as mentioned previously, almost a third of the population are expected to be active as of 2021. With a report from AdBlock Plus and Global Web Index claiming that out of 1000 US Internet users, 40% use ad blockers, as well as people spending an average of 2.20 hours on social media vs. only 2 hours viewing TV, it only makes sense that companies are making make the shift to social media for advertising.
Social media communities assist in this aspect, since the companies may already have their communities there and those already following will easily be alerted to updates or adverts straight to their news feed. They may also access other companies or adverts via clicking the tagged accounts in posts.
In recent years we have seen a decline in the success rates of traditional advertisements; according to web usability expert, Jakob Nielsen, “users almost never look at anything that looks like an ad”. The issue was that of marketers increasing their spending on advertising which failed to capture the attention of consumers, subsequently resulting in the content suffering. This brings us to the theory of the “Prisoner’s Dilemma”, which came about from a paper exploring the “Nash Equilibrium” in 1949 by Merril Flood and Marvin Drescher. The equilibrium suggests that there will always be a place of balance in any scenario with two parties involved, where neither party can progress any further without the other making a move. The Prisoner’s Dilemma relates to this consumer/marketer situation where the consumer wishes to simply enjoy content and find good products without being explicitly advertised to, whilst the advertiser wants to advertise for lower costs. Here is where social media and communities play their part, providing a convenient, accessible, cheap platform on which to advertise through means such as social media influencers, ratings, reviews and message boards. The consumer can still enjoy content without feeling as though they are advertised to. Consumers within these communities will not feel specifically bombarded by advertisements since they will already be loyal fans to the company. Meanwhile, companies are able to spend less on advertising, due to already having a community in place, which has the potential to continue to grow the community through sharing and word of mouth advertising.
A huge part of the success of a company relies on its corporate reputation in order to convince customers to purchase. Considering the growth rate of the digital world and how so much is shifting online, it is becoming increasingly important for brands and companies to secure their online presence. It is also apparent today that the “popular culture industry relies on online communities to publicise and provide testimonials for their products” (Baym, 2007) due to the shifting ground of trust we have with online peers and personalities and time spent on these networks. With “people’s attention span getting shorter” and “in order to get the customers’ attention, companies need to find new ways to stand out” (Ertemel and Ammoura, 2016, pg. 4). It is seemingly obvious that the new way of successful advertising is through social media platforms, on which much of the world’s population is active daily. They also provide an easy access to target consumers as they are scrolling through their feeds.
One of the most vital aspects of success in selling and attracting new customers is engagement. What better place to find and engage with potential new customers than on social media, where these consumers spend much of their day. This is seen regularly on social media through methods such as collaborations, mentions, comments, likes and follows. This is where the notion of an online community comes in to play for brands. Of course in order for a brand to build itself a sense of community online, it needs to ensure potential community members will trust it, see it as reputable, remain loyal, and recommend its service/products to others through word of mouth, both on and offline, in turn growing its community and increasing the company success rates.
Quality content is also an important player in a strong online presence. It is a main driving factor to encourage users to follow and trust a brand via what they see, for instance, ensuring any imagery is high quality, worthwhile, and shared with intent. “Without proper, meaningful and valuable content you will lose your followers and your brand might suffer and get a bad reputation.” (Ertemel and Ammoura, 2016, pg. 4) A presence on social media gives consumers an indication that this company or person is real and trustworthy and that they have genuine communication with their customers.
It goes without saying, that in order for business success, consumer trust of the company is vital. Leading on from the importance of having a strong online presence and reputation as a brand or company, this is achieved through having a trustworthy online presence and high engagement levels with potential customers and fans. Having a trusting, loyal community is vital to the survival of any company and therefore any online content or communication between a company and its customers must be shared in a way that encourages the customer to stay loyal, and hopefully share with others. This is the starting point of forming a community; if the company content and communication is consistently authentic and trustworthy, customers or fans will often play their role in sharing with others via word of mouth advertising, helping to grow the community and loyal fan base.
People tend to trust more in their friends, family and others they might know or look up to as a familiar, friendly face on social media platforms. This is due, in part, to the bias that brands and companies of course hold toward themselves through their advertising. The opinions of friends and family, for instance, typically tend to be true thoughts and opinions of a brand or product they have experienced, therefore we are more likely to place our trust with them. This idea is evident when we consider the notion of booking accommodation for a holiday. For example, if we were trying to book a hotel in 1996, perhaps the only reference would be a travel guide, and if we were lucky, a friend perhaps who had previously stayed there. Fast forward to 2020 and we now have a wealth of knowledge thanks to the internet providing us with multiple outlets for reviewing and sharing information, such as Trip Advisor, where previous guests have the chance to share their real opinions and experiences, giving a potential customer a sense of trust and reliability. The uprising trend of social media influencers with large, loyal audiences is also a dominating factor in regards to consumer trust of a brand or company. Their loyal followings and personal approaches to advertisements gives them a sense of being trustworthy and reputable sources.
Social Media Influencers
Social media influencers (SMI) are a relatively new “established and mature form of Internet celebrity” (Abidin, 2015b), who are becoming increasingly more beneficial for business advertising and success rates. They often have a certain niche, which their content is created around and have a large, loyal following and fan base, with “70% of teens trust[ing] Influencers more than traditional celebrities (O’Neil-Hart, C., Blumenstein, H. 2016). By utilising a SMI for advertising purposes, the companies know that they now have access to a large audience (the SMI’s community) of loyal followers who listen to and trust the opinions of the SMI.
This provides the company with great exposure and potential for growth. Social media influencers can be considered a friendly face who is associated with a brand, giving their followers a sense of trust and a genuine opinion about a brand or product, since they may appear to be more like a friend with a truthful opinion, rather than the bias of a company toward themselves.
These influencers have a genuine experience with what they are advertising, allowing their audience to feel safe in the knowledge that this is a genuine customer experience. Some specific examples of how they may show this in their content is via the use of selfies with the product or service in order to personalise the advert and demonstrate that they have genuinely experienced it. This helps maintain trust within their communities. Another way of utilising SMIs is via “multi-influencer campaigns” This is one of the best ways for companies to use SMI marketing to grow their own communities, by having a group of influencers individually promote the product or service whilst all using the same hash tag or tagging each other to show they are working together. For instance, in Singapore there was a campaign for Samsung, which saw a group of large influencers all using the hashtag #SAMSUNGS5LTE with their posts to indicate the joint campaign. Those already in the community of one or more of these influencers are likely to actually consider and trust the company now, since they can see a few of these friendly faces they already trust are working together with this company. Corporate takeovers (a SMI taking charge of a brand account for a time period) is also an effective way of ensuring the community continues to feel like a community, by having a familiar trustworthy face appear from time to time in a friend-like manner. According to “The Blogger Programme”, “81% of brands re-use influencer content, with 45% finding that it outperforms brand generated content”. This is often because an influencer is an individual person, who their community is able to see and get to know, making it more personal content. Conversely, brand generated content can sometimes appear as a hidden face behind the content, not allowing their community to get to know a person and sometimes feeling somewhat biased. Influencers are therefore a successful way of sharing better content on their social media pages, which in turn encourages an increase in customers, who are naturally drawn to good looking and likely professional content.
Living in this very technology-based world today, with the majority turning to the online world and social media, it is safe to say that one of the best ways of marketing and advertising is through having a strong online community and presence as a company in order to be successful. At the rate we are going in the technology sector, it looks as though there are no plans of slowing down any time soon and for the rise of social media and online connection to continue. Thus, it is of paramount importance that companies create their own communities.
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